Geoffrey Anyanwu, Awka
Sign of guilt was written all over their faces, seeing themselves as among those that have failed to hand over to their children the greatest inheritance of their tribe, their mother tongue.
That was the scenario at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church, Amawbia in Awka, the Anambra State, last week, during the meeting of the Onitsha Metropolitan Council of the Knights of St Mulumba (KSM).
Founder of Otu Suwakwa Igbo Initiative, Prof. Pita Ejiofor lamented that Igbo language was dying faster than was predicted by the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO). It was indeed a thought provoking lecture coming from a man who had seen it all. Having been a former vice chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, the revered soldiers of the church could not but agree that the Igbo race was indeed in great danger with its language.
Prof. Ejiofor had warned that unless the Igbo reversed their attitude and quickly too, their language would soon go into extinction.
He heaped the blame for the gradual death of the language on the door step of Ndigbo who he said by their activities in all spheres of human endeavour were greatly killing the language.
The professor emeritus of Management Science who spoke on the plight of Igbo language charged the knights to prevail on the church to conduct Mass only in Igbo language as a way of reviving the dying language.
Lamenting the attitude of the people to the language, Ejiofor who came with worrisome statistics, gave an instance of how a federal university located in the heart of Igbo land made it a policy not to admit any candidate with Igbo as one of the credits in the school certificate examination, wishing to study law, even when universities of Ibadan and Lagos admitted candidates with credit in Igbo language.
He noted as pitiable that while other major languages in Nigeria were being promoted and internationalised by their people, Igbo elite were doing everything humanly possible to bring down their language.
He described as pitiful a situation where less than five per cent of Igbo could read and write the language, stressing that it was also surprising that while seven Nigerian universities teach Yoruba language, four teach Hausa, one teaches Efik and one Kanuri, none teaches Igbo.
This, to him meant that the Igbo were not proud of their language.
“Even in Nollywood, which was started by Igbo people, most of the films were produced in Yoruba and Hausa. In 2010, for instance, 31 films were produced in English language, 98 in Hausa, 94 in Yoruba, 11 in Edo and none in Igbo.
“In the United States of America, 11 universities teach Hausa, 39 teach Yoruba, while only four teach Igbo. A major independent television in Nigeria also has a channel in Hausa and Yoruba, while the DSTV introduced the Hausa channel as far back as 2010.
“In 2013, the Federal Government of Nigeria voted N3 billion to promote film production and since most of the films are produced in Hausa and Yoruba languages, the money went into the promotion of those languages.
“Similarly, some American universities have been offering scholarships and teaching appointments for people to come and study Yoruba and Hausa in that country free of charge and Igbo was never considered.”
Ejiofor said the battle to save Igbo language had taken him to many countries, but admitted that the best way to change the situation was for primary schools to be proud to teach pupils the language, while parents should ensure that their children speak the language both at home and in school.
Commending the activities of the Otu Suwakwa Igbo Initiative, the Metropolitan Grand Knight for Onitsha, Sir Damian Okolo said it would be a shameful thing for Igbo people to allow their language to die as predicted by the UNESCO.
Okolo who read the pulse of his members over the disaster waiting to happen to Ndigbo if not quickly addressed, announced that henceforth, KSM meetings in the area would be conducted in Igbo language as part of the body’s contribution to protect the language.
UNESCO had recently predicted that half of the over 7,000 languages spoken today will disappear by the end of the century including Igbo by 2050.
Since the prediction, various groups had been making concerted efforts to protect the language. At the commemoration of this year’s International Day for Mother Tongue, organised by an Abuja based nongovernmental organisation, Centre for Igbo Arts and Culture (CIAC), the Eze Igbo of Abuja, Ibe Nwosu encouraged more sons and daughters of Igbo to take titles as a means of protecting Igbo language and culture.
“As a titled man, you will have more interest in the language and culture where you took a title. So, by this, we will further preserve our language as an identity,” he stated.