/ 18 January 2024

Nigeria’s big debate: To ‘gree’ or not to ‘gree’

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Nigerian opera singer and performance artist Helen Epega performs during the world's first opera in Pidgin, popularly called "broken English", during the African Drum Festival in Abeokuta, Ogun State in southwestern Nigeria, on April 25, 2019. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images)

A Nigerian pidgin English phrase “No dey gree for anybody”, meaning not letting anyone bully or cheat you and which became popular in the New Year, is firing up debate after the police warned the slogan may be a message of rebellion.

While not new, the phrase has gone viral since the start of the year as a motto for self-reliance and resilience in the face of difficulties.

With the country struggling with rising living costs and security threats from jihadists and kidnap gangs, the phrase has collectively become a slogan for getting through tough times in 2024.

But national police spokesperson Olumuyiwa Adejobi last week warned against using the phrase, triggering a debate on social media. 

“The new slogan for 2023 and 2024 for our young ones is ‘No dey gree for anybody’. We have been informed by intelligence that this slogan is coming from a revolutionary sector that may likely cause problems across the country,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

“No dey gree for anybody is being seen as a normal talk, but in the security community, we have seen it as a very, very dangerous slogan.”

It was not clear whether Adejobi was making indirect reference to the #EndSARS youth-led protests against police brutality that spiralled into the largest anti-government rallies since Nigeria’s 1999 return to democracy.

Local media reported the term “no go gree” has its roots in an old Gospel song. Nigerians often mix English, pidgin and one of the country’s local languages such as Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa.

“We started saying it sometime towards the end of last year. It means ‘be resilient,’ ‘be persistent’,” said Abuja taxi driver Prosper Udeagha. “I see where the police are coming from, because they fear people expressing their displeasure could turn violent.”

Adejobi’s comments soon sparked discussion online with some critics saying the police had more serious matters to be concerned about than the latest slang.

Nigerian security forces are battling jihadists in the northeast, criminal militias and mass kidnappings in the northwest and a flare-up of intercommunal violence in central states.

“It shows where their priority is,” Aisha Yesufu, a government critic, said on X of the slang warning.

Soon after the police statement, though, even a military spokesman was using the slang to refer to Nigerians giving no quarter to armed groups.

“No gree for terrorists, and no gree for perpetrators of insecurity,” director of media Major General Edward Buba said.

Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu joined in last week to wish Nigeria’s Super Eagles football team luck in the Africa Cup of Nations. 

“No gree for anybody,” Sanwo-Olu wrote on X. “Bring home the Nations Cup.”It wasn’t the best start, however, because the three-time cup winners drew their first game on Sunday against Equatorial Guinea.