As in the process of the destruction of the physical environment which was achieved through neglect and the destruction of the moral values which was achieved through their example, ‘to went’ came into Nigerian English through example as well as neglect. Roads and bridges and railways and motor parks and airports and railway stations were abandoned and neglected. They rotted and our… standards rotted with them.
One person says: “Give me a place to stand and I will move the world.”
Another person says: “Give me a place to stood and I will move the world.”
These two statements are two translations of the Latin sentence, “Da mihi locum standi et ego movum movebo.”
Somewhere in that classic novel of the university campus, Kolera Kolej by Femi Osofisan, there is a doctor’s prescription: “TO KEEP THE CAMPUS CALM/LATIN IS THE BALM!!!”
To keep Nigeria sane, Grammar is the cane!
There is another story to tell. All the animals were gathered to choose a volunteer animal to sacrifice each time a human soul departs the world for the world hereafter. Cockerel had left the forest on a long travel to a faraway land where he was assured that maize was specially prepared and brought to cockerels and hens on golden plates. And since he was not there to speak for himself, all the animals agreed that a cockerel would be killed to mark the passing of a human soul into the world beyond.
What I am trying to say is that when some of us were away so many things happened behind our backs. Steps on staircases became irregular and a danger to one’s physical uprightness. Comments have been made about this and builders and architects solicited to please restore our regular steps in staircases and cement steps in houses and public buildings. Now, the second thing that happened is that while we were away someone smuggled ‘to went’ into Nigerian English. Undergraduate essays, short messages and speeches are now riddled with ‘to wents’ to the destruction of understanding. Hence the question: “Who brought ‘to went’ into Nigerian English?”
There are other questions to ask about this issue. When did ‘to went’ come into Nigerian English? My English teachers at Oyemekun Grammar School (that is Oyemekun English Grammar School!) taught us that ‘to’ is never followed by the past tense of a verb. I remember Mr. Ogbue alias ‘I know my job, the principal knows I know my job, the government knows I know my job May God’. Bless his soul and keep his tribe prosperous taught us using Grieve etc text books. Mr. Fayose alias Mr. Bugubugu was not averse to wielding the cane to make us grammar sane! And there was Mr. Olu Falae, fresh from the University of Ibadan to fine tune our phonetics (Famusipe, close YOUR mouth!) We called him ‘brain’ because his name “fala, falae” in our pig Latin means ‘brain’! And more than the teachers of grammar and speech, we were encouraged, no, we were made to read.
Late Professor Omolade Adejuyigbe, as senior librarian, made me read a novel a week and write a report which I submitted to him when I took another novel. Reading made me know and remember for ever how a word appears on the page. So when you encountered that word in a different guise like a misspelling or a grammatical error, you remembered immediately that that is not how that word should be. You even began to correct books because you suddenly realise that grammatical mistakes can occur even in books!
So, when did ‘to went’ get into Nigerian English?…I think it came with the first coup d’etat in Nigeria. So, it is the fault of the Nigerian army. They brought it into Nigerian English.
So, when did ‘to went’ get into Nigerian English? I can hazard one guess. Everyone can hazard their own to help the historian of ‘to went’ to pinpoint the date in which it came into existence as an acceptable way of speaking and writing. I think it came with the first coup d’etat in Nigeria. So, it is the fault of the Nigerian army. They brought it into Nigerian English. Remember the grammatical blunders that were contained in many of their first broadcast usually beginning, ‘Fellow Nigerians… and ending ‘We are all together’ even when we were Biafrans apart!
No, it is not as if they decreed the new grammar with immediate effect. As in the process of the destruction of the physical environment which was achieved through neglect and the destruction of the moral values which was achieved through their example, ‘to went’ came into Nigerian English through example as well as neglect. Roads and bridges and railways and motor parks and airports and railway stations were abandoned and neglected. They rotted and our physical standards rotted with them. Promises were made and not kept. The Nigerian Army will not stay one day beyond its promise of handing over power to civilians in 1974. Then in 1976. Then in any nineteen you might like to pick. Each the promise was made, it was broken. And as if the country was not listening, we all expected things to remain the same.
Under Babangida it became a game of dribbling. If I dribble you to the left and you think you can cut me off on the left, my third leg has already taken the game to the right. Abacha even swore that he would not compete in a race he had set up the rules only for some five leprous fingers of the political gatherings to nominate him as their presidential candidate. Which nomination he gratefully accepted and promptly rewarded those who nominated him. As if the young were not watching and hearing their parents lying to them so that could learn the art of lying from their mothers’ breasts. As if pupils and students were not listening to their teachers lying to them so that they could reinforce what they were learning at home with their teachers input. You must have heard about a couple who sent to stand in for their two children in an examination so that the children can go to university. We have heard and seen the government make budget arrangements for prayers from missionaries, pastors, imams and babalawos. Although we were told that the impossible can be done immediately, and that miracles take a little longer, it is no longer so. Miracles are the order of the day. They come in big measures, in super measures and in mega measures. Miracles galore.
To get Nigeria back to sanity,
Bring back Grammar with alacrity!
Kole Omotoso writes from Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State.