Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Former Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Sidi Bage Muhammad, has narrated how his action and that of his colleagues, years ago, led to the acceptance of “pidgin English” as part of communication language in court.
Justice Muhammad who is the Emir of Lafia Bare-Bari, in Nasarawa State, said the decision had enriched the Nigerian jurisprudence until any further intervention by a superior court.
The royal father spoke at opening ceremony of the 35th annual national conference of English Scholars’ Association of Nigeria (ESAN), with the theme “English Language and Literature for National Integration and Sustainable Development,” which was held at National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) headquarters in Abuja, on Monday.
He said: “We were confronted at a point in my career with a statement that was presented in pidgin English. It raised questions, if a statement made in pidgin was admissible in court.
“It was subjected to lot of interpretations which started at the High Court. The matter later met us at Court of Appeal. The decision of the High Court was that pidgin English was not English and should not stand as a statement in court.
“At Court of Appeal, the panel sat over the matter, considered some things and decided that pidgin English should be admissible in court. We confirmed that it conveys the exact message and intentions of the owner of the statement.
“In addition to that, the audience which the statement was intended for, fully and obviously understood it. So, we allowed the statement, used it in the course of our proceedings and gave judgment.
“We had expected the litigants to head to Supreme Court but they did not. The pronouncement of the Supreme Court would have helped to enrich our jurisprudence and set precedence.”
Meanwhile, the NOUN Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Abdallah Uba Adamu, who was represented by Deputy-Vice Chancellor, Academics, Prof. Joy Eyisi, in his remarks, identified language as a unifying factor and should be given a stronger consideration in national discourse.
The keynote speaker, Prof. Amina Bashir, suggested a paradigm shift in the use of language in Nigerian schools for improved impact.
She stressed the need for use of local language in classes for children to properly understand and follow the lessons. She also requested that people be allowed to use pidgin English to freely express themselves when the need arises.