Again, I will tap into the sociolinguistic wisdom of the streets of Nigeria, which has generated catchphrases and clichés among the youth, to send a message. One fascinating attribute of some of these slang phrases is their flexibility to fit into several concepts and contexts, especially concerning social edification and ideologies. To hear Nigerians say or comment, just dey play! in several instances, intrigued me to understudy the aesthetics and the motivational semantics radiating all over the usage. As of today, the slang has established its dominance within the Nigerian social media space, as well as in the lyrical constructions of Afrobeat that have further popularised the usage of the slang.
The basic message and context behind the semantics of the slang is sarcasm aimed at showing how much others have achieved and how far they have gone, including subtle criticism of laxity, lackadaisical attitudes, and slow efforts toward accomplishing set goals. It tells one that there is a need for an extra effort for one or society to be outstanding and that a general limitation in Nigerian society does not mean others will settle for it as one does. The message is loud and clear–doing the average is not what has put several others where they are; there is a bit of extra to those efforts. In addition, it tells you that, on the surface, everyone disguises to be ordinary or in the same situation and helpless as you are, but that you should be prepared to see a surprise growth or change in their circumstances because the reality is that those who seem to be doing nothing are having sleepless nights and not telling anyone.
It is the same as when Demola, who has several millions of investments and businesses, keeps telling you that he is broke to the point that you would give him N5000 to feed. Just Dey Play! It covers the situation of Rebecca, a student who tells everyone she has not studied for an exam and joins others to play during the day but would have sleepless nights to read and prepare for the exam. When such a student becomes the best-graduating student, her mates will be left with nothing but to say just dey play. Sometimes last year, when I was to deliver a Public Lecture at the Lagos State University, I was amused by the chants of God When! when my citation was read out to the students. I could have replied with just dey play to let them know that the achievements were not a result of going with whatever flow was available. It took me 18 hours of work and study every day since I was a teenager and dedication to what I believe in the most. So, I no just dey play! I paid my dues, which is what every Nigerian youth must learn to do–put in the extra effort.
We have to understand that while in many countries, doing the average would sustain one and still increase the opportunities for success, the situation is not so in Nigeria. The nation has come to a point where just doing the average will not exist; no, it will not. And this is not just about dreams and aspirations; every aspect of human existence that averages would have sufficed. I often wonder, despite Nigeria having one of the most hardworking populations, both the youth and old, there is still a regrettable number of poor people in the country, with four out of every ten Nigerians living in extreme poverty. No average Nigerian does not have one activity or another that would bring some earnings no matter how small, and this is why you see many risking their lives in traffic to sell sachet waters but still fall among the unfortunate four out of ten. This predicament is because the country has made itself a negative force that converts people’s efforts into nothingness.
Now, you cannot just walk on the street at night without the fear of danger. The police cannot just stop you without the possible expectation of extortion and brutality. You cannot just go to school, get certified, acquire skills, and expect good employment without connections here and there. You cannot access basic privileges and government opportunities without having some slots reserved for others. Your simple, honest toil cannot get you to the top without that extra hustle. Unfortunately, just dey play has become an irony; it tells a hardworking person that if the extra push and hustle are not added, you will just be one of the four out of ten or become average. It is also to mock those who have decided to be lackadaisical, emphasising their impending doom.
The street has spoken timelessly, but many people are not listening to the message. We can lament about the state of the nation, criticise the government and drool over the unfavourable economy of the nation, but we need to understand that we should not just be complainants and critics. We must think about how to succeed despite the hardship. Just dey play tells us that instead of accepting the failure of the government to turn around the country’s situation, we should think about what we can do to change it. Should we all fold our hands and let everything go without input or a fight? Should we continue to be spectators and critics without taking definitive steps toward the betterment of the nation? Stretching the perspectives of the phrase, it is the message it tries to tell everyone.
A revolution and transformation can only happen with the people’s willingness and consciousness. So, Nigeria cannot change if the citizens are not conscious enough to want the change. Every problem Nigeria has today affects mainly the citizens and a few members of the ruling class. On January 20, 2023, it was reported by several outlets that the federal government approved N185 as the official pump price of petrol. A few weeks before this, the country was confused by outrageous prices and petrol scarcity, which no government official would have experienced. The citizens will always be the ones to suffer the consequences, and we still dey play. Just Dey Play!
After the unfortunate attack on the Abuja-Kaduna Train that claimed the lives of some and put some others in captivity on March 28, 2022, one would expect that, at least for the next few years, there would be extra care and intelligence to ensure that such a situation does not occur. I was devastated when on January 7, 2023, there was another train attack in Edo State, where 20 commuters were kidnapped at Igueben train station. The situation is similar to the series of attacks and kidnappings on major roads in the country. Despite their frequency, it baffles me that there is no end in sight and that there are repeated occurrences on the same routes. Unfortunately, the menace of mass murder of people in settlements, churches, and other places has not reduced and still follows almost the same patterns. But we are glued to our keypads forming analysts, critics, and special advisers on social media and in conversations. Just dey play!
I do not intend to be a prophet of doom, but there is a headache that the wise must have about the nation’s future, judging from the situation of things in the country and the massive exodus of our best brains in search for greener pastures in other parts of the world. The Nigerian unemployment rate in the country is about 33.3%, and the number of underemployed individuals is devastating. The commercial atmosphere has also not been favourable to small businesses, and, as such, several individuals have decided to find their fortune elsewhere. The effect is that it is very injurious to the nation’s future as it purges the land of its proverbial milk and honey. Yet, we are all gleaming and unworried about the uncertainty of the future. Just dey play!
We have to understand that although the government has a wide responsibility to ensure that the nation is in the right state, the causes and effects of every problem largely emanate from the people, and the solution must also be from them. So, we cannot afford to just dey play; we must act. The citizens must meet the government in whatever mile they have reached, half or little. Terrorists, corrupt officials, and those putting the nation in trouble are citizens. The first step towards taking charge of the country as citizens is to not play with our leadership choices. No, we cannot afford to play with that. But unfortunately, the number of citizens that just dey play with that is skyrocketing. There are still millions of unregistered Nigerians for the forthcoming 2023 elections. Aside from this, the number of uncollected voter cards has shown that we do not mean business. We just dey play, and it will catch up with us. More despicable is how we contribute to this problem by selling our votes for as low as a kongo of garri and a small packet of chinchin. We want Nigeria to be better, and we are still doing all these? Just Dey Play!
That nebulous politician knows the number. While you rant and shout for a better Nigeria, he has stacked his billions up to buy your votes. They have recruited sons of perdition to kill and kidnap those they can and to snatch ballot boxes when necessary. They are counting their lots while you only count the number of likes and retweets on Twitter and the number of followers on Instagram. This is not the election where you sit on the fence, no! The repercussions are damning, but we should not just dey play. Let all critics not just stick to the pen but go to the marketplaces to sensitise. Let us all support our citizenship movements to oppose vote buying. If kulikuli is the price of conscience, let us offer food and words of enlightenment to the poor so that a day’s meal will not deprive them of several meals for the next four years, eight maybe. We should be intentional about Nigeria. We should not just dey play!