From Okey Sampson, Aba
A protest ignited in 1952 by some East Pakistani youths from the University of Dhaka Campus, to get their language, Bengali, introduced as the official language at a time when Urdu language was seen as one, did after many years received due attention from the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) when it officially declared February 21 as the World Indigenous Language Day otherwise known as the “Mother Tongue Day.”
The Mother Tongue Day which had, in line with the UNESCO 1999 proclamation, became an annual event, was, this year, celebrated with a public lecture at the National Institute for Nigerian Languages (NINLAN), Aba, Abia State, a centre for language acculturation.
The event with its theme as “Towards Sustainable Future through Multi-Lingual Education,” according to the organisers, was very apt as many stakeholders in the education sector have, at several fora, called on the Federal Government and the Federal Ministry of Education to make the teaching and learning of Nigerian languages compulsory in both government and private schools in the country.
But while this call has not, regrettably, been heeded, the family that some speakers said was supposed to lay a good foundation for a child’s competence in indigenous languages has abdicated their responsibilities and instead strive for their children to be proficient in other languages. Speaker after speaker observed that this would spell doom for our mother tongues.
In fact, they noted that if nothing urgent is done to arrest the trend, over 500 languages in Nigeria stand in danger of going into extinction, with time. Speaking at the event, the Executive Director of NINLAN, Prof. Chinyere Ohiri Aniche, represented by his deputy, Prof. Obiajulu Emejulu, said that it was in order to stop this tragedy from happening that the institute decided to celebrate this year’s mother tongue day as a step to further push the sustenance of the indigenous languages and cultural values of the country.
Emejulu was emphatic that children should be taught in their mother tongue in their first nine years, adding that children who were taught first in their mother tongue at this stage of their lives perform better than their contemporaries who were first introduced to a second language (L2).
“Igbo language, I guess, is the most pathetic in terms of language endangerment/decline because by population, the Igbos are one of the most populous linguistic groups,” he said. “We run into millions of people. Therefore, ordinarily, our language shouldn’t be in trouble at all. But unfortunately, UNESCO had classified Igbo language as an endangered language with a number of reasons that the middle class parents don’t transfer the language to their children and so, there is a gap where in the next 15years, we are going to have a generation of Igbo people who don’t speak the language.
“What this means is that some of them who can’t speak the language because they don’t even understand cannot also transfer it to their own children and so, if nothing serious was done, we are going to face serious catastrophe for the Igbo language. I am afraid that we (Nigeria) may not be able to reproduce the generation of the Chinua Achebes, Wole Soyinkas and others who were steeped in their mother tongue and when they were introduced to the English Language were very quick to grasp all the nuances of the English Language and they did extremely well.”
The NINLAN executive director said Igbo parents have nothing to lose in exposing their children to their mother tongue, but rather will have a lot to lose if their children grew up not being able to speak Igbo language fluently, warning that such children would become hybrid human beings.
Some traditional rulers such as His Royal Highness (HRH), Eze Young Nwangwa, the Oko I of Ehere autonomous community, HRH Eze Okey Ananaba, Okahia I of Okahia autonomous community and Eze Onwunali Wilson from Akumaimo Ancient Kingdom who graced the occasion added their voices when they expressed regret at the drastic drop in the teaching and learning of Igbo language in schools these days.
They agreed that if nothing was done urgently by government to promote the teaching and learning of Nigerian languages in schools, indigenous languages might go into extinction.
According to Eze Ananaba, their decision to leave their palaces to attend the day’s event is a proof of their active support of the activities of NINLAN “to create consciousness amongst our people on the need to promote and speak their respective dialects.”
The highlights of the programmes lined up for the day include lectures, recitation and drama in different Nigerian languages as well as cultural display by students of NINLAN Demonstration Secondary School, Aba.