February 22, 2021

Bella Shmurda and the Murder of English: a Message to the Spectators

Before you say Nigeria is bad

Dr. Ganiu Abisoye Bamgbose (Dr. GAB)

Dr. Ganiu Abisoye Bamgbose (Dr. GAB)

By Ganiu Bamgbose (PhD)

Akinbiyi Abiola, one of Nigeria’s most talented musical artistes, with the stage name Bella Schmurda, has been in the news for hours, over some grammatical infelicities in an interview he recently granted.

The 400 level student of History and International Studies at Lagos State University remarked thus about his chances of emerging the winner in the Next Rated Category of the Headies Award: ‘…I didn’t CAME here for the award… It’s good to be RECOGNISE but… it doesn’t STOPS you…’

In less than a minute into the short interview, the humble and respectful gentleman had committed the three grammatical errors indicated through capitalisation in the extract above, and that immediately caught the attention of many Nigerians, who, characteristically, are ever on the alert to upbraid other people’s shortcomings.

Contrary to what the topic of this article may suggest and my position as a language crusader, the focus of this piece is to ask the average young Nigerian: Won’t you rather be a Bella Shmurda?

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I have argued in some of my articles, such as ‘School or Education’ and ‘Bookish Knowledge’, that Nigeria overrates schooling, which does not always guarantee relevance. Education is the acquisition of knowledge, skills, attitude and values WHICH MAKE ONE A FUNCTIONAL MEMBER OF SOCIETY.

Compulsory education ends in JSS3, which is now called BASIC 9. It is called basic education because it is meant to equip young ones with the basic literacy and numeracy skills which will be needed to pursue relevance in life. I have, within my few years as a lecturer at higher institutions, observed that there are actually no dull students; there are just too many young people with the misplaced priority of a baseless desire to go to higher institutions.

I have encountered 300 and 400 level students of English who cannot define an adverb, but who weave hair excellently without learning to do so. Sadly, ours is a system that makes schooling appear like the best way to be useful in life; therefore, excellent hairdressers and tailors are busy struggling with abstract ideas when they could be excelling in their fields of relevance.

The domains of humans are the cognitive, psychomotor and affective domains, and these have been represented as the HEAD, the HAND, and the HEART. We all will not have to use our heads by becoming lecturers, lawyers, bankers and so on.

Many individuals are created to use their hands, so that they can become word-class tailors, wonderful hairdressers and amazing mechanics and vulcanisers. These supposedly lucrative ventures have been made the option for only those who either cannot afford formal education or who do not quickly gain admission to tertiary institutions.

Some others, like Bella Shmurda, will dwell more in the place of the heart to understand their society and produce artistic contents to keep the world happy. For many people, school will, at best, be a tool to garnish their relevance and not, in itself, their means to relevance.

As I round off, let me make it clear that the first purpose of this piece is to encourage young people to be a Bella, who, today, is not only the pride of his family but also the pride of his institution, his country and even the black race. This is possible only if one realises that school grooms one, but it is not always a place to determine one’s purpose. Young people must look inward to find their relevance.

I was once asked by a student as regards why I admonish people to look beyond school, when I was so committed to learning in order to obtain a PhD at 31. My response was that I looked beyond school and realised that my relevance lies in being a schoolteacher. Is that necessarily your case?

Your relevance might be to become a shoemaker, and if you take it seriously, like my cousin, Kazeem Lawal, who became a shoemaker after graduating with a good grade from university, you will realise that school is not necessarily the only route to accomplishment.

Also, the Federal Government of the country and the administrations of the different states should do better at raising the standard of vocational schools, so that vocationally endowed youth will not consider themselves inferior to those at higher institutions.

Lastly, to dear Bella, you too may have to take the English language more seriously by reading good books and expressing yourself more regularly in the language. Being an artiste does not stop anyone from being a reader. Ali Baba has got a library worth over two million naira, and he is an avid reader. And to you who always ask: ‘Is English my father’s language or a measure of intelligence?’ We will wait for you to speak your father’s language when you are fortunate to be interviewed.

Nigerians must note that English is the language of upward mobility and everyone who is relevant or desires relevance should strive towards proficiency in the use of the English language.

Dr. Bamgbose is of the Department of English, Lagos State University 

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