I had this funny friend that I can never forget. Whenever I think of her, I laugh like Nosy Mama Abike the tailor, known for her gossips. Chidi and I were roommate, back then in the university. The girl ehen! I use to call her Americana per excellence! Now, I don’t have a problem with people speaking like Americans or Britons as long as they get their accents and pronunciations right. I only have a problem with people hating on Nigerian accents, making it look so uncool, yet they can’t even get a hang of the foreign accents they’re trying to fake. And that’s where I faulted Chidi. Her accent and pronunciations. God! It was unbearable. Chidi would smirk and look down on people who spoke Pidgin or the English language with their mother tongues, and still be playing hide and seek with the foreign accents she was killing herself to imitate. Some days, she would sound American with a touch of Japanese, other days, she would sound partly Kenyan and partly British with slight Tanzanian drawl. Other times, she would “nasalize” everything, add some local inflections, and begin to sound like a bush baby. She will mix everything like African salad, confusing herself, her local government, and every other person around her. Her pronunciations were not even pleasant to the ear. Aunty would pronounce Fork as Ferk, and Pleasure as Pleyor. Ah! O su mi!
People laughed at Chidi and called her names. Whenever she entered the recreation room at the hostel, you’ll begin to hear names like, Madam Rwanda! Aunty Korea! Americana! Oyibo wey her Papa na black man! Sister China, and so on. Another thing that scattered the show for Chidi, was that she had a lot of secondary school mates in the university. Childhood friends’ wey know am reach house o. I remember one of them asking her where she picked her accent from because they both grew up in Okota , attended the same primary and secondary school. Chidi cursed her friend. There was no god she didn’t invoke to punish her. Zeus, Diana, Hercules, Prometheus, name them! She swore she could not even speak Igbo. At a point, I called her to order. Order didn’t mean telling her to stop cursing. No, that one no affect me. Order meant reminding her that we had capable gods here in Nigeria. More effective gods, like sango, Amadioha, Ibinu, Osun, Doondari, Oya, etc. at least these ones were closer, and can execute a faster judgment. Before those ones will enter plane, land at Lagos airport, take another plane to Enugu airport, their wrath might have diluted. Aunty use Amadioha at our backyard here! That day, she cried and cried swearing that it was all lies. I took that as an opportunity to tell her the truth. “Aunty, they didn’t give birth to you abroad. You didn’t go to school in any of these countries. The only border you have crossed in this life, is the River Niger Bridge, please stop speaking this concoction. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian accent. She was angry and did not talk to me for days. I didn’t care. It had to be said.
It all came crashing down on the day Mama Nkechi came to sell Corn in the hostel. Cheap, big and fresh corn with local pear to complement. Is our God not a great God? If you’ve ever been to eastern Nigeria, you will understand that the Igbos don’t play with Corn. When you now combine it with Ube, Jesus! You can sell your birthright like Esau sold his for a pot of porridge. Moreover, Corn is like gold because of its short season. Students were rushing left and right to buy. You go think say na rapture. Somewhere in between the crowd, I sighted Chidi too. She was running as fast as her legs could carry her. Ah! Even oyibo couldn’t resist the temptation. We were all here to buy corn in peace. Chidi was trying to speak to Mama Nkechi but the accent no gree her hear. The queue was so long and Mama Nkechi didn’t have the time for drama. As she moved to the next person. Chidi said “Mma, biko le si nu’m ito na hundred naira.( mummy please sell three of this corns to me at the price of hundred naira. The silence was deafening. You could hear a pin if it dropped. Then, everyone laughed out loud. Hay! Chidi was so embarrassed that she disappeared. I swiftly got a new roommate after the semester ended. I could no longer associate with someone who was ashamed of her roots and cultural heritage.
Moral of the story?
Speaking through your nostrils in a bid to imitate the Queen of England, doesn’t project you as classy, superior or intelligent. Nobody will arrest you for communicating in your Nigerian accent. Own your roots with pride!
Look at people like Chimamanda Adichie, Soyinka, late Achebe. They are Nigerians with notable accents and they travel around the world. They have not changed the way they talk so that foreigners can understand them! But you! you will travel to Dubai, Ghana or Malaysia for one week, or spend one month in America, and then return with one funny concoction you call an accent, and you want us to take you seriously? The essence of the English language is to communicate. Shikena! I am Madam Segi and this is my 2 cents.