By Nnamdi Ojiego
In today’s Nigeria, nothing much has been achieved in the area of encouraging the teeming youths and children to speak their local dialect.
Many children hardly speak their local dialect as English language is relegating indigenous languages.
Though it is believed that most parents are guilty of not teaching their children their dialect, several government agencies and private institutions have also neglected that area, which actually contributes immensely to the development of tourism in Nigeria.
Elsewhere in the world, people value their local dialect before they learn or speak any other language.
But that is not the case with Nigerian kids as English language seems to have taken away the attraction in local languages.
Looking critically at the issues and trying to encourage the youths to speak their dialect, some private citizens have taken it upon themselves to champion the cause of supporting local dialect being taught in schools. One of such persons is the Managing Director of Heritage Bank, Dr. Ifie Sekibo.
Recently, he championed the launch of a book titled “Let Us Speak Ikwerre”, (A KWU IWNUROHHNA), in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
The book which was originally written in English language was authored by Mrs. Oyintarela Umeri and translated to Ikwerre language Dr. Tony Enyia, an indigene of Rumuor-Ogbakari, Emohua Local Government of Rivers State.
Umeri is the founder and Managing Director of Niger Delta Books Limited, and she holds a master’s degree in Development Management from the London School of Economics, United Kingdom, and a BSc. in Politics and Modern History from Brunel University, United Kingdom. She also studied both French and German up to A-levels and she has successfully managed the production and publication of other books like Izon Fie, (Speak Izon) and an audiobook.
After the successful launch of Speak Izon Language, Sekibo, who said he stumbled on the idea of translating English language to local dialects, sponsored the Niger Delta Books Limited to launch an audio CD in the Kirike language, (Okrika dialect) titled : Speak Kirike, which was successfully launched in 2017.
Speaking during the launch of the Lets Us Speak Ikwerre, Sekibo said his support for writing books in all Niger-Delta languages was inspired by the desire not to allow Nigerian local dialects to go into extinction.
He said: “The idea of converting English to our local dialect wasn’t mine, I stumbled into it. I was invited by my bosom friend, Timi Alaibe to the launching of Izon fie, a book written in Izon language, so I felt if people can think of printing books in Ijaw language, why we can’t do the same for all Niger Delta languages. And I took a decision at the event that I will be ready to fund or sponsor the production of these printable books in our language. Not just Izon but in all Niger-Delta languages. So, I decided to set out with languages in Rivers State and Bayelsa State. So, we did Kirike Fie which is the dialect of Okrika in Rivers State and I found out it was very successful. I decided to give sponsorship for other languages which includes Ikwerre, Kalabari, Ekpeye, Nembe and Ogoni language.
“There is a need for our children to speak our local dialect and the only way we can do this successfully other than speaking at home is to introduce English books into our local dialect and all hands must be on deck to achieve this. So far, I have sponsored the Niger Delta Books Limited to develop and publish books in some languages, but we still need to publish more in other local dialects like Kalabari, Nembe and several other dialects of the Niger Delta.
“To achieve this feat of translating English to several Niger Delta dialects is not an easy task, it entails a lot, and we need to act fast before our dialects go into extinction. So, we plan to introduce books in other local dialects of different states across the Niger Delta, at least before the second quarter of this 2021, we should have been able to achieve six other languages” he stated.
Continuing, Sekibo said: “Our ambition is to put a copy of the book into the hands of all Ikwerre students and as it presently stands, we need at least 10,000 copies to achieve that feat. We have started but we need to print more and come out with a lot of speed because the younger ones need to speak these languages.
“One of the things we have done is that these books are to be distributed and given free to all the schools and colleges and that is why we need well-meaning Niger Delta indigenes to support this cause so that our language which is also our identity will not go down. When my son greets me in my dialect which is Okrika, it is a great deal for me. So, we as parents need to encourage them in speaking our dialects. Some of the children would love to speak but they do not have access to reference books that will help them. This is one of the major reasons we took it upon ourselves to support this cause”.
In his remarks, legal luminary, and Chairman of the event, OCJ Okocha, commended Sekibo for encouraging the children of Niger-Delta in speaking their dialects just as he called on other notable indigenes of the region to take a clue from Sekibo.
According to him, “this is a very commendable feat by Dr. Ifie Sekibo, especially in the area of preserving our culture and I think every other VIP in the Niger Delta should take a clue from him. If you are not proud of your culture, then you are a foreigner. This is a legacy work for humanity, and I must commend it while I call on every parent to encourage their children to learn their own language before they are 10 years old. With such in place, we would have helped preserve our languages”.
In his submission, Director General, Rivers State Tourism, Mr. Yibo Koko, urged Nigerians, especially the Niger-Delta people to value their mother tongue.
He said: “It is important we value our own language and I encourage parents to teach their children because this will help us revive our languages. Languages used to be our way of doing business and it is important we do not forget it. The corporate world is contributing its own quota through the help of Dr. Ifie Sekibo, who has single-handedly supported the introduction of English languages to various Niger-Delta dialects. Achieving this feat is not an easy one and we call on all well-meaning Niger Deltans to join us in this course”.
Other personalities at the event include former Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission, Mr. Timi Alaibe, ex-Minister of Transport, Dr. Abiye Sekibo, former Managing Director of Unity Bank, Henry Seminitari, Senator Emmanuel Diffa, Charles Bekee, Social commentator, Eugene Abels, and Director-General, Rivers State Tourism, Yibo Koko among others.