Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Fading Identity

Too many things have gone wrong in Nigeria and the belief that change will come with my generation and not the present crop of leaders really gets me worried. As I look around, interact with my colleagues at work and listen to the radio, I am burdened that my generation may not be able to cause the needed change. I fear that we cannot cause that change to happen because you can only preserve what you cherish. I fear that we do not cherish our country because we are losing our identity. I fear that we do not place enough value on ourselves as Nigerians. The reasons behind my fears are not farfetched - we want to dress like Americans, talk like Americans, and spend the American dollar in Nigeria. We say we are proudly 9ja but do not want to speak with a Nigerian accent that would clearly distinguish us anywhere in the world.

When I talk about speaking with a Nigerian accent, I do not mean with the h-factor i.e. HAIR pronounced as ‘air’; HEAR pronounced as ‘ear’; or the r-factor i.e. UMBRELLA pronounced as ‘umbrerra’, PLEASE pronounced as ‘prease’ or generally poor pronunciation like YES pronounced as ‘yels’, FINE GIRL pronounced as ‘fine ger’; BOYS pronounced as ‘bois’ and the numerous examples you all are aware of. I do believe however, that there is a respectable Nigerian accent that you can speak anywhere in the world and you’d be accepted. Professor Wole Soyinka, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Chimamanda Adichie and a host of well respected Nigerians address audiences globally and speak with that ‘respected Nigerian accent’ and they receive standing ovations.

Last week, as I listened to the news on my way to work a brief excerpt from Professor Wole Soyinka’s address to Lawyers at their annual conference was aired. The Nobel Laureate stood out in his usual manual for his impeccable spoken English, but one thing was certain, he spoke with a clear and respectable Nigerian accent. On the flip side, the news presenter struggled with an accent which was neither here nor there. It was clearly not Nigerian, neither was it British or American. What baffles me most about several radio presenters in Lagos is that most have this fake accent that places them neither here nor there. I have actually wondered if that has become a criterion for getting employed in a radio station.

A new phenomenon with Nigerian employers these days is a preference for hiring Nigerians who speak with a British or American accent whether or not they have content. That same intimidation they face when they come in contact with a white man is what has translated into their recruitment style. Yet we complain that we are not respected and are discriminated against when we travel abroad, when we discriminate against ourselves. I think it is ridiculous claim because as they say, 'charity begins at home'.

Dan Forster, an African-American radio presenter at Inspiration FM in Lagos who has lived in Nigeria for about 10 years now tries to speak Yoruba but doesn’t want to lose his American accent. The French man may not speak English as well as you and I do, but when he speaks English, he does it proudly with his French accent, and so does the Germany. They have a clear identity. So why do we want to lose ours?

I was fortunate to be at the Platform 8.0, an annual motivational and leadership seminar organised by the Covenant Christain Centre earlier this year and my biggest take-out was the definition of modernisation by Anand Giridharadas, columnist for the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times online. Anand says “Modernisations is not when you create your own version of Google and rename it Noogle for instance. That would be mimickery and not modernisation. Modernisation is when the world asks, what would the world look like when they begin to do things like Nigerians did?

Let’s not lose our identity to mimickery!