By Nwabueze Akabogu
The much talked about prediction that the Igbo Language among other major Languages might go into extinction by the year 2050 has recently taken a center stage in the national discourse.
This prediction was obviously based on the research conducted by the United Nations Scientific Educational and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on some major spoken Languages and which the Igbo Language was singled out in Nigeria as an indigenous Language that might be phased out in the nearest future.
It is a matter of deep regret that the Igbo Language had been terribly battered and often treated with contempt and utter disdain over the years least of all by the owners of the Language themselves. This rather embarrassing situation had emboldened other major ethnic groups in Nigeria to equally treat Ndigbo and their Language with scorn and utter contempt even as they are known to harbour Igbophobic tendencies towards Ndigbo as a people.
The common Igbo adage that says’ “Onye kpo obaya Nkpokoro, Agbataobiya ewere ya kpofuo Ahihia” is very apt in the present pitiable and sorry situation Ndigbo as a people have unfortunately found themselves in Nigeria. The genesis of the current travails of Ndigbo and their Language could be traced to the slavish mentality of the average Igbo man who often sheepishly imbibes other people’s culture and tradition to the utter detriment of his own culture and tradition which he considers as inferior to other traditions.
However, it is heartwarming and a cheering news that some well meaning and great Igbo patriots and organizations recently embarked on the task of trying to reverse this ugly trend and change the narrative. These patriots had equally demonstrated great commitment and uncommon zeal towards the revival of the “dying” Igbo Language as well as ensuring that Ndigbo rediscover their bearing and embrace their cherished culture, tradition, and beautiful Language which they must begin now to speak and write with great pride and passion without any inhibition whatsoever.
One must not fail however, to recognize and appreciate the invaluable contributions already made towards the revival of Igbo Language by the indefatigable and renowned scholar Prof. Pita Ejiofor, who single handedly, pioneered and championed this noble cause through his “Otu Zuwakwa Igbo” crusade. This selfless efforts made by these great Igbo Patriots are already yielding great dividends even as Ndigbo as a people are beginning to come to terms with their current plight and unenviable situation in the political entity called Nigeria and must ensure that their God given Language does not go into extinction as prophets of doom had predicted.
Nevertheless, certain stringent measures must be adopted by Ndigbo as a matter of deliberate policy to revive and sustain the Igbo Language and also make the Language a universal Language to be spoken throughout Nigeria and beyond.
First and foremost, efforts must be made to ensure that Igbo Language is taught and spoken in all indigenous Igbo families where our children must learn to speak the Language from cradle. Furthermore our education curriculum must make Igbo Language a compulsory subject in both primary and secondary schools and all admissions into secondary schools as well as tertiary institutions within the South East geo-political zone must be based on credit pass in Igbo Language among other requirements.
In the same vein, employment into government establishments within the South East Geo-political zone must equally be based on the applicants’ proficiency in both spoken and written Igbo Language among other criteria for employment. The political leaders within the South East zone as a matter of deliberate policy must be able to address their people during official functions in undiluted Igbo Language and always avoid addressing the people in the so-called “Engligbo” which unfortunately has become fashionable among Igbo elites. The political class and the Igbo elites generally must lead this crusade for Igbo Language awakening and renaissance by their personal example. It is always said that example is better than precepts.
In addition, all official government businesses or activities must always be conducted in Igbo Language. Also all deliberations in the State Houses of Assembly within the South East Geo-political Zone must be conducted in Igbo Language from Mondays to Thursdays leaving only Fridays for deliberations in English Language. The traditional institutions should also be in the vanguard for the propagation of Igbo Language and culture by encouraging their subjects to always conduct their Towns’ and villages’ meetings as well as traditional ceremonies only in Igbo Language.
The above drastic measures have become imperative if the Igbo Language must be saved from going into extinction. It is a common saying that difficult situations require drastic measures to correct the ugly trend and it is now or never for Ndigbo to once again place the Igbo Language on the world map. Fellow compatriots of Ndigbo in the Nigerian project notably, the Hausas and Yorubas had already achieved prominence and are always proud to speak their Languages in public foras not minding whether their audiences are made up mainly of non-Hausa or Yoruba listeners as the case maybe. Even in social interactions the average Hausa or Yoruba man would be proud to speak in his own Language to his audience made up of mainly say Ndigbo or other ethnic groups without bothering whether his audience understands his Language or not. This attitude simply smacks of sheer arrogance and superiority complex.
Regrettably, the Igbo man in his slavish mentality would often speak fluently either in Hausa or Yoruba Languages even when his audience is made up of mainly his fellow kinsmen with perhaps a few non-Igbos in the audience simply to impress the non-Igbos that he could speak their Languages fluently.
President Buhari sometime ago, while he was welcoming the visiting President of Niger Republic in Katsina State addressed his august visitor in Hausa Language to the embarrassment and utter disgust of many Nigerians who had listened to President Buhari’s address on that occasion. President Buhari obviously owed no one any apology for his address in Hausa Language in view of the fact that Hausa Language is recognized and accepted internationally as a lingua franca spoken in many African Countries as well as the Middle East region.
In conclusion, the Igbo Language could equally be elevated to an internationally recognized Language as a lingua franca if only Ndigbo could develop the political will to embrace and nurture their Language and project same to the international community even as the popular Swahili Language was adopted by the East African nations as well as other nations in Southern Africa as their Lingua franca. The time has therefore arrived for Ndigbo to cherish and embrace their God given rich and beautiful Language and free themselves from their present defeatist and self pity mentality and take their destiny into their own hands. If you don’t say you are no body will say you are. Ndigbo, be wise and arise from your deep slumber and put on your thinking cap. It is now or never.
Nze Nwabueze Akabogu (JP) is a Regular Public Affairs Commentator and Analyst.