It was disconcerting watching the spokesperson of the Nigeria Police Force, Mr Muyiwa Adejobi, holding a press conference where he warned Nigerians about the use of the slogan “No gree for anybody.” “No gree for anybody” is a pidgin English expression which literally means “Don’t agree with anybody.” But contextually, it means: “Don’t accept any nonsense, illogicality, deceit, etc.” In other words, it means: “Stand up for your right.” It was an expression that started late last year on social media but was accentuated as the New Year resolution for 2024.
People use it in skits, posts and jokes to show that they are abreast of happenings in the country and to also show that they are “street guys.” T-shirts and other items with the slogan are also being sold. Before it, there had been expressions like, “You go explain tire; no evidence” (you will explain repeatedly, but nothing to prove that you are not guilty); “vawulence” (violence) – a term for social media hot exchange; “wotowoto” (a synonym for vawulence); “na only you waka” (you are on your own on this); “my oga at the top” (the power brokers); “70-year-old man!” (a mature person misbehaving); “I don get alert” (I have received some good fortune); “buga” (pride); “soro soke” (say it loud); “we no dey give shishi” (we don’t give bribes), etc. Like every slang, they usually last for some weeks or months and fade to the background for new slogans to reign.
Even leaders quickly latch on to them as a way to bond with the people. The police spokesperson said the police had received an intelligence report that the slogan could precipitate a revolution in the country. In Adejobi’s words: “We have been informed from our intelligence that this slogan is coming from a revolutionary sector that may likely cause problem across the country. ‘No dey go gree for anybody’ is being seen as just a normal talk, but in security business, in the security community, we have seen it as a very, very dangerous slogan that can trigger crisis.”
One clear sign that the police spokesperson was out of touch with the masses was that he did not get the slogan right. He stated at least four times that the slogan is “No dey gree for anybody” instead of the correct one: “No gree for anybody.” If the error had occurred once, it could be dismissed as a slip of the tongue. That was the first sign that his purported intelligence was faulty. For if the police could be wrong on the correct name of the slogan they were investigating, how could they be trusted to be right on other weighty issues concerning the slogan? The irony was that on the same night when the TV channels were airing the warning from the police in their news bulletins, the Nigerian Army was also tapping into the slogan to warn criminals that it would not allow them to cause further havoc in the country.
The Nigerian Army’s director of defence media operations, Edward Buba, said while addressing the press: “No gree for terrorists. No gree for perpetrators of insecurity.” Similarly, the governor of Lagos State, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, released a motivational message to the Super Eagles over the 2024 African Cup of Nations, urging them not to “gree for anybody” but to bring the cup home. That those two news items were aired on the same news bulletin as that of the police made the police look funny. For a police force that does not have such a positive image in the eyes of the populace, such a slogan was a heaven-sent opportunity to bond with the people and send out a stern warning to criminals that there will be no mercy to them this year.
The police could even start a slogan: “Operation no gree for criminals.” One of the hallmarks of effective leadership is the ability to speak the language of the led, empathise with the led, and feel their pulse. When savvy analysts review the speech of Mark Antony after the assassination of Julius Caesar in William Shakespeare’s play by that same name, they discover that Antony starts his speech by addressing the crowd as “friends, Romans, countrymen.” Those are endearing honorifics. But as a wonderful orator, he chooses to pause to feel the pulse of his audience by giving the excuse that he is overwhelmed by grief as his heart is in the coffin with Caesar. He apologises that he has to pause until his heart comes back to him.
During that interlude, he hears the Roman citizens talk to each other about the assassination of Caesar and Antony’s argument. One of them calls his colleagues “masters.” The moment Antony resumes his speech, he latches on to that and addresses his listeners as “masters.” It is like a Nigerian leader hearing Nigerians calling each other “Chairman” and adopting it in a speech. A beer brand actually appropriated that “Chairman” in its advertising. That is good thinking. The police in Nigeria have not made any serious effort to bond with the masses of Nigeria, boost their image and increase their trust quotient among Nigerians. Any time there is an opportunity to talk with Nigerians through a written press statement or oral speech, that speech is littered with warnings, threats, and orders.
Words and expressions like “undesirable elements, mischief-makers, desist from, we will not tolerate, we will crush,” appear regularly. That makes the police to always sound combative. When people hear the police say, “The police are your friends,” they find it hard to believe. In addition, the police in Nigeria are always eager to exaggerate their actions and efforts. Nigerians see through such exaggerations and laugh when they hear them. Such exaggerations do not make the police bigger or better. Rather, they make it more difficult for Nigerians to believe whatever the police say. In many countries, the police take extra steps to improve the way the masses view them. Sometimes, they are seen helping road users to change their flat tyres or push their cars off the road.
At other times they are seen giving Christmas gifts to people in traffic. In some places, they are seen dancing or playing football or basketball with youths in the street. They do this to build trust with the public, because they want the people to know that they are partners and not enemies. If the police can solve the various security issues of society, the public must trust them enough to confide in them. The police are very critical to the peace and stability of a country. Even though the military protects the territorial integrity of a country, it is the police that ensure the protection of life and property and the preservation of public peace and order. They are the officials who interface with the masses regularly and respond swiftly when the masses call in their time of need. They should be seen as allies of the people and not foes.
• Azuka Onwuka is a Nigerian celebrated columnist and a writing and language coach.