JACKI LYDEN, HOST:
Now staying in Africa, diplomats who are posted there, as elsewhere, are expected to be multi-lingual, but this?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: U.S. government no say sanction go dey for Nigeria because of same-sex palava-o.
LYDEN: America's ambassador to Nigeria recently gave an interview in Pidgin English, which is a second language for tens of millions of Nigerians. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from Lagos.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Wazobia FM.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: All right, 95.1 Wazobia FM...
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Wazobia FM is the first radio station in Nigeria to broadcast in the popular lingua franca called Pidgin or broken English. The patois cuts across Africa's most populous nation, home to hundreds of languages, making it easier for Nigerians from different parts of the country to communicate. But it's not often that Westerners master Pidgin English, so imagine the surprise of Wazobia FM's coordinating manager, Onimisi "OJ" Adaba, when he got this request from the American Embassy about the new ambassador, James Entwistle.
ONIMISI OJ ADABA: I'm telling you when she notices, he's not just a regular one. He wants to be on Wazobia. I'm like wait a minute. Wazobia? I mean, we're talking about the U.S. ambassador. Does he speak Pidgin in the first place? Said no, no, no, no, but he's learning one or two things here. He's trying to pick up from here and there. And I'm like OK. It's worth giving a shot.
QUIST-ARCTON: Wazobia host Lolo David and callers asked the American ambassador about next year's much anticipated elections in Nigeria when incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan's party is expected to be pushed hard by the opposition, plus, of course, the U.S. position on the vote.
AMBASSADOR JAMES ENTWISTLE: First, make I tell you say U.S. no get any candidate for mind.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
ENTWISTLE: The only thing, the only thing wey go sweet us be say make the election dey transparent and credible. Make Nigerians pick candidates wey go sweet their belle, wey go do well for them.
QUIST-ARCTON: Did you get that? Washington does not have a preferred presidential candidate. Just let Nigeria's elections be transparent and credible. And Nigerians should choose a candidate who will do them proud. Lolo David says she was delighted with the conversation.
LOLO DAVID: It's an amazing experience and the interview's generating a lot of buzz as we are speaking 'cause nobody would believe an ambassador would bring himself to speak Pidgin. Ha. What we talking about reaching everyone, Pidgin English, it's just a language that is like our culture, a language like the beautiful clothing that we wear, very colorful, very expressive. So it's very beautiful language.
QUIST-ARCTON: Another question wondered about the U.S. reaction to Nigeria's recent controversial anti-gay rights bill. Here's the ambassador's response.
ENTWISTLE: U.S. government no say sanction go dey for Nigeria because of same-sex palava-o.
QUIST-ARCTON: In other words, the U.S. is not going to impose sanctions on Nigeria for passing a law criminalizing same-sex marriages. James Entwistle told NPR why he chose to speak Pidgin English on Wazobia FM.
ENTWISTLE: If you want people to understand the United States and where we're coming from, you have to, you know, you have to go where they live, linguistically speaking. You have to be able to communicate. So this was great.
QUIST-ARCTON: Wazobia's Lolo David says the ambassador's interview immediately began trending on Twitter and Facebook.
DAVID: Everybody didn't believe it at first, you know, like, are you see-ree-os? That was him.
QUIST-ARCTON: She says, what listeners really appreciate is Entwistle's enterprise and willingness to give it a go.
DAVID: But, you know, he put it across so people were like, wow, sir, we salute you, doing an amazing job at Wazobia. You know, de guy de try, honestly, he dey wow us. A-a Oga, we know even believe say he go fit. You know that kind thing. Twale. Respect. All it's in there. In fact, he sold himself to the hearts of many Nigerians, and that's quite a plus for the American embassy.
QUIST-ARCTON: Apparently, a successful attempt at soft-power diplomacy. Right. Here's my shot at signing off in Pidgin. Ok-o, na Ofeibea-dis, de tak long tolly for NPR News, na Lagos - no be so?
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