The festive atmosphere in Nigeria has been filled with intense conversations and debates raised by certain communications that were supposedly restricted, “confidential” or “top secret.” We are not concerned with the intentions of those who wrote the letters or even those who delivered them to the public. Stay with me.
For clarity we need to say here that the word “letter” could mean different things. It could mean a character in the alphabet or it could also mean someone who lets or rents out a property. We do things “to the letter” when we do such things completely as expected. A person of letters is not someone who writes a lot of letters or even long letters or epistles, but rather someone of learning, culture and knowledge especially with reference to literature.
The letters that have made the rounds are so diverse in content and style that one would be excused to think that the whole thing has been orchestrated to send a subtle lesson to citizens of this nation about a fading skill. Before the advent of the printing press, and long before the arrival of electronic means of reaching others, people reached each other by writing letters. Lettering or handwriting skills helped to make the letters comprehensible and attractive.
Political and religious organisations depended on letters to propagate their views, ideas and ideals. These letters were written by hand then copied and circulated if they needed to reach more than a few people.
In the recent past, young lovers reached each other by exchanging letters written by hand using a variety of writing sheets and materials that gave an indication of the ability and perhaps the sophistication of the writer. While some used pencils others used ball points and yet others the nib or pens. Delivering those letters posed special challenges- with hawkeyed parents and guardians on the watch for emotional infractions. Delivery is done by a simply click these days.
Today, with the advent of electronic short messaging systems, instant chats and other social media by which people don’t only write to each other but can send to groups and make visual contacts at the same time, things have really changed. While those who wrote letters by hand had to ensure that their writings were decipherable, they were also conscious of spellings and grammar. Today, except in official or formal communications, the rules have been banished and now poor spelling skills and grammar have become the new cool.
The disregard for rules of grammar and spelling has not made things easy for communication across age brackets. A pop star like Michael Jackson virtually made bad to mean good. Young people became proud to say they were bad! One company uses “just do it” as its advertisement anchor and people simply lap it up and just do it to the consternation of others. It takes a lot to figure out what is being said or written these days.
Consider this text message from a teenager to a friend: “ Swthrt, hw r u doin 2dae? Hp ur gud ‘n al’s wel. Wel ts wif gr8 pleasure m writin ds note 2 u. 1st 2 inform u of bdae. ‘n 2 also wlc u 2 a nw wk. tk v gud cr of u.” What is that?
Yet another one wrote: “I nr dey tell am anytin, shey na me e dey do anyow. U know say afta I apologize 2 am finish dat nyt, e nr cal me again. Na mysef I blame, assumin I write jamb I 4 nr dey receive insult 4rm am. Na me push myself go gv am. I nr go evn tlk 2 am again. If u wan tel am, dah na ur own cup of zobo.”
The secret police and other agencies must be having a hell of a time decoding messages these days. For communication to be intelligible there has to be agreed rules of grammar, spelling and meaning, among others.
As we noted, the letters currently circulating in Nigeria cut across a wide range of subject and styles. We have highly political letters in circulation, some of which are of considerable lengths and many have endured or loved reading them to the very end because of their dramatic contents. Other letters are of internal family feuds and make you cringe as you read them – like being forced to peep into private family affairs.
The other sizzling letters in circulation are related to national financial and judiciary matters. It has been a season of letters indeed. We can only say keep the letters rolling. As we close the year and move into a year with decisive political opportunities we can see these letters as offering opportunities for national and personal repentance and soul searching over what the common good means and what our sense of nationhood really is. A season of purging and collective enema, we dare say.
Are these letters and counter letters helpful or needed in Nigeria? Professor Tunde Fatunde of the Lagos State University thinks so. Hear him: “We need this kind of open debates and revelations for a better Nigeria. The lesson to learn from them is that we must all watch our lifestyles, utterances and acts. In ALL human beings: a constant coexistence of vices and virtues. We must all strive to get virtues overpower vices. A tough assignment, but possible.” Well, you have your assignment cut out right there.
It is interesting that the ongoing operation Bring Back the Letters (BBL) jumped on us unannounced. Coming on the heels of Bring Back the Books project we should seize the opportunity to reflect on what we have missed. Someone said some years ago that besides asking people how may times they have eaten in a day we should also ask how many books they have read in a year.
Learning to write good letters will certainly help our educational pursuits. Some of us were taught in school that a good letter should be polite and diplomatic, no matter how harshly you may have been attacked and no matter your intent if you are the writer. It is not uncommon to see such letters closed off with “be assured of my best regards and high esteem.” This is done even though the writer may have actually wished to have said “watch your back, I will get you!”
Christmas and New Year text messages block our networks and waste resources while the service providers dance to the banks without providing any service. Why not consider sending a letter? No matter how long. And if you are preparing to make New Year resolutions, consider including a determination to bring back the letters. That should be the benefit of this season of letters.
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