Human striving is unending; thus “No gree for anybody” is the will of Nigerians to live and exist by all means in any situation.
By Chimezie Chika
At the turn of the New Year, the phrase, “No gree for anybody”, suddenly came into the consciousness of Nigerian netizens. Though a social media buzzword which seems to have developed — as all such online trends do — from farcical exchanges and attempts to create endless riffs of hilarity, “No gree for anybody” reveals more than it appears to mean when taken beyond the surface.
Now used with indiscriminate aplomb across Nigerian social media in the past week and more, as an anthem of sorts for 2024, it seems to find its resonance with those who aim to exhibit a sort of self-affirming aggression regarding their New Year resolutions and how they aim to pursue their goals relentlessly by destroying all human and nonhuman obstacles in their way.
One way of understanding the term is through an analysis of its grammatical etymology. “No gree for anybody” is a Nigerian Pidgin phrase whose literal English translation reads as: “Don’t agree with anyone”. The meaning on the surface is, plainly: “Don’t Agree.” It implies an affront; but a weak one. Of course, the English version appears drab, insipid, and indeed divested of all the cultural and linguistic accoutrements visible in the Pidgin version. In Pidgin, the phrase comes with a lot of flak from street-smart lingo. The exhortation is more provocative in meaning and utilitarian in application.
“No gree for anybody” thus is an attempt to debunk misconceptions, to assert one’s right in situations where one’s right is being infringed upon. It is an attempt to assert individuality, self-determination, and resilience. It is a rejection of cynical logic, undue pressure from outside forces, and a spirited opposition to the status quo. It is, in a nutshell, nonconformity. What we will finally realise about the phrase is its programmatic portmanteau-ing of everything a manifesto should be.
Another way of understanding the phrase is through its social and political precedence in 2023 — or what came before its rather astronomical ascendancy. That is, all that happened in 2023, which then provoked this radical reaction. The first in that catalogue of events was the largely disappointing result of the presidential elections, marred by so many official and unofficial irregularities. That singular event dampened the morale of most Nigerians who had frenziedly built up hope for the future of the country. In the end, they seemed resigned to accepting the dubious electoral results without aggressive protestations.
Down that same catalogue is the removal of fuel subsidy which invariably escalated the cost of living in the country to unbearable levels. And still, no practical and sustained objections from Nigerians (Perhaps, the gory events of October 2020 still being fresh on their minds). The shockingly fast plummeting of the naira against the dollar, the continued news of public fund theft in the Nigerian government, and the subsequent withdrawal of international manufacturing companies from Nigeria due to dwindling profits further exacerbated the woes of common Nigerians. And yet, not many proactive complaints were heard. There seemed to be only resignation and a mute acceptance of the country’s increasingly difficult economic terrain. This year, the practical affirmation of Nigerians seems to be a wholesale rejection of last year’s docility. We realise then that “No gree for anybody” is a reaffirmation of self-belief and solidarity in the common cause of the masses.
As the fallout of the country’s economy spills into the new year, there is a palpable sense of struggle, of the desire for survival in the dire straits into which the ship of the economy now finds itself. Amidst this hardship, “No gree for anybody” is a call for Nigerians to be rugged in pursuing their goals, and to double down in their efforts to survive. As the social and economic landscape tightens, only those with a highly competitive spirit can survive, those with the hardiness, wiliness, and primal instincts of survival. In such a terrain, there is no room for the diffident and the weak. I am not especially comfortable with the not-so-subtle Darwinian rhetoric that this evokes — where some people survive by destroying or putting others into extinction. What “No gree for anybody”, in this light, seems to imply — and indeed promote — is a racketeering, implosive dog-eat-dog society, full of internecine struggles and recriminations. That negativity hardly bodes well for the kind of society we want to build.
In another sense, especially in its advocation of survival, the phrase evinces a philosophical core which is not immediately apparent. Its implication of unruffled focus recalls French philosopher Albert Camus’ essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus”. In the Greek myth which Camus appropriates, Sisyphus is condemned to eternally roll a boulder up the steep side of a hill. He toils and sweats at this for years and manages to get to the peak only to have the stone roll back down the hill. Sisyphus must then return to the base of the hill to continue his eternal struggle. Sisyphus’ struggle is meaningless because it neither has a beginning nor an end. Camus offers us an insight: “It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end.”
While there is no end to the struggle for survival in a world where survival remains at the very core of living itself, “no gree for anybody” affirms the need to stay the cause in the most absurd moments of life. In a society where absurdity abounds, only one’s own decision to put the Self first makes any sense. The meaning of life is thus found in the relation of the Self — the struggle of the Self, even — to the larger society and its larger struggles. Do not stop for anybody on your way, do not entertain distractions, and do not agree with evil and the intimations of corruption which might derail your focus — that is all it seems to say. In The World As Will and Representation, German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer represents the unconscious knowledge of phenomena as Will. In Schopenhauer’s thinking, the “Will to Life” is a “blind incessant impulse without knowledge.” Impulse, here, points to the endless, elemental striving in human existence. Human striving is unending; thus “No gree for anybody” is the will of Nigerians to live and exist by all means in any situation.
Chimezie Chika’s short stories and essays have appeared in, amongst other places, The Republic, The Shallow Tales Review, Iskanchi Mag, Isele Magazine, Lolwe, Efiko Magazine, Brittle Paper, and Afrocritik. He is the fiction editor of Ngiga Review. His interests range from culture to history, art, literature, and the environment. You can find him on Twitter @chimeziechika1.