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Opinions of Sunday, 4 December 2016

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis

Bugri Naabu: The only thing I fear is the English language!

Bugri Naabu Bugri Naabu

By Francis Kwarteng

“Many people do not know that Jesus did not speak Latin or English or Hebrew; he spoke Aramaic. But nobody knows that language. So we’re talking about the Bible itself being a translation of a translation of a translation. And, in reality, it has affected people’s lives in history” (Ngugi wa Thiong’o).

Daniel Bugri Naabu is the Chairman of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in the Northern Region.

The Ga word for “mouth” is “naabu,” coincidentally also Bugri’s second name.

According to Mustapha Hamid, Akufo-Addo’s spokesperson says this eloquent or articulate “naabu” can only spit poor English and furthermore, this same vulgar “naabu” has no knowledge of “the twi language.”

Are Twi and English the only languages spoken in Ghana, a unitary state whose citizens—save some ignorant ethnocentric hegemonists—are known for their expression of liberal tolerance for multilingualism and multiculturalism?

Even Jesus, who did not speak English and Twi some two thousand years ago, can now speak both languages extremely well today, thanks to modern technology among others.

The answer? Translation!

Ngugi wa Thiong’o recalls an incident, a funny one of course, in which a Western missionary, who could not stop disturbing the ears of Kenyans that Jesus spoke English, was sharply reminded that Jesus did not in fact speak English but rather Aramaic, possibly Hebrew as well.

What is all this infatuation about English about? Many Ghanaian are polyglots these days and therefore Bugri could have been present at the press conference with some of these polyglots in tow.

Yet these are beside the point of what we actually want to put across, which is that he could have been present and made his case at the press conference against President Mahama and his brother, Ibrahim Mahama.

What language is he Bugri going to speak if he is assigned a portfolio in a potential Akufo-Addo government?

How is he going to communicate with Ghanaians and the larger world as a public figure in a potential Akufo-Addo government since Hamid says his English is poor, and that he does not understand Twi?

Is that what the laws say, that Ghanaians are required to speak only English and Twi?

Are there not Ghanaian parliamentarians who cannot even speak English? How do these folks contribute to legislative deliberations?

The misplaced idea that one is not intelligent because one does not speak English—however passably—is a really sad one.

No wonder Bishop Obinim reportedly said “The only thing I fear is the English Language,” words we put in Hamid’s mouth.

In fact the English language does scare the wits out of loudmouths like Bishop Obinim.

Unlike Bishop Obinim however, Madam Akua Donkor is not fazed by the English language.

“I am not illiterate as some believe. I deal with well-educated people and I express myself well to their understanding but I don’t speak the English language often because it’s not my language. It’s unfortunate Ghanaians value the English language than their mother-tongue. Even the foreigners make fun of us. No Chinese will speak English, they value theirs.

“It’s nonsense and shameful for us [Ghanaians] to speak English after sacking our colonial masters. If we want to speak English then we should bring them back to Ghana to rule us. I will never speak English…I value my own language and I’m proud of it.”

Of course while not everything she alludes to in these statements might necessarily be true in a literal sense, such as her position that “no Chinese will speak English,” Madam Donkor is certainly right on the Ghanaian neocolonial craze or appetite for the English language.

On the other hand, she might be right if her Chinese example underscores the patriotic pride with which the Chinese embrace their language.

We see how their leaders generally confidently speak Chinese (“Mandarin”) during press conferences in Western capitals in the presence of their Western colleagues, unlike our leaders who want to prove to the native Western English speaker that they are better at the language than the native Western English speaker.

What on earth will Bugri want to say in his poor English that he could not otherwise say in his native tongue?

What language(s) was the alleged bribery conducted in?

What about the nature of the professional language of banking transactions in which the alleged bribery took place?

If the bribery allegations go to court as Madam Joyce Bawa Mogtari has said, and Bugri is called to testify, what language is he going to speak?

As a matter of fact is he going to ask people like Hamid to represent him in court, while he does not show up to defend himself?

Or he is going to appear in court in his one behalf, but take to pleading the fifth on the basis of his poor English, of his lack of knowledge of Twi?

Is it a crime to speak Broken or Pidgin English in Ghana?

Didn’t William Shakespeare use Broken English in some of his history plays?

How about Amos Tuotola, the famous Nigerian writer whose classic novel “The Palm-Wine Drinkard” made liberal use of Pidgin English?

In Ghana and across Africa we tend to look askance at intelligent men and women who are articulate in their native tongues, even disapprovingly labeling them “villagers” among other stigmatic labels.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o has railed against this tendentious posturing of Africans in a number of high-profile publications, thus buttressing his proverbial formula of publishing in both Kikuyu and English, a technique primarily aimed at reaching a wider audience of Kikuyu-speaking Kenyans and of those Kenyans who can only read in English.

In the main, Hamid could have served the world better by demanding Bugri’s physical appearance at the said press conference where he presented his side of the story in any language of his choice, a language he speaks so well—beyond passable acquaintance—and then allowed another person to translate for him.

The irony is that Bugri allegedly took the bribery money and cars all of which have everything to do with the English language in one way or another.
Let’s call a spade a spade: Bugri speaks Aramaic, which Thiong’o says “but nobody knows that language.”

But by allegedly accepting the bribery gifts, he incidentally acquires English and all the possibilities it represents.

“A person who acquires English has access to all the things that that language makes possible” (Ngugi wa Thiong’o).

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Now that Bugri Naabu has reportedly converted from Christianity to Islam for political expediency, rather than for personal convictions bordering on spiritual ethos, he may long have clearly understood the language Jesus spoke when he gave a press conference announcing to the world his betrayal by Judas, before his crucifixion.

Between Jesus and Judas, who is the Judas here? Who betrayed whom as Alfred Mahama, the president’s brother, has recently alleged in the wake of the controversy, that he Bugri stabbed Ibrahim Mahama—who had previously given gifts to the latter—in the back? Who are the benefactor here and the Judas there in this unfolding drama of labyrinthine political theatre resembling Orwellian “Animal Farm”?

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Bugri Naabu’s physical presence at the press conference, to present his version of events and to answer questions directly related to the bribery scandal, perhaps, will have gone a long way to disabuse the minds of those skeptics who still believe he may have been coached by some criminal minds within the NPP to tarnish the office of the presidency.

In our opinion, this will probably have enhanced his public and moral credibility the more since the timing of the press conference raises more questions than answers.

For instance, one wonders why he did not take up this seismic scandalous controversy with the minority NPP MPs for them to have lodged impeachment proceedings against President Mahama while still prosecuting him [the president] and his brother in the court of public opinion. This will probably have given the leadership of the NDC and its political propagandists less room to maneuver.

Perhaps, the Bugri camp entertained the fear that the parliamentary majority which the NDC enjoys will have potentially led to their strategy being shot down as happened in the Rawlings-Abacha case.

Regardless, what we have are lame sensational allegations and the NDC’s inexcusable skirting the “substantive” issues surrounding the allegations. NPP should pursue this matter to its logical conclusion if it wins the elections. The NDC should also pursue this same matter to its logical conclusion should it retain its incumbency. This is the only way we come to the truth and learn from it.

Nevertheless a story half told requires uncompromising finality, a moral and political denouement in the political theatre.

For now, it appears the NPP may have won the propaganda contest hands down. Let’s wait and see how this reflects on the general outcome of the upcoming elections.

REFERENCES

Ghanaweb. “It’s Nonsense To Speak English In Ghana—Akua Donkor.” November 3, 2015.