US Ambassador Speaks Pidgin English At Wazobia FM Interview

It’s not often that a broadcast interview by a diplomat wows listeners, but a recent conversation involving the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, James F. Entwistle, is causing a buzz – and winning applause.
The praise is not so much for the content of the interview or the pressing issues the ambassador discussed. It’s more for the language in which he chose to express himself: pidgin English.

Pidgin or broken English is the popular lingua franca in West Africa. The patois cuts across Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation, which is home to hundreds of local languages, making it easier for millions of Nigerians from different parts of the country to communicate.

Entwistle was recently interviewed by Nigeria’s Wazobia FM, the first radio station in Nigeria to broadcast in pidgin English. He was asked about Nigeria’s controversial new anti-gay legislation and whether the U.S. might impose sanctions.

“The U.S. government no say sanction go dey for Nigeria, because of same-sex palava-o,” Entwistle said.
In other words, the U.S. is not going to impose sanctions on Nigeria for passing a law criminalising same-sex marriages.
It’s not often that Westerners learn to speak and master pidgin.
So Onimisi “OJ” Adaba, the coordinating manager of Wazobia FM, said he was surprised when he received a call from the American Embassy suggesting the live studio interview in pidgin with the new ambassador.

“I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, Wazobia? I mean, we’re talking about the U.S. ambassador! Does he speak pidgin in the first place?’” Adaba said.
Adaba was told the ambassador was practising, trying to pick up things from here and there. “And I’m like, ‘OK, it’s worth giving a shot,’” he said.

Omotunde “Lolo” David, the host, was delighted to converse in pidgin with the American diplomat live on the air. She’s a self-confessed aficionado of pidgin and says, though it may not be the language of diplomacy, it reaches people at the grassroots level.
“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, very expressive. It’s a very beautiful language,” David said.
Lolo says pidgin is inventive, humorous, clever and curious — a rich language that eschews class and creed and is spoken by everyone in Nigeria, with regional variations.

“It’s an evolving language,” she said, “a language that has a life of its own.”
And it’s the language that Entwistle chose to speak, he said because “if you want people to understand the United States and where we’re coming from, you have to go where they live linguistically speaking. You have to be able to communicate.”
As a diplomat, Entwistle said 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,” he added.

  David and Wazobia FM callers asked the American ambassador a range of questions, including one about next year’s much-anticipated elections in Nigeria.   President Goodluck Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is expected to be pushed hard by the opposition, and they wanted to know the U.S. position on the vote.
His answer:
“Make I tell you say U.S. no get any candidate for mind. The only ting wey go sweet us be say make the election dey transparent, credible and concluded,” Entwistle said in pidgin. “Make Nigerians pick candidates wey go sweet their belle, wey go do well well for them.”

Did you get that? Here’s a translation:
“Washington does not have a preferred presidential candidate. Just let Nigeria’s elections be transparent and credible, and Nigerians should choose a candidate who will do them proud.”
Sounds rather bland in translation, doesn’t it? There’s no mention of something literally making your stomach sweet (i.e., that you like it) or repetition of the word “well” for emphasis.

Wazobia’s David and Adaba both praised the ambassador for being a good sport and for making the effort.
“He wormed himself into the hearts of many Nigerians,” David said. “That’s quite a plus for the American Embassy.”


Chris Kehinde Nwandu is the Editor In Chief of CKNNEWS || He is a Law graduate and an Alumnus of Lagos State University, Lead City University Ibadan and Nigerian Institute Of Journalism || With over 2 decades practice in Journalism, PR and Advertising, he is a member of several Professional bodies within and outside Nigeria || Member: Institute Of Chartered Arbitrators ( UK ) || Member : Institute of Chartered Mediators And Conciliation || Member : Nigerian Institute Of Public Relations || Member : Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria || Fellow : Institute of Personality Development And Customer Relationship Management || Member and Chairman Board Of Trustees: Guild Of Professional Bloggers of Nigeria

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