Promoting Indigenous Languages In Nigeria


Nigeria is a large country of about 140 million people perhaps the largest country in Africa and indeed, in the whole black race. Situated in West Africa, it is larger than the whole of the sub-region. With over 250 different ethnic groups found across the length breath of it, there are three major tribes, viz- Hausa in the north, Igbo in the East and Yoruba in the West, each having it’s own language. However, the general language of communication in Nigeria is English language bequeathed to her by the former colonial masters, Great Britain.

Even though English is the language of communication in Nigeria and used in teaching students in schools, the government and indeed leaders of thought have made concerted efforts to promote the study of the Nigerian languages in schools. Few years ago, government saw the need for this and tailored the education curriculum towards the study of indigenous Nigerians languages.

To this end, the Federal Ministry of Education made it compulsory for every student to study and register at least one Nigerian language at senior school examination. Besides, the federal government went ahead and established at Kano, Enugu and Abia States, the Federal Institute for Nigerian languages. These are all geared toward the study and promotion of Nigerian languages.

Why is it very necessary to study the indigenous Nigerian languages? The answers are indeed not far-fetched. There are many of them but few will be mentioned here. If a foreigner is in the midst of Nigerians of different ethnic backgrounds and they want to discuss an issue the foreigner is not supposed to know, how will they go about it? Obviously, it is impossible, hence the need to accept a particular indigenous Nigeria language which all Nigerians must team as a ligua Franca, irrespective of their tribes.

Outside of the identity issue which is paramount promoting our languages makes it easier for those that do not speak English or do not speak it well to be part of the world. If our nation invested in translating key documents into our languages, you’d find some one in the village capable of understanding what is happening in China or Romania, because the information would be written in his language.

The powerful countries in the world have all done that. South Africa has some nine official languages, and China supports all 55 languages in its country. They even pay to have newspapers translated into those languages. India does the same thing and even awards yearly prizes to writers in local Indian languages. Needless to say these countries have a deep identity, making them more patriotic and which makes information easily accessible to the masses, even the old and poor. Promoting self-pride perhaps is one of the most important aspects of garnering support to promote indigenous language. Without support from the community, it’s difficult to get anything going. A lot of destruction and put down often actually comes from the mind of members of the indigenous community itself. Without self-pride, no one will ever use the language or want to help the culture survive. To help, it can be easy as showing interest. Demonstrate equality and respect by putting the language in places where others are prominent.

Alternatively, the federal government can modify the school curriculum in such a way that a student must study one language other than his own. This is a unifying force and will go a long way in bringing about the much needed peace, unity and brotherhood among Nigerians. The beneficiary can therefore reside in that part of the country where he understands their language, in comfort, since the acquisition of language is a prelude to mastering their culture.

Language is tied to culture, you cannot learn the culture of the people, without learning their language. Talking about culture, studying the indigenous languages of Nigeria is another way of promoting Nigerian culture hence as I earlier said, culture and language are inseparable. By studying our indigenous languages, we will get to understand and appreciate the culture of not only our own tribes but that of others.

More than anything else, the study of our indigenous languages will enhance the standard of education. Educational psychology proved that a child of pre-school age understand more, what he is taught in his mother tongue than what he is taught in school language. This is because, at birth the mind of a child is totally empty and whatever values he is taught then, will register automatically in his mind. Therefore, anything in his mind becomes indelible.

It is common knowledge that a child learns to speak, using his mother tongue. For instance, he learns to speak calling “mama” or “iya” (mother in Igbo and Yoruba respectively). If the government implements this, it should back it with the training of teachers of indigenous languages who will lead them at all levels of education, hence, the study of indigenous languages by students cannot be realistic without trained teachers in such languages.

Why can’t we be proud of what we have? English only become our lingua Franca after colonisation. We have an identity. We have our own mother tongue. We have the resources and knowledge to make any Nigerian dialect acceptable within Nigeria. We don’t have to sit in the doldrums of insignificance. Let’s promote our culture, let’s not kill our mother tongue, if for no reason, let’s promote it for posterity sake. Let’s promote our mother tongue.

Indigenous languages are no doubt the indices of peoples identify, they encapsulate our core traditional values that identity us and make us distinct from other people. The pursuit for national identity via the promotion of indigenous languages is not a bad idea.

The numerous ideas, as contained in this articles, if complimented will certainly help in building a great Nigeria of our dreams.

Tom is an intern with The Tide.