Alakowe, what language can you speak?

I was applying for a graduate development scheme when confronted with the question, “What is your first language?”.

This isn’t the first time I have had to answer this question and all the previous times I’m sure I have answered differently. Why? Well because I am an Alakowe (literate). I grew up in Nigeria and the obvious defining quality of a literate is their ability to speak English. Though the market man may know his sums and from experience learn the skills of communicating with his customers, if he cannot speak English, he is termed an illiterate.

I grew up speaking English, in fact I also think in English, and though Yoruba is my mother’s tongue, I cannot hold an intellectual conversation in it.  Often when I am trying to say something heartfelt, I switch to Yoruba, but then my Yoruba is laced with English words and my English tinged with errors.

English is Nigeria’s official language, and it affords Nigerians, a people of over 300 languages, to communicate and cohabit. Unfortunately, it also contributes to the subjugation of the country’s tribal languages and the immense dilution of its culture.

The outcome is citizens becoming language handicaps; I can speak two languages but perfectly command none.

It was a wonder to me then, when Nigerians went into a frenzy on social media over Commandant Obafaiye Shem’s interview on Channels TV. If you don’t recognize his name, you will the phrase “my Oga at the top”. While it was an opportunity to sink our teeth into someone who at the time somewhat represented  the oh so incompetent Nigerian government, it was also sheer folly for us to laugh at him for using a nuance “Oga” understood by most Nigerians if not all, in the place of the English word, Boss.

Half of us still have our parents seek our assistance in accessing their emails, so that he forgot the dotcom in the NSCDC website address shouldn’t have amounted to much comedy or surprise. After all, Nigeria is one of the technologically backward countries till date.

I also find it amusing that a lot of Nigerians see it as a dignifying attribute to speak English and not their mother tongues.To them, the native language bears a pejorative connotation, one they don’t want to be associated with. These kinds are often called Ajebutters (rich kids). I can only imagine the shock they’d be met with once they step out of the four walls of Nigeria.

When I did step out, I realised that a French man would comfortably express himself in francaise, but apologise about his inability to speak English, so will a Spaniard, a Mexican, an Indian. It was only then I began to realise how the education system in my country short-changed me, how terming my mother’s tongue “vernacular”, and taking the native language class trivially in school had done me a massive injustice. I went online to see if I could take some classes in Yoruba so I can speak it adeptly, and the thought of having to pay to learn my mother’s tongue hit me hard.

The truth of the matter is we all cannot speak English, and a sadder reality is we also cannot speak our native languages. We sacrificed it on the altar of westernisation.

The effect of this is a stunt in creativity. If I think in English, but can’t speak English well, then my thinking is stunted. Like my favourite Russian author Frank Kafka, whose works originally written in Russian has been translated to English, maybe I could be creative in my language if only I had a good command of it, or maybe my ideas will remain unformed thoughts even unknown to me.

What about you? What language do you speak?


Election Antics in Ngeria

The General election is fast approaching, and there is no way you haven’t seen the rallies and campaigns, haven’t heard of the promises of security and good roads, even the sudden drop in fuel price. Yes, a miraculous coincidence that the price of petrol suddenly reduced weeks before election, a feat the Occupy Nigeria  protest of 2012 couldn’t achieve. It’s also possible you have received the PDP customised agege bread or rice or palmed off between N500 to N2000 to attend rallies and maybe influence your vote, and why shouldn’t you?

I mean, I think if you deftly manage that agege bread, cut thin slices everyday and not be tempted by greed, it’s possible to feed yourself with it for the rest of your life. In fact, if you are innovative enough, you could even invest it and reap security, safe transport system, employment and even medical treatments in return for yourself and coming generations.

Even more pertinent are the celebrities who have decided that they’ve done enough in the entertainment field and so, a political calling is imminent. According to Kate Offiong Henshaw, yes Offiong is also her name. She remembered it just in time for the campaign;

“I have a strong interest and desire to serve my people and especially show that there is a better more humane way to do things when you are in a position of leadership. Putting the people first and being accountable to them as well as being accessible”.

The same Offiong who participated in the Occupy Nigeria, protesting against the removal of fuel subsidy during Jonathan’s term, now campaigns alongside him. Her sudden desire to serve her people is very timely. This desire has also risen in other celebrities; Desmond Elliot, Desmond Olusola Elliot, Abolore Akande, Yemi Solade, Julius Agwu, Bob Manuel and some more.

You’d think they would start with a campaign against malaria, raising awareness against HIV, adopting maybe, starting an orphanage, or even putting up a post about the recent Baga incidence. Better still, just like the renaissance use their art form as a way of enlightening the people and criticising the government act, the likes of Fela, Eedris Abdulkareem, instead of regurgitating stale plots.

Musicians also readily join in these political campaigns, beating the drum of the highest bidder, further stealing from the same people who have enriched their pockets and supported their talents.

If only Nigerians will realise their power in unity, lay aside all tribal and religious prejudice and demand change. A good start would be boycotting all entertainers who have been paid to lull their fans in favour of a party, taking to social media to criticise the government, calling global attention by action not self-pity or despair and demanding accountability from leaders.

How else can one explain his audacity to re-contest after the statement;

 “Four years is enough for anyone in power to make significant improvement, and if I can’t improve on power [electricity] within this period, it means I cannot do anything, even if I am there for the next four years.” (February 2011 campaign)

Not only is electricity in Nigeria abysmal, the 30 million dollars worth of debt which the ex president, Olusegun Obasanjo,  paid off during his tenure is not only back in the nation’s debt books, the country still borrows. The insurgence in the north has gained momentum, conspiracy or not, a true leader would’ve uncovered the scheme, preventing the deaths of citizens he was sworn in to protect.