I go chop ya dollar

This is a dual-language blog entry. Nigerian Pidgin first, then the translation to en-US. 

Dem get dis show for radio "This American Life". I been hear small small part of de show wey dem gist about 419-eaters. Some oyinbo dey make wuru-wuru for de yeye people wey dey send that e-mail. When the show finish dem play Osuofia "I go chop ya dollar", but dem say na de song wey popular among all de 419 people. I think say them go make people confuse. That song popular throughout Africa, and no be guy say we dey make cunning for Oyinbo. Make I tell you truth, O! 

OK, I lied. I'm switching to en-US all the rest of the way. First I'll translate the above, and then I'll continue... 

cue sound of ghetto blaster tape rewinding

There's this radio show "This American Life". I caught a bit of a recent episode which included a tale of 419 baiters, basically westerners who look to tun the tables on the e-mail scammers. At the end of the show they played Osuofia's "I go chop ya dollar", saying it's a song popular among 419 scam artists. This might be true, but it's misleading. The song is popular throughout Africa and the diaspora, and not because people are celebrating e-mail scams. I think it's worth clearing up the record a bit, but first of all, here's Osuofia. 

Poverty no good at all, oh
Na him make I join this business 
419 no be thief, its just a game 
Everybody dey play am 
If anybody fall mugu, Ha! my brother, I go chop am 

Translation: Poverty sucks, so I joined this business. 419 isn't stealing--it's just a game. Everybody does it. If anyone is stupid enough to fall for it, I'll get away with what I can. 

National Airport na me get am 
National Stadium na me build am 
President na my sister brother 
You be the mugu, I be the master 
Oyinbo I go chop your dollar, I go take your money disappear 
you are the loser I am the winner 

Probably no translation needed except to mention that Oyinbo means white man. 

Osuofia is a character from a few popular Nollywood comedy films, and really what this song is doing is two-fold. It's providing some fictional escape from the too real problem of poverty in Nigeria, among honest people and dishonest alike. It's also skewering the outrageous claims of 419 scam artists, along with the outrageous gullibility of those who fall for such claims. 

Think of it: you walk up to a man on a small town Nigerian street (say Okigwe, where I went to secondary school). You tell him "hey, if you were to send Americans an e-mail telling them you're the widow of the President, and that if they can get you $10,000 you'll get them $1,000,000 the president stole from his people." You might expect his reaction to be: "I can't imagine who would fall for such a silly story, but if they did, I don't feel sorry for them, because why should they want to help in theft from people who can so ill afford to lose anything?" You could also imagine this man wandering back to work with no lunch (he has to skip that meal to save money) dreaming of what he could do with $10,000 from a greedy, gullible hand overseas. 

Then a year later you go back to that same man and you tell him "Remember that scam I told you about? Well it's been going gangbusters, and there have been a lot of victims, and now people look at all Nigerians as just a bunch of spammer/scammers." Imagine his combination of bemusement, bewilderment and contempt for both the scammers and the vics. Most Nigerians handle such nonsense with black irony, and this is precisely the spirit of "I go chop ya dollar". I'd say that's obvious to any Nigerian who hears it, and the festive tone of the song is just the broadest clue. 419ers who enjoy the song probably employ intentional double irony. 

Which means, of course that the use of the song in the close of "This American Life" represents a triple irony. Which is pretty cool, even if they unwittingly gave the wrong impression about the song's audience.

Kambili? O bia la ozo?

No, Kambili is not back, but the genius behind that wonderful character has obviously not been resting on her laurels. The buzz about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's sublime novel Purple Hibiscus finally compelled me to find an (alas!) rare spot in my schedule to read a novel last year. I won't soon forget the rewards. Not only does Adichie possess rare craft in prose, but her characters are vivid and sympathetic. Even the antagonist figure, Kambili's father, was rendered with the sensitivity you would expect from a seasoned storyteller. This was a first novel? Almost impossible to believe. Throw in the fact that the descriptive prose evoked so many wonderful memories of South-Eastern Nigeria, and especially of Nsukka, where I spent three years in University, engaged in a frenzy of intellectual, social, and even political activity. On a sad note she describes the terrible decomposition of the town and University of Nsukka, a process of which I've heard plenty from other Great Lions and Lionesses. I'm hardly the only one to marvel at Adichie's accomplishment. Her reviews have been effusive, and her novel won or was short-listed for an armful of awards. More importantly, it did a respectable trade, which is rare for a book of literary merit in this day. Furthermore:

Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus may soon become Nigeria’s most widely translated work after Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The author told Sunday Sun that the book which won both the Hurston Wrights and Commonwealth Prizes and made the Orange Prize shortlist and the Booker Prize long list has been translated into nine European languages -- French, German, Lithuanian, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Polish, Dutch and of course Hebrew.

--Nigeria's Daily Sun tabloid

Imagine, then, how my ears perked up when I was listening to the Foley Flap show (a.k.a. today's All Things Considered on NPR) and I caught in a story relieving the political firestorm a reporter trying gingerly to pronounce Adichie's name. It turns out she has a new novel. It's not more from Kambili, which is in a way too bad, because Kambili is a character I hope to encounter once more. Then again every writer deserves the emancipation of their choice from their own characters, who can sometimes act as jailers. Besides, this time, Adichie has taken on quite a setting: the War for Biafra. This war is as important in the minds of most Igbos as the six-day war is in the minds of most Israelis, despite the fact that we did not enjoy the same successful outcome. (Indeed the fact that Israel was one of the only nations to support Biafra is one of the reason so many South-Eastern Nigerians have a strong pro-Israeli tendency, although some of the unfortunate recent power politics in the Middle East is beginning to test that loyalty among Igbos I know). I've read my share of novels and memoirs of those times, but as I've remarked to my father (who was an officer in the Biafran army), I think it won't be until my generation takes up the story that the episode will receive the literary and historical treatment it deserves. I'll definitely start on Half of a Yellow Sun as soon as I can, to see if Adichie is the one to prove me right.

p.s. It was fun to hear the NPR reporter pronounce "Igbo" as "Ig-boh", with the "g" and "b" clearly pronounced in separate syllables. No labial-velar plosives in the NPR pronunciation cheat-sheet, I guess.

p.p.s. I also recently bought Helen Oyeyemi's Icarus Girl, about which I've heard wonderful things. I surprise myself in the degree of possessiveness with which I eye my Nigerian middle-class peers. I'm not surprised that all the intellectual belligerence, curious creativity and dogged resourcefulness I remember from my teens is fueling a new generation of Nigerian literary accomplishment.

p.p.p.s. I also ran across an interview with Adichie in Nigeria Village Square , from which:

...religion in Nigeria has become insular, self-indulgent, self-absorbed, self-congratulatory. Churches spring up day after day while corruption thrives as much as ever and God becomes the watchman standing behind you while you seek your self-interest at all cost. God loves you more than others. God wants you to be rich. God wants you to buy that new car.

Boy did I feel that in my recent trip back home. It's rather creepy.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Want a Slave Trade tour? Don't miss Arochukwu.

Excuse me, please, but I need a moment of pidgin.

Na wah oh! E be like say ndi-Arochukwu don vex well well. Them say "all the Akata dey go Ghana, dey take their dollar go Ghana, say na slavery history tour". We, nko? We no get slavery? We get am plenty. I beg bring your dollar come make slavery tour". Ah beg. Dis one don pass man.

I read it in Naija Blog:

The Nigerian Tourist Development Commission's website has a page on an hypothetical slave tour for Nigeria. They write that "Arochukwu has a distinguished reputation as a source for the supply of slaves." I wonder if the good people of this town would like to be considered in this way. I'm not sure its quite something to be that proud of.

OK, to be sure we don't treat the history of the slave trade as gingerly in Nigeria as we do in the U.S. An old girlfriend of mine was from Arochukwu, and when I wanted to tease her (which was often) I called her "slave trader". She'd call me "bushman" It's all good. Of course I didn't dwell on the fact that my Mom is from near Calabar, where the Aros would typically sell all the slaves they'd captured in their raids on the Igbo interior (where my Dad is from).

But even for those of us who can be that relaxed about it all (easy enough when your forbear was not the one shuffled off in a coffle to Calabar for a ghastly journey and a ghastlier existence abroad) the idea of building a tourism industry around all that sounds potty. Then again, I remember once traveling to New Orleans with a bunch of my Norwegian friends. They were dead set on going to see a plantation museum (I rememeber the flyer laid it on thick about "witnessing the slave's experience"). I recoiled from the idea and excused myself from the expedition, preferring to sleep in the car, but they came back all a-twitter. I guess there might be some logic to the whole thing. The same logic that keeps Mme Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors and the Torture Museum in Amsterdam going. I also hear that many Black Americans visit Goree in Senegal and Ghana's coastal slaving fortresses, and that such tourism is supposedly Ghana's largest source of hard currency.

It's all about the Benjamins. Especially when Benjamin used to be named "Baneji".

And oh by the way... Whoever designed that Nigerian Tourism site? And whoever paid for it? I got something fo' dat ass. I don't remember the last time I saw anything that garish on the Web. It needs to be in a bad design competition.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Back from Nigeria

The Boulder Super Shuttle dropped us off at home at almost 2 a.m. this morning after a marathon 50 hour trip from Calabar, through Abuja, Amsterdam and Minneapolis (we ended up driving rather than flying back to the airport in Abuja for our return flight).

We're all exhausted but otherwise very happy. It was such a wonderful trip. Lori and the kids loved it. Lori admits that it certainly defied all her preconceived notions of Africa, and even for me there was so much that I found changed after 15 years of absence. I'll write more about it later, but for now I wanted to mention that uche.ogbuji.net was down for the past couple of weeks. The server had a maintenance reboot while I was gone and I hadn't left directions for re-launching the new CherryPy set-up I'd made for the site. I've restarted it now, and will look to add it to the startup scripts.

Next I'll address the backlog of comments.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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ABTI-American University of Nigeria (AAUN) in Yola, eh?

So I'm compelled to add a preface t this post: I am in no way associated with AAUN, and I suspect that writing in the comments section of this post is not the best way to contact that University.

via Emeka Okafor I discovered this brand new University. It's a very interesting development for several personal reasons. First of all, my father started our family's history of study in US-style universities when he left just after the Biafran war to pursue Materials Engineering at the American University in Cairo (after the Biafran war made it impossible for him to take up a full-ride scholarship he'd earned at the University of California. He subsequently went to get his Ph.D. at Case Western University, Cleveland). He told me that he had been a fan of the VOA, and so he applied for American scholarships. When he missed the time window for UC, he took the next available scholarship, for the nearest US-Style University, which happened to be in Cairo.

Nigerian Universities have been traditionally British-style, which I personally prefer, with my limited experience of having attended one American-style and one British-style University.

The AAUN front page says:

AAUN is the first American-style University in sub-Saharan Africa. Our mission is to offer a world-class, American style education to students who do not wish to spend four years studying in the United States.

Well and good, but the "about" page says:

AAUN is intended to be the first world-class university in West Africa and will be one of the premier universities on the continent.

What the fuck? How dare they? Ask the employers of the countless products of West African universities pursuing professions across the globe whether their employees' Universities were not world class. West African has a very impressive history of Universities, and in their great ages, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN, which I attended) and University of Ibadan, just to mention two examples in Nigeria, were undoubtedly world class. Yes, many of these institutions have fallen on hard times, but the AAUN claim seems to ignore even their past achievements. It seems the colonial attitude is still alive and well.

One thing I will say is that universities such as UNN are more traditional Universities, rather than vocational in nature. I think this is usually a good thing, but in the present circumstances throughout much of West African, it makes sense to focus on vocational education, as AAUN does. We need to grow our professional class as quickly as possible. There might be a little shortfall in available opportunities for such training, but if we can keep our markets working properly, economic forces will find efficient use for them in time, as it did in India, for example. Worst case it will just increase the brain drain, but contrary to many others, I think that brain drain from West Africa is not an obviously egregious problem (or at least that it's not obviously worse than low educational attainment of natives).

Another reason for my interest in this announcement is that I lived in Yola, Nigeria for a couple of years growing up. My father lectured at the Federal University of Technology, Yola for a while in the mid-80s. Yola is, I think, an odd location for the first of any kind of University. It's a fairly remote and sleepy town in the unfashionable North East of the country. In any case, all the best to AAUN, and to those applying to study in the charter Spring 2006 term. I like the high-tech accoutrements that will apparently be standard on campus.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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I'm going going back back to Naija Naija

(Apologies for the title to the late Biggie Smalls). Fifteen years. Iri na ise. That's how long it's been since I've even stepped foot on Nigerian soil. The latter half of this December Lori, the kids and I shall be heading back for the holidays. Should be quite an experience for Lori and Osita. I expect Jide will just be generally aware that stuff's kinda different. Udoka will probably know no better than to squeeze the lungs when he needs Mom for that milk.

We'll mostly be staying in Calabar with my maternal relatives, since we're traveling with my mother, but we'll jaunt around some, including a visit to my father's home town. I hope to get to Nsukka, where I began university although that might not be realistic in the available time. It's a good time of year to go. Not only will there be a lot of folks to see, because Nigerians traditionally go home for Christmas hols, but the weather will be as close to Colorado's as it gets there, what with the dry season in full effect, the chilly Harmattan mornings and the intense midday sun. The mosquitoes should be at manageable levels. Should also be a good time for shopping. Thanks to Naijajams, I have a good sized list of music to pick up, and then there are all those books I just can't seem to find here in the U.S. Now that I'm finally starting to get over the shock of how much it's all costing us, I'm getting pretty excited.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Happy Birthday, Nigeria

Ndewo nu. Ekaro. Sanu. The land of my birth is 45 today. No be small ting, oh! Thrown together as we were by the Beasts of no Nation, it would have been prodigy enough for the nation to have lasted a decade. It very nearly didn't. As it is, it looks as if we're intent on fusing our identity into the global fabric as a set of intriguing personalities with exotic names rather than as a nation. Just yesterday I watched Chiwetel Ejiofor put in his usual smouldering performance in the geek event of the week. I'm wondering when Wole Soyinka or Chinua Achebe will next be in my neck of the woods so I can see the great men speak. I scour the local bookshops for glimpses of anything by Abiola Irele. I grin at the rave reviews for U.S./U.K. published novels by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Helen Oyeyemi and Chimezie's great friend Nnedimma Okorafor-Mbachu. I wild out when Oguchi Onyewu and Amaechi Igwe play strongly for the US national soccer team, Ogonna Nnamani for the US Women's Volleyball team, Emeka Okafor for the US Basketball team. Heck, I wonder whether Emmanuel Olisadebe will have a good run now that he's been reactivated to help Poland through the 2006 World Cup qualifiers (yeah, that's right—Poland). My son Osita and I try to catch the New York Giants (a team I've traditionally ignored) so that we can check out his namesake Ositadinma Umenyiora's skills at work in the American brand of football. Hmm. There's a broken lens somewhere behind this picture. Ah well. In a less somber observance, I've added Nigerian Blogs Aggregator to my sidebar. And I hate to wish anyone ill, but I just have to spend a moment today invoking the banana peel for Angola in the final African group four World Cup qualifier round so Nigeria can join the U.S. in booking tickets to Germany.

Nna man, men. 45 years, abi? We see wahala no mean say we no fit celebrate. E je ka jo O!

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Go go go go ma lo Funke, it's your birthday
We're going to drink palm wine like it's your birthday
We're going to drink ogogoro like it's your birthday
Girl, I don't really care it's not your birthday
You can find me in buka
Eating amala
Omo I got what you need
If you’re into drinking Star
I’m into writing checks
Can’t work behind the bar
Come give me a hug
If you can cook eba!

JJC and the 419 Squad—from "50 Kobo and the Gidi Unit"

OK, this song made my day yesterday. I learned of it via Black Looks, "Naija Blog Roundup". Kobo is the hundredth unit of a Naira. "JJC" is Naija slang "Johnny just come" for a greenhorn of some sort. I've marked up the other Naija terms in abbr tags. Just hover your mouse over each one to get the gloss. The song is, of course, a parody of the smash worldwide hit "In da Club" by American rapper 50 Cent.

Find me in da club, bottle full of bub
Ma, I got what you need if you need to feel a buzz
I'm into having sex, I ain't into making love
So come give me a hug, if you into getting rubbed

Ah, 50 Cent is such a charmer, it seems. A pole away from 50's anthem to bling-bling, Ecstasy pills and frottage, JJC and co. rap a tongue-in-cheek form of Nigerian playa rap in Pidgin and Yoruba. A couple of other choice lines:

"When you see me up front, it's always Legedez Benz"
"I'm a Naija, toss it up to the good life"

The source site, Naija Jams is a find in itself. Every week or so they post a full mp3 of a Nigerian pop song. Some are new, like "50 kobo" and some are old, like Majek Fashek's "Send sown the rain" which was a hit back in 1987 or so when I was still in Nigeria. I must say I never heard the silly myth about Fashek's performance of that song ending a drought, and anyway the very idea of a single drought afflicting the all of Nigeria is just ludicrous.

By coincidence, via Jon Phillips today I found The African Hip Hop Project a page hosting over twenty Hip Hop tracks relating to the continent, most songs by African Hip Hop groups, including two different songs by JJC and the 419 Squad.

There's nothing quite like unanticipated riches.



[Uche Ogbuji]

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