“Tu es Nigérian?” A lady asked me whether I was a Nigerian in early 2016 because I spoke English. The funniest thing to me was that she asked in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde.
According to the preamble of the Constitution of the Republic of Cameroon, the first article, sub (3) states: “The official languages of the Republic of Cameroon shall be English and French, both languages having the same status. The State shall guarantee the promotion of bilingualism throughout the country. It shall endeavour to protect and promote national languages”.
I didn’t want to argue with the lady, I decided to ask her why she tagged me Nigerian and her answer was that I spoke English, unlike other customers who spoke French.
I was stunned because the lady in question was a cashier in a financial institution holding a photocopy of my National Identity Card which I submitted as a prerequisite to withdraw money. My nationality is well spelt out in my ID Card.
Despite that, my birth certificate shows that I’m Njodzeka Danhatu Kernyuy and I was born in Nkum-kov Health Centre in Mbohghem – a neighbouring Village to mine, in Bui Division, Cameroon’s North West Region.
The lady’s question is just one too many I received while studying Philosophy in the University of Yaounde 1.
I thought that such questions in Yaounde about me being a Nigerian were because they thought that Cameroon started and ended in Yaounde. But, I was wrong.
I received the same astonishment when I came to Buea to continue my education.
At Campaign Street where I was living and schooling in UB, a vendor in a shop asked me whether I was a Nigerian.
“Why do you ask?” I questioned.
“You talk like a Nigerian,” he responded.
That was when I began to realise that, it wasn’t about my English, but my accent. Perhaps, that´s why the people in Yaounde kept questioning me about my nationality.
“I’m from Banso,” I told the man.
“But you don’t talk like people from there,” he disagreed.
He only believed me after I showed him my ID Card. It was thanks to a woman who also came to buy that emphasized to him that the name “Njodzeka” is from Nso land.
The same thing happened to me in 2017 when I travelled to Douala for my first internship at a local radio station. During the evening newscast which I was the producer of, the nationality issue popped up again from nowhere.
I had done a report depicting the challenges business people were going through due to a government-imposed shutdown of the Cameroon-Nigeria border, owing to the Anglophone crisis.
“You sounded in that report like a Yoruba man,” the technician on board told me, when my report had just finished.
This time, I was not surprised because I was already used to people misplacing my identity.
When the first semester for the 2017-2018 academic year had started, my fellow students started giving me the same stigma I was avoiding.
This time, when I spoke English, they told me that I don’t talk like an Anglophone and many kept asking whether I was a Francophone.
Even now, I´m confused as to whether I´m an Anglophone, Francophone, Nigerian or American.
A student I tutored during her internship at The Post Newspaper where I am a reporter, told me after her training that she thought I was an American because of the way I talk. Let it be clear, I´m yet to cross Cameroon´s national borders.
She´s not the only one.
During my first semester exams for the 2019-2020 academic year, a fellow master’s degree student asked whether I was an American.
“Hi ma’am,” I had greeted her as we were waiting for the exam papers.
“Hi,” she greeted back.
“Are you an American?” She asked, after four lines of talking with her.
I didn’t wanna defend myself again. I smiled and told her that we were gonna talk about my nationality after the session.
Her question reminded me of my first year in the Department Journalism and Mass Communication, when our lecturer during practical for JMC 220 at Chariot Radio, spent his time correcting me how to pronounce the word “news”.
“It’s news, (njuːz) not noose (nuːs),” he corrected.
Till today, pronouncing certain words is still a challenge which I’m fighting hard to overcome.
But why would people judge me because of the way I talk? As a result of this, I started tracing the issue back to its roots.
The stigmatisation pushed me to phone my parents back in the village, to ascertain my true identity.
It was very challenging questioning my mum about my birth, but I did, using my journalistic interviewing skills.
“Hello mum,” I greeted over the phone.
After inquiring about my siblings and others back at home, I stormed her with questions, though I had to prepare her mind.
“Mum,” I said.
“I want to ask you something children hardly ask their parents.”
We both laughed and I fired my question regarding my true identity.
She told me that I was conceived in Banyo, a town in Mayo-Banyo, a division in Cameroon’s Adamawa region. She was there with my Dad, and left for the village in Nso – Bui Division, when I was a two-month-old foetus.
So, when people keep stigmatising me, I feel bad. It’s like I’m begging to belong, which obviously shouldn´t be the case. I AM A BORN CAMEROONIAN!
When I speak even pidgin, the local language spoken widely in Buea, it still will become an issue. My friend, Namondo has said in several instances that it does not suit me. I like her courage, unlike those who would instead laugh at me when I am pronouncing words like “Jokes,” “Mumu” and so on.
In early 2018, one night, I decided to take a walk from Campaign Street – Great Soppo – to Sandpit, all localities in Buea. There, I embraced a girl whom my eyes deceived me into thinking was my friend. I was embarrassed when she turned and was a different person.
I was depressed and on my way back, I saw a fine-looking girl heading to Bakweri Town. Her morphology was awesome. The lady was walking majestically. I decided to have fun and forget what had happened with the previous girl I supposed was my friend.
While approaching her, I remember Tekno’s song – Diana. I started dancing that style Tekno danced to woo Diana. As I swivelled myself and passed in front of her, she stopped.
“Hey!” I greeted.
She didn’t say anything but stared at me like I was some idiot.
“Forgive my manners, I am Dan,” I apologised, as she started making a move again without paying any attention to me.
I continued the “Teckno-dance,” while trying to recite some love poems to her.
She again stopped.
“Are you a Francophone?” she questioned.
I was demoralised, and that is how I cut my journey short and returned home, filled with resentment.
This misinterpretation has left me wondering whether I am actually a Cameroonian.
A classmate recently said I was speaking Russian, when I was answering a question in class in English.
I am really convinced that a day is coming when people will not judge or stigmatise people who are facing this problem I am going through.
That is why I have people around me, especially my best friend who is always making sure that I get things right. Despite my lack of self-esteem, Paul Njie always believes in me, that I can do it irrespective of what people say about my pronunciation.