Sometimes we need to code-switch. This piece published 37 years ago is written in Pidgin English. It is not a perfect grammatical rendition of Pidgin English but it was an experiment for the writer to inhabit the persona of ordinary an ordinary Lagosian Joe Sufferhead, struggling to survive in the big city. The linguists among you will recognize it as a Sociolect-the language spoken by a certain class of people, in this instance, the so-called ‘common man.’ The irony of this piece is that decades, later the litany of complaints is hauntingly familiar. The perfidy of the ruling class-civilian and military remains unchanged. My apologies to my non-pidgin speaking friends. Enjoy.
Oga President Sir,
dey I write you dis letter because, as today be Independence Day, I tink say na di right time for all of us wey dey suffer for tell you di tin wey dey
our mind. I don dey dis country since de day my mama born me, and I don dey look dis country since the time when oyinbo peoples still dey. Then ‘Zik of Africa’ dem take big big grammar drive oyinbo peoples dem go, I tink say better don come be dat. But to my surprise, na from dat time nahin tori begin wor-wor.
The first politicians, dem jus come chop, like say na only dem alone God give mouth. No wonder when soja boys come, dem just come drive dem commot patapata.
True-out the war, when hunger wan finish man pickin…we dey. After the war now, Gowon im ‘oil boom’ time come reach; true true man pikin enjoy small o, but na only small, because the chop wen army and some civilians chop for Gowon time…na uncountable!
Small time, Murtala vex, he come drive dem comot come probe dem all. Dat time I happy well well. Dat time all those thief thief big men piss for body; fever catch all of dem.
Dem come kill Murtala when dem see say the man too toff. Obasanjo and Yar’Adua dem com take over gofment, like all the other gofments, dem too siddon chop them own bellyful.
1979 come reach, we do elections — me sef I follow dem vote well well. After dem settle the 122/3 palava for court, dem declare your excellency president. That time una promise us say chop go boku yafun yafun, say man pikin no go sleep under bridge again. Una tell us say we be one nation, one destiny, say we all be brothers and sisters.
But the tin wey una promise us no be de tin wey una come do. Small time now una begin take we small people take play football. No do, no do, una say money finish for country, say we must tight belt for austerity. Man pikin never recover from Obasanjo im own,when una bring una own austerity katakata.
House wey una promise man, man no see; the one wey come pain person pass na chop. All de green revolushun wey una say una spend plenty money on top… rice na N100 a bag! Dat na if you see am buy sef. Hungry waya person, but Umaro Dikko say because im neva see person dey find chop for dustbin, hungry no dey catch person. Dat man sef, one day go be one day!
But una people dem just dey fat everyday; una dey pull rosy cheeks when poor man dey suffer. Una dey buy private jet up and down like say money be sand. Dey travel overseas like say na una backyard una de go. Small time una go come tell us say we must be honest and we must love our country, because we be ‘one nation,one destiny’. Small time una go talk about Etika revolushun…because person keep quiet no mean say man pikin be moo-moo. Dis country na real “monkey dey work, baboon dey chop”. Una tink say person stupid.
When una see say elections de come, and man pikin don vex for una, una come promise say una go “flood the country” with chop and provisions. The only flood wey me I see na de ones wey cover the Jakande gutter for the front of my batcher! And na blood full am!
Elections come come now, na another story be dat. All the politicians dem come begin dem mago mago. But since “cunny man die, cunny am bury am” I no surprise at all, when dem say una don win again. Because I no say una own wuru-wuru na “one in town”.
Oga President, if I tell you say we happy, na lie we dey lie. No work for town, no money for man pocket, and the small chop we dey town, if you yourself hear the price, you go wan faint. Common milk na fifty kobo, one cup gari na 25k, ordinary rice na 50k a cup.
Everywhere katakata for road ‘kill-and-go’no let man pass. For house, moskitos no go let man sleep, hungry no go let man rest. And na dis same Nigeria nahin we all day. Na all of us get dis country. All dis una yanga self; una no dey fear God? Anyway God dey … dis na poor man prayer.
But make I tell una say God no dey sleep, and no condishun is parmanent. I go write you again soon.
Yours in austarity,
Citizen Joe Sufferhead
Saturday October 1, 1983