US ambassador to Nigeria James Entwistle caused a stir in Lagos recently when he spoke in Pidgin English on a Wazobia Radio programme during which he was being quizzed about Nigeria’s new gay rights law.
Invited to explain Washington’s stance on the matter amid reports that the US might impose sanctions on Nigeria for passing the Same Sex Prohibition Law, Mr Entwistle reverted to Pidgin English to explain his government’s policy. Widely regarded as the native vernacular and lingua franca across Anglophone West Africa, Pidgin English is understood more than any other language across the sub-region.
On January 7, President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Draconian anti-gay bill into law, making anyone convicted of being homosexual liable to 14 years in prison. Since the law came into effect, the police across Nigeria, have swung into action arresting lesbians and gays, while homophobic vigilante groups have also stepped up attacks on suspected victims.
In response to this, Washington has called on Nigeria to review the law as it is tantamount to a breach of the country’s human rights obligations. Last week, Navi Pillay, the United Nations human rights commissioner, called on the Nigerian government to observe a moratorium on prosecution of lesbians and gays.
Mr Entwistle said: “The US government no say sanction go dey for Nigeria because of same-sex palava-o.”
His phone in caused a great stir as Onimisi Adaba, the coordinating manager of Wazobia FM, said he was surprised when he received a call from the US embassy suggesting the live studio interview in pidgin. He said he was told the ambassador was practising, trying to pick up the language.
Omotunde David, the show host, was delighted to converse in pidgin with the ambassador live on the air. A self-confessed aficionado of pidgin, she said that although it may not be the language of diplomacy, it reaches people at the grassroots level.
Ms David said: “When we’re talking about reaching everyone, pidgin English is a language just like our culture. A language like the beautiful clothing that we wear, very colourful and very expressive.”
Mr Entwistle added: “Sometimes you get stuck in this government-dealing-with-government rut. You have to remember that your job is also to get out and understand the country and the people”
When asked about next year’s much-anticipated elections in Nigeria, Mr Entwistle added: “Make I tell you say US no get any candidate for mind.
“The only ting wey go sweet us be say make the election dey transparent, credible and concluded. Make Nigerians pick candidates wey go sweet their belle, wey go do well well for them.”
Ms David and Mr Adaba both praised the ambassador for being a good sport and for making the effort. They added that he warmed himself into the hearts of many Nigerians, which was a plus for the US embassy.”
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