YOUNG NIGERIAN ON-AIR PERSONALITIES: A CONFLICT OF ACCENTS.
As a child growing up in the 1980s and early 1990s, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and its affiliates such as FRCN were the only source of media broadcast entertainment for most Nigerians. Even though we had limited options of what to watch on TV or listen to on radio, government-owned television and radio stations of yester years paraded an elite group of top quality ‘On-Air’ Personalities (OAP). A rare occurrence that seems to be vanishing in today’s Nigerian broadcast media.
Nigerian on-air personalities of old displayed utmost professionalism and what I would call ‘extreme Nigerianness’. From the day I began to comprehend English words and join my parents to watch NTA news, I can still recall the articulation of TV presenters like Frank Olize, Ruth Benamaisia, Elizabeth Nze, Tokunbo Ajai and Sienna Razak Lawal to name a few. There was something about them; the way they spoke-good English with distinct Nigerian accents. When you heard their voices on air, it was clear, composed, great diction and above all they sounded very Nigerian.
Fast forward to this day, Nigeria now boasts of a vibrant, liberalized, private sector-led electronic media industry. Private TV and radio stations now litter our landscape. Today, it’s easier to get an OAP job in most private radio stations, at least in Lagos than it was years ago. The criterion is simple, Television for instance: Look good, have confidence and be able to speak with an international accent. For radio, you don’t have to look good, just have a good voice, some confidence and again speak with an international accent.
These days no one is exactly sure of which accent is in vogue-British or American. Many young Nigerian OAPs have simply merged both accents to produce a hybrid foreign accent that now seems to have evolved and gotten a life of its own.
A comical twist to this scenario is that female OAPs tend to strive harder to speak with a foreign accent than their male counter parts. All you need do is tune into any private radio station in Lagos and observe; male presenters are more likely to speak with an obvious Nigerian accent while the females do their thing and add all the ‘yah’ in between every sentence. You hear things like, “As I was saying, yah, we need to...yah.” A somewhat awkward setting is when you tune in and stumble on two young female presenters co-anchoring a show; it becomes a subtle battle of ‘my foneh beta pass Ur own’.
When you go back to the television arena, it becomes even worse, sometimes ridiculous. I don’t normally like to name names (yeah right) but if you have access to Soundcity TV and you’ve watched recent episodes of their Top 10 Nigeria count down, then you ‘might’ understand what I’m talking about. These young TV presenters both male and female, in addition to giving themselves silly nicknames, struggle throughout the duration of their show to deliver and sustain their yet to be defined foreign accents. It gets so bad that many times you no longer understand what they are trying to say, or why both of them suddenly burst into laughter.
There are genuine cases were some of these OAP were actually raised abroad but they are in the minority. What we have in most cases are people who spent most of their lives in Nigeria, travelled overseas for about six months, return to Nigeria and start the accent thing.
However, it’s not gloomy all round as we still have lots of OAPs that are keeping it real; though they tend to be older-thirty five years of age and above, or veterans.
Then we have the radio sportscasters, a very noisy but energetic bunch. Still very Nigerian in their accents and all, but can someone please explain to me why they all love to insert the phrase “I tell you” intermittently during their sports commentaries?
Oh well, what do I know? Me and my chronic Igbo accent!