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Language, Literature and Decolonization of Nigeria’s Political Culture (1)

By TONY AFEJUKU

Every literature that exists does so because there is in existence a language in which it is created or expressed. In other words,  if there is no literature and there never can be literature in the absence of language. And so long as there are native speakers of any language, the language will thrive and live with or without the existence of creative or imaginative or realistic literature.

What this urgently tells us or suggests to us is that language and literature, creative written literature, that is, can never be weighted equally. But let us attempt to prove the case we are tendering by asking the very familiar question: which comes first, the egg or the chicken? Perhaps this question is unnecessary in the context of the distinction I have attempted to draw above. Thus one can say without qualms that language is both the egg and the chicken. Literature is because language is. It is not the other way round.

In what we utter, that is, in our speeches we direct ourselves and each other in the society we inhabit to do one thing or the other. And in what we do through what we say, we express our culture. In pre-literate societies, meaning societies where one knew not how to write such as was the case before the white colonizers came to our respective communities; this was precisely what was the case.

Thus we can see the pride of place, the big status language occupies in human societies. But in the modern time it is not sufficient any longer to utter words, to make speeches, to tell tales, to recite poems, to dramatise experiences orally without putting them down in writing. What we put down in writing today in terms of stories, poems, plays, essays and other forms of composition constitute our written literature.

This is an obvious enough remark to make, but in the context of our present engagement, it is a significant enough stand-point. We don’t need to ask why. Yet if there is the insistence from some quarters that an answer be provided, all that need to be said is that the study of literature and the language in which it is done happens to be the primary concern of Nigerian universities and other tertiary institutions today. Unfortunately, however, the language in which the study of literature is done in our universities and other tertiary institutions is English, the language of the colonizers.

English is our official language, yet we are requested time after time to address the issue of decolonization in our culture, politically and otherwise. We must worry about the fate of our respective languages, and give deep thought to how we can wean ourselves of English, which I have said time after time is in exile. Of course, because “huge” Nigeria has no singular language that is our official language, we cannot speak in terms of a Nigerian national culture, strictly speaking, in the same way that Russians, for example, can speak of a Russian national culture.

This is the reason why Wale Okediran, a Yoruba, has not or cannot write his stories, novels and essays in Yoruba. To pass as a Nigerian writer, to pass as a national writer writing about a national culture, he must write in English language, the colonizer’s language. Yet Wale Okediran must attempt to de-colonize in his writings Nigeria’s political culture. Okediran’s problem is the problem of all Nigerian’s writers, distinguished and un-distinguished.

By the way, if Okediran had written Tenants of the House in Yoruba, would he receive the capital attention he is receiving everywhere today outside his Yoruba area? As nationalists and patriots, we would like to champion any cause that would unite and amalgamate us against foreign ideals and influences that go against any grain of our culture. But is this not a treacherous, hypocritical and even a stupid thing to do since we have no national culture, old or young? I must not be misunderstood.

We have our diverse ethnical cultures, but because of who we rightly are, our multi-ethnical standpoints have not sowed (and are not sowing) in us a sense of a national culture. The fact of our national life today is that we have various interests and policies competing against one another with their attendant declamations and meaningless slogans and phrases that do nothing but to further divide us. “Huge” Nigeria has always known a huge fraud – right from 1914 when the colonial lords joined the different ethnical groups together in what is now known as the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
To be continued


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