Friday, March 23, 2012

"If you Tarka me, I go Daboh you"

Godwin Daboh Adzuana will be remembered for a great contribution to Nigerian Pidgin.

Mr Daboh, who died last week, was a Nigerian political godfather, acting behind the curtain, sticking his fingers in many pies.

But back in the days when military leader Yakubu Gowon was in charge, in fact it was just before he was deposed in a coup, Daboh was a relatively unknown businessman from Benue state.

Gowon's publicity man Joseph Tarka had made an announcement that the government encouraged people to report corrupt officials.

Daboh took the opportunity to do exactly that, and provided information that Tarka was as bent as every other six-bob note in the government.

Tarka was forced to resign, and so the phrase "If you Tarka me, I go Daboh you" was born.

Daboh didn't do what he did out of a sense of moral probity, however.

The phrase encapsulates that old military-era problem, which has unfortunately hung over into today's Nigerian society: Everyone is up to their neck in it, if you try and dunk me, I'll pull you under.


  1. I'm a little bit too young to remember the Tarka and Daboh issue (I doubt I was born then), but I remember Daboh for the role he played in scuttling the June 12 political transition.

    And that is how he is remembered by most Nigerians of my generation.

  2. Hi Unknown... Is it fair to say his role in the scuttling of the June 12 election's didn't become a phrase in common use by people in normal life, or did it? That's the measure I'm using for "best remembered for". It's similar (kind of) to the way that if John MacEnroe died tomorrow and you asked most people of my generation how many Grandslams he won, people might struggle. But if you said "You can't be serious!" pretty much everyone knows what that is. The first time I heard the phrase it was used by a 30-year-old Nigerian and he knew exactly where it came from. But I take your point that its not the only thing he'd known for. I'll tweak what I've said to reflect that.

  3. Hi Andrew,

    For my generation the Tarka and Daboh issue was ancient history. The most important event in Nigeria for us was the build up to the June 12 election and the insincerity of IBB who scuttled it. Daboh, Nzeribe and a certain "Keith Atkins" were the most prominent civilian tools of IBB then.

    Neither I nor most of my friends had ever heard about the "Daboh, Tarka" affair.

  4. Unkown. Your point is well made, thank you for it. As well as writing about what I find interesting in Nigeria, I also like to learn. Thank you for your contribution to this blog. I hope you will keep reading.


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