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These Are The Emojis You Never Knew You Needed

From abeg to wahala, add some Naija swagger to your chat.

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It's a proven fact that the phenomenon otherwise known as Nigeria needs its own set of emojis. Why, you ask?

Because we Nigerians are natural born poets and actors. From the dross of the English language, Nigerians spin phrases of gold. In the hands of Nigerians, minor everyday incidents – a car cutting in front of you, say – explode into glorious, full theatre productions. This is a nation where even the most crude argument in a gas station over change is its own kind of poetry.

Until recently, few emojis have specifically targeted African users. But rapid growth in Nigeria's tech scene is is spurring newcomers to carve their own niche in the global digital sticker industry, which is worth some $10 billion annually and dominated by players from Asia.

"As Nigerians, we didn’t quite connect with the humor in the emojis out there. A lot of the ones from Asia, for example, are usually quite fluffy, like a smiling cat or colorful teddy bear,” Atta Esin, co-founder of Abuja, Nigeria-based 3am media told BuzzFeed News."I'm not a psychologist but I think they're probably not useful to a lot of Nigerians," he added by phone from the capital, Abuja.


1. Chai*

3am media

What it means: At its most basic, a cry of appreciation, awe or amazement. On the more complex end, it can be a 45-minute lecture from an elder relative on why not studying medicine/law/architecture is the path to failure and disgracing the family's good name, all distilled into a single, disappointed word.

When to use it: Far more important is ~how~ to use it. Hands on your head, eyes wide open, dramatic body pose and make sure you really draaaaw out that sound. The delivery is 90% of it.

* Pointy white crocodile shoes, though popular, are optional.

2. The kissing teeth

Afro Emojis

What it means: A bunch of emotions ranging from mild irritation to deep contempt.

When to use it: When something is beneath you even wasting your breath on it -- but you want to let it be known anyway. Because "e no consine me" (it doesn't concern me) might be a popular phrase but what Nigerian ever walked away from a situation without first venting their opinions on it? Best dished up with a side-eye.

3. The plea that's not a plea

What it means: Literally, I beg you (Biko is Igbo for please). In practice, the opposite of both those things.

When to use it: Ideally use this gentle word to preface aggressive dismissals. Don't forget to show the hand too.

4. Wahala

3am media

What it means: Trouble is here.

When to use it: Most useful for describing situations of multiple wahala upon wahala. Say you settle down to watch Man U playing Chelsea. Unfortunately, right at the end of the game the power cuts and just then you realize you've used the last drop of diesel in your generator after a whole week without power and it's the last day of the month so your paycheck hasn't come through yet and your babe is coming round tonight. No need to break down all the details to her - "wahala dey" sums it up.


5. Ghen Ghen

Afro Emojis

What it means: Equivalent to a loud, clear DRUMROLL announcing a showdown! It's about to go down! Often follows some kind of wahala situation.

When to use it: Nigerians love an audience and you should use this call to alert ever-loitering rubberneckers and busybodies that some drama is about to play out. For example, in traffic, if a car grazes you and the driver has the nerve to start shouting at ~you~. So what if you were performing an illegal manoeuvre while gisting on the phone? Does that other driver think he is the president of the road? Get out of the car - make sure to pull up in a way that causes maximum tailback, thereby guaranteeing maximum audience - yell ghen ghen, roll up sleeves/tighten wrapper and launch into an almighty clap down.

As you can tell by the emojis we've been through so far, communicating in Naija speak is about so much more than just words.

Facebook: ajima.raphaels / Via

If ever speakers of the country's 500-plus languages come to an impasse, they can always communicate through a shared love of gestures. Not just ordinary body language either, but grand flourishes that demand an audience. These mimes are needed more than ever in emoji speak, when crucial decibels take a backseat.

"We've seen some African emojis out there but they're basically just brown faces," Ayoola Daramola, who heads Afro Emoji, one of just three companies creating emojis specifically for the continent's most populous country, told BuzzFeed News.

Shifting gears, the truth is life in Nigeria can be stressful. But no matter what Naija throws at you, keep your chill because nobody knows how to unwind like Nigerians. Which brings us to...


6. Owambe! (Party time!)

What it means: I'm somewhere where there's free jollof rice and Hennessey, bros.

When to use it: As often as possible. Also applies to graduations, funerals, housewarmings etc. Whether you're invited or not is irrelevant. This is Nigeria. Abeg, show up if you can.

PS: Don't forget to bring a large handbag for squirreling food back home. Ignore the food police trying to stop you from piling up a small mountain of rice and meat at the buffet. No party is complete unless you eat four times the amount of food you normally do at home.

In many places, people feel uncomfortable turning up to events uninvited. This kind of overthinking is unnecessary in Naija, and in fact will only hold your hustle back. Whenever you see an opportunity, react with enthusiasm.

7. Repeat after me: “I dey full ground.”

Afro Emojis

Meaning: I'm down with that.

When to use it: Whenever you're down for a freebie or all-expense paid enjoyment. If you want to go Warri-style and prove you're not only down but capable of outdrinking everyone else at the party, it's: "I full ground remain."

But even if the good things aren’t coming your way, remember…


8. All na wash

3am media

What it means: All is an illusion. Some might call this “faking it until you make it.” But the ever-optimistic Nigerian knows that hustling is, basically, the human condition.

When to use it: To fortify yourself. Don Jazzy (pictured) and his protegé D'Banj in their flash cars may be Naija's kings of swag and floss, but they too started off jumping okadas and moonlighting on friend’s sofas.

During election season, you can aptly describe and understand any politician’s behavior through this simple phrase.

While you wait for God to bless your hustle, it's good to keep communicating with Him. Nigeria is a very religious country and these emojis will come in handy.

9. The Church Hug

3am media

What it says on the packet: I'm giving you a chaste hug approved by beady-eyed elders in church.

What's actually inside it: A side hug that it's vital to master if you're a church-goer, which, in Nigeria, you will become by force or by fire. This hug is for the aunty at church who always spears your last piece of chicken at the Easter BBQ, or the uncle who does his best to use your womanly curves as a headrest.

10. God Forbid

3am media

What it means: A call to the divine to save you from terrible things in life - from natural disasters to Uncle Muyiwa's hugs in church.

When to use it: There's no shortage of opportunity to invoke the Gods in Nigeria but if you're bringing the Almighty into this, you've gotta have a suitably grand gesture to go with it.

The full move is as follows: twirl your hand - or hands! - over your head in a circular motion. The number of rotations depends on the gravity of the situation. Minimum two whirls. Snap your fingers as you do this. Some people add a foot stamp for garnish.


11. The Nigerian Amen

What it means: It does ~not~ mean a prayer has come to an end.

When to use it: To give false hope that a 40-minute long prayer is coming to an end. Say “amen” then continue talking for at least another 10 minutes. Repeat at least three times. (Note it’s never just “amen” singular. Say amen at least three times, getting louder with each repeat.)

Amen is also used to curry favour. For example, say an office meeting opens with a prayer. Strive to say “amen” loudest to get approval points from the boss.

"I thought, let me put some actual character out there. Apps that are based on where you're from – they're more authentic, they give you a deeper, more cultural experience," said Daramola, whose company released its first collection of stickers this year.

Alright, so now you now have the basics needed to navigate the smaller currents of Naija life. Here's a few more to get you out on the open seas.

12. Story for the Gods

3am media

What it means: Either you're humming the hit song by Olamidé or you're dealing with someone who can spin yarns worthy of the fantastical Monkey Tales.

When to use it: When dealing with people who are economical with the truth. If someone tells you “I dey church” but you know they’re really at Mama Nkechi’s beer parlor washing down catfish peppersoup with a fourth bottle of Gulder, fire back at them: “Story for the Gods.”

13. Are you a learner?

3am media

What it means: Are you an idiot? Don't you know the rules of this game?

When to use it: Any time you have some kind of minor power that can make the life of mere mortals very difficult. Particularly popular with policemen in search of beer change ahead of the weekend.

14. Staying on top.

Afro Emojis

What it means: Oga means boss, so oga at the top means Big Boss.

When to use it: The best way to use it is the way the man who popularized it meant it. So, when asked a question on something you should know about in a professional capacity, dodge the question by saying you need permission from “your oga at the top” before you can give an answer. Even if it's, let's say, the name of your company's website.

Played right, this can propel you into a figure of national entertainment, whether by having a TV series made after you, YouTube remixes or a computer game...a shortcut to fame, basically.

Monica Mark is the West Africa Correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Dakar, Senegal.

Contact Monica Mark at

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