Letters from Africa: Nigeria’s art of flowery language

In our series of letters from African journalists, novelist and writer Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani considers the art of Nigerian verbosity.

My friends in the international media are perplexed by the flowery language often used in press releases from Nigerian officials.

The pretentious diction, dying metaphors and padded sentences would make George Orwell somersault in his grave.

Take, for example, this paragraph from a press release by the Nigerian parliament:

“The seminar is aimed at making good the promise of the National Assembly that we are on the same page with the President Buhari led administration and in line with the legislative agenda, that there is a synergy between the National Assembly and the Presidency in the fight against corruption.

“It is to reaffirm the point that you cannot clap with one hand. It is our way of saying that there must be a legislative strength to back the anti-corruption stance of the present administration.”

Here is another example, this time a paragraph from a Nigerian military press release:

“The Nigerian Army in synergy with other security agencies under its constitutional mandates… acted responsively in order to de-escalate the deteriorating security scenario in-situ.

“Instructively, the military and other security agencies exercised maximum restraints against the odds of provocative and inexplicable violence that were employed against them…

“It is rather inconceivable for any individual or group to have decided to inundate the general public with an anecdote of unverified narratives in order to discredit the Nigerian Army in the course of carrying out its constitutional duties despite the inexplicable premeditated and unprovoked attacks…”

Such long-winded passages can also be founded in the local press, which commonly use expressions such as “the remains of the deceased have been deposited in the mortuary”, “men of the underworld”, “hoodlums” and “tantamount to insubordination”.

Foreigners wonder why Nigerian government officials do not opt for simpler language.

Are they intentionally trying to confuse the public or to conceal information?

Well, these press releases are simply following an age-old Nigerian tradition of verbal ornamentation.

For us, important information has always been best conveyed with grandiloquence.

Writing a love letter

Back in my teenage years, long before the era of texting and sexting, there was only one way for a Nigerian boy to prove his sincere feelings for a girl: By writing a love letter.

Any boy serious about catching the attention of the girl he fancied knew better than to do it in simple English. He had to find the right big words.

adaobi-tricia-nwaubani

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

“It is tempting to, as usual, blame the British for all this, for bringing us their English language and their pen and paper”

If his vocabulary was lacking, there was always that nerdish classmate of his who, for a fee in cash or kind, could take on the role of scribe plenipotentiary.

Either that or the boy could copy verbatim from a love letter already written by someone else.

And so, the typical love letter that many of us Nigerian girls received went something like this:

“My dearest, sweetest, most magnificent, paragon of beauty, I hope this letter finds you in a current state of sound body and mind.

“My principal reason for writing this epistle is to gravitate your mind towards an issue that has been troubling my soul.

“Even as I put pen to paper, my adrenalin is ascending on the Richter scale, my temperature is rising, the mirror in my eyes have only your divine reflection, the wind vane of my mind is pointing north, south and east at the same time.

“Indeed, when I sleep, you are the only thought in my medulla oblongata and I dream about you…”

If these sweet nothings were from a boy in whom you had absolutely no interest, the thing to do was to set his letter ablaze, enclose the ashes in an envelope and promptly return to sender.

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