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Happy birthday, Naija!

By Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo   |   01 October 2016   |   2:45 am

Happy 56th, Naija! As any honorary Nigerian, who has for a reason or five hundred, found themselves integrated into the Nigerian culture, I feel inexplicably and nonsensically patriot about a country that I have no right to call my own. I was not born in Nigeria, neither were my parents; come to think of it neither of my parents is Nigerian, so despite common assumption, thanks to my surname, that I may be half Nigerian, sorry to disappoint, but I cannot even claim any Naija DNA. Like many other fellow ‘Afroyinbos’ however this has not deterred me from feeling Nigerian.

Having been part of a Nigerian family for over a decade now, there are so many things I have seen, heard, adopted that sometimes makes me feel as if I have walked into the matrix and back, and life will never be the same again. It will be so much better!

The Naija Swag
You can’t help but love it: a Nigerian’s self-confidence that’s grounded somewhere deep inside that borders on arrogance. From the street hawker that walks on the street like she owns it even though she may be dressed in hand-me-downs or the driver who has the Kanye swag going complete with fake American phoney, to the international traveller who struts her stuff down first class lounge, her bejewelled hand dragging her Louis Vuitton luggage or the suave business who walks into the members only club in London in his Armani suit. From the upper echelons of society to the streets, the Naija swag is everywhere – it is brash, bold, brazen… You wonder what kind of lava powered fire is in the belly of these select specimen; you want a part of it; you want to be like them gliding through life to the beat of your own hype. After a while you find yourself asking, “What would a Nigerian do?”

The Naija Hustle
A Nigerian would make bracelets which read, “What would a Nigerian do?” That’s what a Nigerian would do. There is a spirited hustle pulsating through the streets of Lagos, dividing and multiplying throughout the globe. Otherwise, how would you explain the countless Nigerian merchants in Guangzhou or the Nigerian students all the way in the freezing tundras of Siberia? I bet you can travel to Greenland and find a Nigerian man selling ice to the Eskimo. No other hustle compares to Naija hustle, and it’s quite an infectious one at that. I guess when your competition is some 180milion people day in day out, there is no fire stronger up your backside. Once you spend a considerable period of time with a Nigerian, you will find yourself either hustling after the next gig or cooking up the next entrepreneurial scheme.

The Naija Tactlessness
Or shall we say honesty? While in most cultures flippant comments about someone’s look, size, height would be considered tactless at best, downright rude at worst, Nigerians are very tactlessly straightforward people. Only in Nigeria would you run the risk of visiting a friend you have not seen for a long time only to be greeted by, “Ah ah, you have added weight o! What have you been eating?” While they claim it is a compliment as weight is a sign of wealth, I am yet to be convinced, as comments about other traits are equally freely dispensed. Case in point, a few years back, I came back from a holiday feeling myself with my dark tan and pixie haircut only to be told by a Nigerian friend, “What’s happened to you? You look like a little Indian boy!”

The Naija Humour
What makes this even more amazing that as well-timed as it is, it is often unintentional humour. Before I met my late father-in-law about 12 years ago, I was warned he was a tough guy and he might not even stoop to speak to me. Oh they were so wrong! He did speak to me. A grand total of six words. As I was standing in front of the TV. “You are not transparent, you know.” It was enough of an admonishment that I scarpered away in a heartbeat. Thinking back now, I still find it hilarious that such a stern man could communicate his displeasure with such wit. And it’s these little gems that make the daily hustle worthwhile, because from your gateman to your boss, it is as if everyone was at some point discouraged from a stellar career in lifetime comedy and ended up in their day job.

The Naija Discipline
Come to think of it, they probably were discouraged by a disgruntled parent who said, “What nonsense? I am telling you, (insert full name) no son/daughter of mine will study drama!” As much as most of my Nigerian friends complain about the daily beatings they received or the countless study sessions, they are grateful for their parents’ discipline for making them into the adults they are today. Why do you think every June we hear about Nigerian quadruplets graduating with honours from an Ivy League university, or the Nigerian who made history as the first black student to do a MA in a far-flung university? If the Chinese have Tiger Mums, Nigerians have Dragon Mums.

The Naija Sound
No, I am not talking about Fela Kuti, or Wizkid, although of course they too are examples of Naija greatness. I am actually talking about the multitude of Naija expressions which say so much without saying anything much. Have you noticed not just the ‘oyinbo’ but many Africans have one means of imitating a Nigerian: Just add an ‘o’ to the end of every sentence and it will intensify its meaning. Abi o! See what I did there? Now imagine someone saying, “Abi o!” or “Na wa” – and immediately from their intonation and their expressions, you know exactly what they are saying. What other culture communicate so much with so little?

Naija Jollof
This one is just to rub my Ghanaian brothers and sisters the wrong way, because as we all know Naija jollof is the best.

Happy Independence, Naija, onwards and upwards with our swag, hustle and humour.

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