“Lingua Franca: From Nigerian Pidgin to Naija Languej” by Eriata Oribhabor
Nigerian pidgin is the most popular form of communication in use in Nigeria by Nigerians irrespective of tribal or religious affiliation as well as by non-Nigerians who, by reason of long stay in the country or sheer determination to learn it for ease of communication with Nigerians for business and pleasure. Its origins lie in the Niger Delta areas (Warri, Sapele, Port-Harcourt etc) where it has effectively creolized. Early contact with European merchants in the aforementioned areas saw squabbles with the locals over communicating in a strange language (English particularly, European languages generally), which was not unexpected. In the local’s bid to make even for the purpose of trade and communication, what became Nigerian pidgin was born.
The nomenclature called Nigerian Pidgin was preceded by different nomenclatures such as “Broken English”, “Gutter language’’, and even ‘‘Rotten English’’ which was made popular by the late Ken Saro Wiwa (Sozaboy: A Novel In Rotten English, Saro Press), and more. These terms were derogatory for reasons not farfetched; Nigerian pidgin was largely associated, originally, with the lowly classed people, house helps, maids and the like. Yet, over time, it gained currency as many began to have formal access to the Queen’s language even with limited capacity to speak it. As an English-based pidgin, what is now known as Nigerian Pidgin is a combination of transmogrified words from both the English language and words from indigenous Nigerian languages. Considering the multi-ethnic composition of Nigeria, with more than five hundred ethnic groups, Nigerian Pidgin is continually enriched with input from these groups. As Nigerians continually travel and interact for business and pleasure, Nigerian pidgin continues to be the language of choice for millions in the country. What was once dubbed “broken English”, “rotten English” and “gutter language” is now openly spoken by the who-is-who in Nigerian society, with political leaders launching and prosecuting electoral campaigns with Nigerian pidgin. Today, we have all Nigerian pidgin radio and television stations like WAZOBIA and WAP TV respectively and there is hardly any sports programme on radio and television that is not presented in pidgin. While the use of Nigerian pidgin in the media has made it even more appealing, Nigerian comedians have gone further and made it outright unfashionable to use “correct” English in delivering jokes.
Notwithstanding, Nigerian pidgin suffers the lack of standardization for literary usage. On this score, coupled with the fact that it is still being regarded as an unofficial means of communication in the country, the overwhelming need for standardization was addressed at the first Conference on Nigerian Pidgin organized by IFRA-Nigeria, an organization which promotes research in the social sciences and the humanities in Nigeria, from the 9th to 11th June, 2009 at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Amongst others positions, the conference agreed on a name for the expected standardized Nigerian pidgin (backed by an ortography) to guide a harmonized writing system for literary works in the language. Secondly, and importantly, it was reached that a new name should be given to the language, in order to upgrade from a pidgin to a language proper; thus NAIJA LANGUEJ. Thirdly, all paper presenters at the first conference were made pioneer members of a NAIJA LANGUEJ AKEDEMI (NLA) to work towards realizing the complete repositioning of the Naija languej in the scheme of things.
A year after the conference, a meeting of stakeholders was held to address various aspects of Naija languej, towards having a reference volume published by Naija Languej Akedemi. The stakeholders included Professors E. Egbokhare and Rose Aziza (Phonetics & Phonology), Dr. M. Mowarin and others.
As a person born and bred in Warri, Nigeria (widely acclaimed home of Nigerian pidgin), I first came in contact with and learnt Nigerian pidgin before I learned my native Esan (Edo State). The Conference on Nigerian pidgin was, for me, the realization of the first step to my dream of seeing the official recognition of pidgin as a metamorphosed Naija Languej. Having presented a paper at the conference, entitled “The Use of Pidgin in the Media, Arts and Entertainment in Nigeria”, I have carefully monitored the progressive popularity of pidgin and contributed in several ways to the highly sought after corpus of Naija Languej, including my Abuja Na Kpangba and oda Puem Dem (poetry collection, 2011), If Yu Hie Se A De Prizin (poetry anthology which I edited in 2012) and Amebo Yad (also an anthology I edited in 2013). On social media, particularly Facebook, I have promoted Naija languej via pages and groups— Naija languej Promoter, Eriata Oribhabor (author), OL FO NAIJA and Rait for Naija languej respectively.
The biggest challenge facing promoters of Naija Languej is the provision of a reference materials and guides for the use of those interested in the language, scholars and speakers alike. Nigerian Pidgin is generally known as Nigeria’s unofficial lingua franca but with the coming of a standardized Naija languej, the Federal government would have no reason holding back an official seal on a language that is the soul and spirit of an irrepressible people, uniting them on all fronts.
Eriata Oribhabor is a poet and frontline promoter of Naija languej. He started off writing poetry in the indigenous Nigerian Pidgin currently being standardized as Naija languej. Writing in the languej, he authored; “Abuja na kpangba and Oda puem-dem (2011), edited, “IF YU HIE SE A DE PRIZIN” (poems) and “AMEBO YAD” (collection of plays). A former chairman, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Abuja Branch, Eriata Oribhabor is the author of two poetry collections; “Beautiful Poisons” and “CROSSROADS & THE RUBICON”. He is the Editor, WUSHAPA – Beating the Drums of Peace, Who Shall I Make My Wife (collection of Food related poems), and a passionate lover of the streets where he once hawked various items in Warri, Nigeria; his place of birth.
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