The Vice-Chancellor, Federal University, Gashua in Yobe State, Prof. Andrew Haruna, has advised Nigerian leaders against using language and ethnic differences as a political distraction to hinder national integration and development.
The vice-chancellor gave the advice at the 2019 annual lecture of the Faculty of Arts, Lagos State University (LASU) on Monday in Lagos.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the theme of the lecture was: “Beyond Linguistic Pluralism and Leveraging Diversity: Linguistic Issues and National Integration in Nigeria”.
According to him, Nigeria is a nation with a dense linguistic complexity and a melting pot for diverse ethnic communities.
“An average of 500 separate language groupings are found within the borders of the nation and the diverse ethnic languages have made Nigeria unique.
“There is a need to create an environment or atmosphere to seek for understanding between speakers of the different ethnic and linguistic groups in the states and the country,” Haruna said.
He said that multilingualism was a liability because it impedes both economic and political development, hinders inter-group cooperation, weakens national unity, and aggravates political instability.
“We need to have a serious dialogue and not monologue on language, ethnicity, and inter-ethnic relations.
“One way to douse tension is to engage the communities in dialogue. Dialogue drives away distrust and narrow-mindedness and so open the way for cooperation and reciprocal respect.
“As a linguist, I observe that the main predicament in dialogue has to do with communication and language.
“Many times, we use the same words, while we mean different things, thus we speak but do not communicate,” Haruna said.
The professor said Nigerians must, therefore, be proud of their linguistic and cultural wealth, saying “a language is not just a set of vocabulary or grammatical rules.
“It is a display of the human spirit, a means of expression through which the soul of a particular culture comes into the material world.
“We should know that when we lose a language, we lose an elemental part of the human spirit.”
In his opening remarks, Prof. Olanrewaju Fagbohun, Vice-Chancellor of LASU), said that national integration remained critical to Nigeria as a country.
Fagbohun said that from time to time, people see languages, ethnicity, and religion being thrown around to divide the nation.
“What the Faculty of Arts is doing today is to inform us of the importance of multilingualism and solutions so that the different ethnicity can bring about national development,” he said.
Also speaking, Dr. Sunny Ajose, Chairman of the occasion, urged all ethnic groups in Nigeria to work together so as to move and build the nation to a greater height.
Ajose said that building a nation meant we must understand ourselves and harness our languages and cultural values.
“I want to assure you that if we can take good advantage of our own cultural diversity and language we can progress at a faster rate.
“We should have pride in the use of languages, the cultural dialect in order to improve the quality and development of the society,” he said.