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    Our local languages will not go extinct

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    By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu

    In this report, Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu x-rays efforts geared towards saving our local languages going extinct.

    There have been recent efforts by major language groups in Nigeria to promote the use of those languages. It will be recalled that an ugly trend has hit the usage of our local languages recently, whereby some languages are threatened to the point of extinct because of the local language users relying on the second language and the Lingual Franca, English. Part of the efforts is a bill by the Lagos House of Assembly tagged, “A Bill for a Law To Provide for the Preservation and Promotion of the Use of Yoruba Language and for Connected Purposes. The bill was to make Yoruba a core subject in schools, and also to enhance the preservation of the language. The bill further recommended the translation of all the laws in the state into Yoruba, in order to get to its target.

    The above move by the assembly was not in isolation. Previously, the assembly had made moves to make teaching and learning of Yoruba Language compulsory in both public and private schools in the state. The measure was aimed at preserving and promoting the indigenous language of the South-West from going into extinction.

    The bill also did not spare the incorporation of the tertiary institutions in this move to reinvigorate the Yoruba language, as it seeks that all state-owned tertiary institutions should incorporate the use of Yoruba in General Studies’ (GNS) curriculum. Furthermore, the bill sought to make the use of Yoruba as an acceptable means of communication between individuals, establishments, corporate entities and government in the state, if so desired by the concerned. To give the bill a teeth when passed to law, “any school that fails to comply with the provisions of section 2 of the law commits an offence and is liable on first violation to issuance of warning and on subsequent violation be closed down and also pay a fine of N500, 000.”

    The bill by the Lagos House of Assembly to revitalise Yoruba language re-opened debates on the need to revive the Igbo language and culture. There have been several calls and efforts recently in this direction. Unfortunately, the efforts seem not to be yielding the desired results. On this note, there is urgent need to give these efforts a legal teeth, as a former governor of Anambra State, Mr Peter Obi did.

    Recall that Peter Obi, during the launch of a local version of Suwa Igbo at the Women Development Centre, Awka, Anambra State introduced far-reaching measures to revive Igbo language and culture. Part of the measure was the annual cash award of N250, 000, N200, 000 and N100, 000 to the best three Igbo language students in secondary schools in Nigeria.

    Obi also gave cash donations as well as university scholarship to the best two Igbo Language students in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), Messrs Kevin Anozie and Chika Echeta of Holy Child Secondary School, Isuofia and Bishop Onyemelukwe Secondary School, Onitsha respectively. Before then, the former governor had signed into law a bill to enforce the speaking and writing of Igbo Language among Ndigbo in Anambra and the Diaspora, even as he stopped corporal punishment of students who speak Igbo in schools throughout the state.

    As in English Language and Mathematics, then governor Obi tried to make Igbo compulsory in all educational institutions in the state. He also sent a bill, to that effect, to the State House of Assembly. That was not all! He went further with an initiative to make a pass in Igbo Language mandatory for employment in the state civil service. To sustain the renewed interest in promoting Igbo culture, the state government has commenced the building of Chief Chidozie Ogbalu Igbo Language School, at an estimated cost of N50.5 million, for specialised and holiday programmes in Igbo.

    Notable Igbo groups such as Igbo World Union (IWU) had stressed the need for Ndigbo to exert efforts in promoting Igbo Language and cultural activities. The group also harped on the need for the Igbo at home and those in the Diaspora, especially parents, to inculcate in their children Igbo culture and tradition. The group had also succeeded in setting up Igbo School in South Africa, France, Spain, and United States.

    Despite the above efforts, much needs to be done to forestall Igbo culture from going extinct. This is because, to the average Igbo, it has become fashionable to speak English and other languages rather than their mother tongue. It is also regrettable that most Igbo groups conduct their town/village union meetings in English Language. Government business in Igbo states is entirely conducted in English. This attitude is not only pathetic but funny. It must change as early as possible, if Igbo Language must regain its lost glory.

    While commending the former Anambra State governor for his foresight in introducing the far-reaching measures to promote Igbo culture, there is an urgent appeal to the appropriate quarters in the Igbo-speaking states to follow suit with similar measures to encourage Igbo language and culture in their respective states. This is important given that Igbo language is among those predicted to go into extinct in the near future, if nothing drastic is done to promote its usage. As a forward, funds should be made available to encourage study and research in Igbo studies, including necessary incentives to encourage Igbo Language teachers.

    All the government cultural agencies in Igbo-speaking states should be involved in the promotion of Igbo language. Why can’t we use the local language in our state legislative houses, as Lagos State House of Assembly adopted to conduct its business once a week in Yoruba?

    Research by renowned educationist and former Education minister, Prof Babatunde Fafunwa, established that a child learns better and faster in his mother tongue. It is worthy to note that most industrially-developed nations reached their technological heights through their local languages. We, too, can do so by deploying the resources of our local languages to bear on the study of mathematics and the sciences. The time to key into the initiative of reviving Igbo language and culture is now.

    There is no cultural feature that is peculiar to a people and distinguishes them from other cultural groups than language. We should all note that a lost language is a lost culture, and a lost identity. Igbo culture is our heritage and pride. We must strive strongly to protect it from going extinct.

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