Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Executive Secretary, Imo State Secondary Education Board (SEMB), Elfrida Oby Anyikude, has argued that compulsory teaching of Igbo in schools would help preserve Igbo language and its culture. In an interview with The Education Report, she explained more.
How do you explain the new drive for learning the Igbo language among younger generations?
The Igbo Language is one of the three major languages in Nigeria and it’s also used across the world. It is a gift from God to the Igbo people. However, here in Imo state, we noticed that the knowledge of the language was dwindling both in spoken and written form. It is on that basis, coupled with the falling standard of education in Imo State that Governor Emeka Ihedioha, encouraged us to activate the revival mood of teaching and learning Igbo language in our state.
What could be the benefit of speaking the language?
Igbo language is an integral part of Igbo life. Language is the life wire of its owners; meaning that if the Igbo language goes into extinction, the native speakers would be lost forever. As a result of this, the benefits of the Igbo language cannot be overemphasised. Firstly, it serves as the identity of the Igbo people of southeast Nigeria. Every nation is identified by language which implies that one cannot be an Igbo if he/she is not identified by the Igbo language. It is also a means of preserving the culture of Igbo, like traditional Marriage, new yam festival, masquerade dance, kola-nut presentation, and other traditions in Igbo land. There won’t be any easy communication with each other without the Igbo language. This type of communication is the one that brings about true love and trust amongst the Igbo. Without the Igbo language as a means of communication among the Igbo; the people would become alien to each other. The Igbo language is inevitable for any true Igbo son or daughter. It promotes wisdom. When an Igbo child is well acquainted with the figure of speech in the Igbo language like proverbs, idioms, metaphor, simile, parables, hyperboles, paradox, etc. It enhances his intelligence and satisfaction when addressing people.
What could be responsible for the declining interest in the Igbo language particularly among the younger ones?
It has been said loudly that the Igbo language is at the brink of extinction. It’s unfortunate that most Igbo people prefer to speak the English language more than the Igbo language. The English language is seen as the most important language now in schools, corporate offices, hospitals, market places including in the homes of Igbo people. As a result, the Igbo neglected their God-given language. They forgot the adage that “one should not overfeed his mother because she reincarnated in his family”. The Igbo language should not be forgotten or replaced with the English language. It will be foolish to do so because no language is superior to the other. How you make your bed determines how you lie on it. One of the factors that contribute to the unhealthy development of Igbo language is government policy on indigenous language learning in schools. This policy insists that poor performance in the English language will attract failure for the student. The student will not be promoted to the next class or will not be able to gain admission to the university. This policy nullified all the goals and objectives of studying indigenous languages in Nigeria including the Igbo language. This act reduced the value of teaching and learning indigenous languages in schools since the English language is the talk of the day. Again, the present-day parents of Igbo extraction see speaking the Igbo language to their children as a form of disrespect. They use of English language in carrying out their day to day conversations in the home. By so doing, their children do not know the essence of Igbo language in their life. When you ask them, they will say that their children do not understand the Igbo language. Not only this, the contemporary churches refused to preach in the Igbo language. Everything is done in the English language. Such attitudes made the Igbo language lose value. In summary, the Igbo people themselves are trying is to wipe out the Igbo language. The Igbo loves imitating others so much.
What should be done to stop this ugly trend?
We must champion a change of attitude to this unwholesome situation. The government should also play a role by making a new language policy that would favour the learning of Igbo language in different schools. The Government should take a firm position that every child or learner must pass the Igbo language before he/she is promoted to the next class. This will enhance the growth of the Igbo language in Igbo land. The Igbo people should see to it that Igbo language is the only language of communication at every meeting, town union meetings, churches programmes, in market places and in all ceremonies bothering on Igbo culture including giving their children Igbo names.
How do we refine Igbo language to suit the 21st-century technology-driven world?
The world has become a virtual community; through the internet. If the Igbo language stands firm, different Igbo foods, Igbo music and fashion would help in the progress and unity amongst the Igbo and other nations of the world. Other nations through this way will visit and know Igbo land. They will tour around the Igbo community and also buy some of the local items being produced in Igbo land. Such innovations would improve the economy of our land.
How do you enlighten people about the Igbo language in Nigeria and beyond?
In order to draw peoples’ attention to the Igbo language as an outstanding and important language among others, the following should be done: To see that enough time is allotted to Igbo programmes on radio and television stations in our land. Flyers and other items should be used to represent images of the Igbo. We could also encourage drama in Igbo language and translation in the English language as it is done in nations like China, India, Yoruba, Hausa, and others. The society can represent our folktales in animations where the children will watch it as it is done in English ‘Tom and Jerry’. We, the parents can also stop speaking the English language to our children and replace it with the Igbo language as the Hausas and Yorubas and Chinese and Indians and so many other nations do.