When it comes to West African neighbours that come closest in likeness to Ghanaians, Nigeria offers a paradoxical prospect. In one sense, they are like us but in another… Nigerians are so interestingly different.
Both share much in common, not least the fact that each country is surrounded by Francophones and the Atlantic. In terms of relationships, the two have come a long way. These days, we hardly refer to Nigerians as “Anago” or “Alata.” In return, they don’t say “Ghana-nians” that much. (But the term ‘‘Charley’’ still tickles them and one never knows why).
As the most populous black nation on earth Nigeria is birth-righted with political importance. However, what has mileaged this country’s influence is neither black power nor oil wealth. In recent times it has been homemade videos. Nollywood, as it is called, has given birth to Naija, a new nation that is poised to sell her aspirations to a growing global audience. Ghana’s showbiz scene, for example, has reflected an active Nigerian influence.
I personally have a fascination for Naija. If you ask me I would say that it is a fondness that is steeped deep in nostalgia. When I entered secondary school Form One, I found that the school library was dominated by books of Nigerian authorship. “M” novels, for instance, had exciting titles such as The Biafran Testament and The Year.
Pacesetters Series also had an overwhelming representation of Nigerian writers namely, Agbo Areo, (Director) and Kalu Okpi (Coup!). Their works of fiction were to me an open sesame to a Nigerian world of cultural diversity, fast paced action and intrigue.
Even before these encounters my appetite for Nigeria had already been whetted at elementary school, having thumped novels such as Cyprian Ekwensi’s People of the City and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
My appreciation of Nigeria also has to do with personal associations with a few of her citizens over the years. I remember Lasisi Nureini, my first Lagosian classmate. Lasisi was never boring and he managed my mother tongue with a humorous accent. I cannot forget Jasper Abubakar Safaru who is usually the loudest thing around; no him no Friday, he used to say.
I also reminisce the times spent with Fizz M whose royal Yoruba name I have lost. Fizz M is your typical colourful, good-natured Nigerian. He taught me the smart trick of blowing petrol fire right from the mouth. That wasn’t all. He also showed me some catwalk steps and even how to use raw eggs and steaming water for face treatment.
Then there is Chucks, Chucks, Chucks. How many times did I mention his name? Chukwu (Obiara) Ndukwei is a soul brother. The guy is Ibo to the bone. At boys school Chucks was the one I would remain on the playing field with, far after all the others had left. We would sit on the grass and talk from dusk till the moon rose above our heads.
The two of us exchanged poems, discussed world changing views and even attempted our own infantile philosophies. When the bell rang for dinner we wouldn’t be bothered because after each soul searching session, Chucks provided dormitory-made steamy eba for our pleasure.
For the records, what Ghanaians recognise most about Nigerians is their distinctive sense to dare. There is also a certain forthrightness that is etched in their DNA. We often marvel when in movie scenes a lowly-placed such as a gate keeper or a truck pusher faces up with an oga and tongue lashes him. Our Ghanaian society is such that a big man is a big man and he is left alone when he steps on poor toes.
We are also impressed with the manner in which Nigerians proudly flaunt their “kolchor.” This eagerness to display traditional lifestyle is particularly exhibited in cuisine and dressing. Watching Nigerian statesmen and women perform official duties in flowing agbada and ashioke (aligogoro) is a real delight.
I know they would doubt this but we actually admire the way some Naija folks freely spit out the Queen’s language. Our only difficulty is when the Nigerian says “I don chop oo” when in actual fact the fellow has “chopped” the food in question. In Ghana, ‘‘don’’ is akin to don’t and thus a definite negative.
While we, Ghanaians deride ourselves for making fetish out of pronouncing English words, we are also perplexed by Nigerians’ choice of certain vocabularies. Why for instance, they use “pursue” in very informal contexts instead of a simple “chase” is a mystery.
Naija achieves another intrigue when it comes to choice of English and biblical names. On this score, Shakespeare is clearly beaten in his character names. What with Livinus, Nehemiah, Ezekiel, Bartimaeus, Maximus, Hygienus and Jeremiah? If you think these names ring out interesting wait until the short forms are called. Livi, Nehe, Eze, Barti…
To be fair one challenge Ghana has, when it comes to Naija is that we are never able to grasp the fact that Nigeria is bigger than us. (Their land mass is four times larger and they outnumber our population a whopping seven times!)
Nevertheless, should the Green Eagles ever beat the Black Stars in soccer (Tofiakwa!) Nigerians would be overly over the moon. But when we beat them -which we always do- we consider it normal and not a giant-killing feat. A victory over Togo is more relished by Ghanaians.
In a sense, what pertains between these two is akin to the British and the American relationship. I know that Brits don’t see their country as small. On the other hand, I am tempted to believe that Americans regard the home of our colonial masters as a ‘‘Little island.’’ There is a psychology to this politics of geography that I learnt the hard way.
At teatime in England one afternoon, an acquaintance hollered across to me:
‘‘Say, mate, which part of Africa do you come from?’’ I could feel a dozen eyes turn to me. I cleared my throat and articulated, ‘‘Ghana.’’
My declaration was followed by those polite, white nods which translate to ‘‘oh such a nice place’’ and ‘‘nice people too.’’ Then came the bombshell. I didn’t know what came over me but the next moment I heard myself “Small country, just like the size of the UK.”
Chineke God! You should have seen the looks on the faces of those poor Brits. Needless to say, my seemingly harmless remark poisoned the tea mood.
The urge to rub shoulders with Nigeria is so strong that we take our achievements for granted. What is it that makes Ghana feel so equal to Nigeria? The problem is that we Ghanaians hardly have it in our heads that we are a small country. All we know is that ours is a very, very important nation, abi?