Words & Consequences

by Paul I. Adujie

When I come across written words, especially aptly chosen and astutely used words, I become fascinated! I am frequently captivated by any writer’s accurate descriptions and presentations embedded in those words, whether the matter being described is alive or an abstract. Words usually key me into whether the material is effervescent or dull as drudgery.

A written page is vibrant, if it captures circumstances for the reader, as intimately intended in the floatation of a writer’s emotions; Sad and solemn or joyously happy.

Our commonality as citizens of Nigeria has suffused our public debate or commentaries on our national issues, with our unique words imbued in our culture and national nuanced words and meanings which are unmistakably Nigerian. When I read words that are written by Nigerians, I take more than a cursory interest and do so, for more than one reason. First, the issues that most Nigerians write about have complete resonance and relevance with and to me. These are assuredly my issues as well. As we share nationality and national issues in common as compatriots.

Nigerians are liable to see a zillion things from the same prisms imbued in our commonalities. We all will roll our eyes, if we read that someone was about to engage in some wayo, jibiti or gra-gra, just as we will appreciate a gesture as we read that the host offered kola-nuts.

Additionally, I take more than a passing interest in how we describe everything, particularly, political situations and circumstances that are special to Nigeria, and the rest of political happenings which Nigeria has in common with the rest of the world.

Some years ago, a Nigerian friend of mine who is a senior attorney with an agency of New York City, had scheduled a Christening and birthday party for her two sons. As it turned out, her husband lived in Nigeria by choice. He was in New York City frequently on business trips to and from Nigeria. And one of the husband’s townspeople in my presence, enquired from the lady, whether she had obtained permission from her husband for celebrations! Many present who witnessed the questioning, turned almost simultaneously to glare at the gentleman. Most of the persons present gave searing looks that was louder than audibly questioning the use of the word, permission!

I watched as he struggled to explain what he had in mind, which was, not exactly what he expressed in his verbal delivery. According to him, his inquiry was limited to, whether wife and husband had discussed these celebrations. Particularly because his observation was that it took lots of efforts to plan and execute the party. And he merely wondered aloud why the husband, who is frequently in New York, was absent from the planning and execution of these celebrations. Some commented that they assumed he was being chauvinistic. Our friend in this example could have expressed the same sentiments with words such as did you discuss your plans with your husband? Even at that, it seems to beg the issue, whether the spouses consult each other on these family matters. Careful deliberate phrasing is suggested, especially in matters of husband and wife, with particular regard to the equality of spouses. Handle delicately. Be sensitive and let your comments reflect changed times, from our grandmothers to the present day.

Tribe! What tribe are you! That is the question that I frequently get asked by some Nigerians when I meet them. I am always eager to meet Nigerians in the United States and elsewhere outside of Nigeria.

When, I hear conversations in any Nigerian language, I inexorably as if in auto-response, would invariably want to meet the persons to introduce myself and identify myself or assert my Nigerian-ness. First of all, I feel the fact that I am Nigerian is sufficient or should adequately answer and reassure the other Nigerian whose acquaintance I have just made. Asking my state of origin usually leads me to saying, ah, yes, from all thirty-six states, and from all 774 local government areas and the federal capital territory of Abuja.

In the belief that Nigerian citizenship is complete without the unnecessary discriminatory classifications of settler, indigene or state of origin, I am completely satisfied with saying I am a Nigerian.

I would have thought that an assertion of my Nigerian-ness would serve all purposes

But almost inevitably, I always have to endure, the, what tribe are you question! There are more Hausas, more Yorubas and more Igbos and other distinct ethnic and language groups in Nigeria. There are Ethnic and Language groups, larger and richer in materials and human population, than many countries in Europe and elsewhere.

And yet, no one refers to Croat, or Serbians or Welch and Scots as tribes! What tribes are Italians? Greeks and Turks; How come I never have experienced anyone asking the Chinese what tribes it is from which they hail? After all, there are Cantonese, Mandarin and other ethnic Chinese!

Here in the US, where I live, there are a multiplicity of ethnicities, from the African American ethnic group to Indian, German, Japanese, Jew, Chinese, Russian ethnic groups, just to name a few. But no one ever remember to ask the vexing question of the multicultural, multilingual Americans what tribes they belong! You are either an American or you are not. You are either a Nigerian or you are not! You may happily identify with your ethnicity or heritage as an American, and so could you, as a Nigeria.

In America, you are either, an African-American, or German-American, Polish-American as in Yoruba Nigerian, Hausa Nigerian or Igbo Nigeria in Nigeria, perhaps.

But you ask me what tribe? No! I do not belong to that sort of classification. I’m no member of herds of animals! When I hear the word tribe, it conjures herds of animals in the National Geographic! I am equally peeved when some insist on referring to distinct language groups in Nigeria as mere dialects, as if, a mere variation from a “real” language!

Let us take for instance, as well, our frequent use of the words rule, ruler and warn. These are words that I came across perhaps too frequently in reading some Nigerian stories in Nigerian newspapers on the Internet and at Nigeria -related websites. In matters of the third term agenda, Mr. Cohen, the American warned, and a Nigerian commentator queried the manner of President Obasanjo’s rule and why he should not remain Nigeria’s ruler beyond 2007. Rule, ruler and say, regime, suggests everything, but democracy. In proper democratic setting, the words ought to be the administration, the leader or president. Rule, suggests no democratic processes or participation by the people.

Ruler, as well, suggest unelected traditional chief or something undemocratic. Just as the word regime would remind the average Nigerian of the checkered past with military intervention in Nigeria politics and governance.

Just above, you must have noticed the reference to Mr. Cohen, who warned President Obasanjo! Yes! You read it! He warned! But who the heck is this guy? He warned the president of Nigeria?

Does the president of Nigeria work for him? And wait a minute! Most employers do not and would not engage in publicly warning their employees!

Mr. Cohen warned who? And who is Mr. Cohen to warn any Nigerian? What mindset informs the writer’s use, of the word warn? Why do some of our public commentators and professional journalists write in these peculiar ways? Are our writers contemplative and deliberative as to the terms that they use in print?

Why would a Nigerian Public Intellectual refer to Britain or England as Nigeria’s former Colonial Master? Or why is it that an American, whose country, America, was similarly colonized by the same Britain/England, would not describe it as such?master? Whose master? Britain/England colonized many other countries in the world apart from Nigeria, but I am yet to meet citizens of former British colonies that would refer to England as former Colonial Master! What mindsets inform some

of our peculiar expressions?

I can grudgingly live with a taxi driver at Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos referring to anyone who is not an African as Oyinbo and Masa (master, master) but what do we say of a public official, a public intellectual and worse, a journalist, who in reference to England would use the term, our former Colonial Master?

If anything, the English, in their capacity as colonizers, were usurpers of local authority and they were as such as illegal, as illegal as the erstwhile apartheid regime was in South Africa. I cannot for a minute imagine a South African public official, public intellectual and or journalists refer to the former heinous apartheid regime, as former Colonial Master or former Apartheid Masters! Who is the Servant?

What if the speaker or writer was just to say, or write, during colonial period, the then colonial government or during the colonial days in Nigeria? Or during colonial regime, after all, the British were not elected to serve in Nigeria or in any of its former colonies!

There are many, numerous words that we Nigerians use, words that are peculiar to us, words that we use, which convey the precise meaning to the reader or listener, with same or similar pedigree of our social cultural backgrounds, meaning to which only those who knows, are supposed to know and appreciate.

It is sort of pictorial picturesque manner of speaking and writing. It is like conveying a political commentary that would fill several pages, but it is rendered in cartoon format in one-quarter page and all those already familiar with the political storylines, are quick to appreciate the cartoon, to which several written pages would not convey sufficiently to the uninitiated.

Nigerians possess this crisp, succinct and precise clarity, for expressing situations that are idiosyncratically Nigerian. We must however give more thought to the words that we use, so that what our words convey or connote are concisely what we mean.

We must express our point of view without secondary or extraneous meanings and or innuendoes. Nigerians public speakers and writers ought to be more deliberative and contemplative, in our choice of words and expressions.

We should be deliberate and careful, to express ourselves and enunciate our intents.

Nigerians should endeavor to be particular, as regards how we come across, with our words. It is quite easy to be lost in translation or to be taken by someone who is not a Nigerian, to take a Nigerian speaker or writer as having a mindset, to which Nigerians do not aspire, in the least! Words, spoken or written, do indeed have consequences!

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1 comment

CEO June 7, 2006 - 8:27 pm

I believe it is the second language thing. It is good you called attention to the issue.

Lack of the psychological leadership impact of the word, "master" is also why a Nigerian will use the word colonial master. What did Americans do in their own case? Do the opposite of what ever Britain probably left with them. Why? Because to innovate is to lead, and to copy is to follow.




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