PEN Nigerian joined the rest of the world to celebrate the annual International Literacy Day recently, with an event at CORA House, 12 Animashaun Street, off Bode Thomas Street, Surulere, Lagos.
Those in attendance included writers, journalists and students. Some of the writers used the occasion to read their poems, while Akeem Lasisi, poet and journalist thrilled the audience with his performance entitled “Udeme”.
AJ Dagga Tolar, former Lagos State Chairman, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), set the ball rolling by reading his poem, “Dis Sick Republic”, emphasising on language as the bedrock of every society. His second poem was “With Love” dedicated to the late Dele Giwa. His third poem, “Royal Dinner” was equally dedicated to the late business mogul, Chief M.K.O Abiola.
The programme was moderated by Ralph Tathagata, poet and writer, while speakers included Adewale Maja-Pearce, Olayinka Oyegbile and Akeem Lasisi, who spoke on how Nigerians had ignored the importance of their mother tongue.
In his address of welcome, President, Pen Nigeria, Folu Agoi remarked the word “writer” was used by PEN International as an umbrella term for anyone involved with the word, which could either be written or spoken.
“The individual can be a poet, playwright, novelist, publisher, journalist, academic, translator, biographer, editor, etcetera,” he said. Maja-Pearce noted that, as long as Nigerians did not embrace and enforce indigenous languages in schools and religious institutions, illiteracy would continue to be on the high side.
“The quality of education in Nigeria is a very emotional thing, and that is what is happening now. How can you say you are educated when you cannot speak or write in your mother tongue?” he queried.
Next to speak was Oyegbile, who noted that most parents had lost value for indigenous languages. Which explained why literacy skills had dropped in the country, but “language is very important. He recalled reading the late F.O Fagunwa’s books in Yoruba language at a tender age, which made him to speak his mother’s tongue well, even before he attended primary school.
He urged Nigerians to begin to teach themselves their indigenous languages, and they shouldn’t complain that one tribe or region seemed to be dominating other regions because that region was proud of their language.
Lasisi, on his part, observed that government’s policy could also bring a turn-around in the country. People should be encouraged to learn and speak their local languages. The poet urged the government to implement policies that can bring a turn-around in the country in the belief that it was important for people to learn and speak their mother tongue.
At the end of the discussion, it was agreed that Nigerians should use their mother tongue in their close interactions. Nigerians must deliberately use their local languages in their daily conversations.