BY EMMANUEL EDUKUGHO
WITH a current population of over 165 million and projected to reach 450 million by 2050, clearly, Nigeria has one of the fastest population growth rate in the world, majority of them speaking English language, to the detriment of about 400 ethnic languages with Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba dominant.
An interesting aspect of this population bulge is that it’s exceptionally youthful. Over 40 per cent is younger than 15 and almost 70 per cent not older than 25.
English is the language of the British Colonial rulers introduced to Nigeria since amalgamation in 1914 and held sway at independence in 1960, being consolidated till day, alienating the people from speaking the mother tongue.
Many Nigerian citizens living in this country cannot speak their indigenous, ethnic local languages and are not bothered about such embarrassing situation. Instead they relish and feel ‘civilised’ speaking English which has become status-symbol, a mark of respect, education and distinction in the society. A false sense of inferiority complex won’t allow many Nigerians to speak their native language which meant deviating from the norms.
Mr. Omajuwa Degbeyin is an engineer with seven children, none can speak Itsekiri fluently. “When they were growing up, I did not speak Itsekiri at home with them, always communicating in English. I am married to an Urhobo woman who speaks Itsekiri also. She used to be worried that I don’t speak my native language to the children but I was not taking her serious. Today, I am regretting for this blunder as none of my children can speak Itsekiri,” Omajuwa revealed. This is typical of many parents across the ethnic divide whose kids cannot speak the mother tongue. There is need for a bold structural, linguistic reform that will focus on the use of the mother tongue to save it from imminent extinction.
So much had been said about this in the recent past, all to no avail. In the National Policy on Education (NPE), the importance of language was well captured. It says that government appreciates the importance of language as a means of promoting social interaction and national cohesion and also preserving cultures. Hence it was stated in the policy that every child shall learn the language of the immediate environment. Furthermore in the interest of national unity, it is expedient that every child shall be required to learn one of the three Nigerian languages: Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. Also, for smooth interaction with our neighbours, it is desirable for every Nigerian to speak French. Accordingly, French shall be the second official language in Nigeria and it shall be compulsory in schools.
Beginning with Primary Education, which is the education given in institutions for children aged 6 to 11 plus, it is believed that since the rest of the education system is built upon it, therefore, the primary level is the key to the success or failure of the whole system. It was stipulated in the curriculum for primary education that it shall include among other subjects (1) Languages: (a) Language of the environment, (b) English, (c) French.
The medium of instruction in the primary school shall be the language of the environment for the first three years. During this period, English shall be taught as a subject. From the fourth year, English shall progressively be used as a medium of instruction and the language of immediate environment and French shall be taught as subjects.
Teaching shall be by practical, exploratory and experimental methods. In the curriculum were also Social Studies and Citizenship Education.
In the 1999 Constitution as amended under Chapter V – The Legislature Part I – National Assembly Section 55 on Languages states:
“The business of the National Assembly shall be conducted in English, Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba when adequate arrangements have been made therefore.”
Despite this constitutional provision, no concrete steps have been taken so far towards making “adequate arrangements” for Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba languages to be used in conducting the business of the National Assembly. The business of the legislature at the National Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives) and the 36 States’ Houses of Assembly are conducted strictly in English, the only recognised official language of Nigeria.
Investigation showed that a significant number of the legislators cannot even speak their mother tongue. Efforts toward a national language had been futile as WAZOBIA failed. It’s not over yet.