So much had been said and written by Igbo elites in recent times about the alarming decline in spoken Igbo language by Ndigbo themselves and the possible extinction of the language in the nearest foreseeable future. The Igbo language is one of the three major languages recognized by law or convention in Nigeria.
It is a matter of deep regret however, that only little efforts seem to have been made to stem the dangerous tide that is currently eroding the cherished Igbo Language and Culture among Ndi-Igbo themselves. To further compound the ugly situation, the so-called Igbo elites seem not to be helping matters as they are the worst culprits in the utter basterdization of our cherished Igbo Language and culture.
A renowned academia of repute and tireless crusader for the revival and sustenance of Igbo language and culture, Professor Pita Ejiofor appears to be doing a yeoman's and seemingly thankless job in his pet project known as “Subakwa Igbo” as many Igbo elites and the people generally appear to be less enthusiastic in the noble crusade to avert the imminent extinction of Igbo Language. It is said that a people without a language is dead hence it has become imperative and as a matter of utmost importance for Ndi-Igbo across Nigeria and in diaspora to urgently take up the challenge to ensure that our language which is our identity is safeguarded and preserved for our future generations. Ndi-Igbo should take a cue from their fellow compatriots in the Nigerian project like the Yorubas and Housa/Fulanis who, no matter their social and academic status in society, always cherish their mother tongue and are proud to speak and write their language at any time and place as well as at public foras.
Regrettably however, the so-called Igbo elites and even the not so learned Ndi-Igbo often feel ashamed to speak their God given language at public functions or gatherings with the wrong notion that their Igbo audience would simply regard them as illiterates or what is termed in Igbo language as “Na Otiwara Slate” or “Na Ogbajiro chalk” meaning that they never acquired Western education. This unfortunate state of affairs which had persisted over the years had brought utter disrespect and disdain from our fellow compatriots- the Yorubas and Housa/Fulanis who had often treated Ndi-Igbo as a people without a language and culture.
It is a common knowledge that an average Igbo man (Onyigbo) has the common penchant to learn and master other people's language and culture as a way of adapting and assimilating the language and culture of his host community. This sense of versatility on the part of Ndi-Igbo, much as it is desirable in view of the Igbo man's enterprising spirit and tendency to migrate to other places, this should however not be to the detriment of our God given language and culture which were handed down to the present generation by our forebears. An Igbo adage states thus: “Oku agunyere nwata naka agai anyu anyu” meaning that the light handed over to a child must never be extinguished.
This writer therefore, make bold to state here and now that concerted efforts must be made henceforth by all and sundry through out Igboland to resuscitate the already dying Igbo language and culture and wish to recommend the following urgent and stringent measures in order to achieve the noble objective.
First and foremost, the Governors and State Houses of Assembly in the South East Geo-Political Zone of the Country must immediately come up with a legislation that will make it compulsory for students seeking admission into tertiary Institutions and Universities within the zone to possess a minimum score of 60% proficiency in Igbo language among other requirements for admission into higher Institutions of learning.
This singular legislation will obviously compel Igbo parents wherever they may reside to start early enough to speak and teach their children and wards Igbo language and culture in order to safeguard not only their own future but that of generations yet unborn.
Furthermore, the State Governments within the South East Geo-Political Zone must as a matter of utmost priority adopt Igbo language as the official language of communication in all Government businesses and functions while the English Language should take the back seat as the second official language for Government transactions. In the same vein, the State Houses of Assembly within the zone must equally adopt Igbo language as the official language for their daily legislative businesses while the English language should be used only one day in the legislative week.
The Igbo language should equally be adopted as the formal language in all social functions and ceremonies within Igbo land. Similarly, Churches in Igboland are enjoined to encourage their clerics and pastors to always conduct their services and sermons in Igbo language and employ the services of interpreters to translate their messages into the English language for their non Igbo speaking worshipers as obtainable in multi linguistic societies.
These measures will obviously compel other Nigerians domiciled in Igbo land to learn and speak Igbo language so as to be fully integrated into their host Communities and thereby enhancing the much talked about national integration, cohesion and unity among Nigerians as a people. Equally important in this noble crusade for the revival of Igbo language, culture and identity is the revered traditional institution which should be in the vanguard for Igbo renaissance by adopting only the Igbo language during the annual “Ofala”, “Iwaji” and all other traditional rites usually performed by “Ezes” and “Igwes” in Igboland . The common habit on the part of so-called elites in Igbo land who often mix English and Igbo languages together otherwise called “Engligbo” during social, traditional functions and ceremonies under the pretext that the Igbo language is incomplete or difficult to speak should be completely jettisoned as Igbo language is certainly complete and easy to speak and understand.
In conclusion, the apex Igbo organization known as “Ohaneze Ndi Igbo” which for long had remained a toothless bull dog and self centered must wake up from its deep and embarrassing slumber and take up the challenge of sensitizing and promoting the Igbo language and culture which are indeed its primary objectives and functions. The Igbo nation regrettably had for too long suffered unimaginable neglect and complete loss if influence in the affairs of the nation due to lack of vibrant and focused leadership, hence the successive leadership of “Ohaneze” had continually betrayed the confidence and trust of Ndi Igbo as the sole defender of the collective interests and aspirations of Ndi Igbo and Igbo nation. The supposedly noble organization had unfortunately been turned into an avenue for political leverage and self aggrandizement on the part of the leadership of the organization thereby leaving the Igbo nation completely bare for unwarranted attacks and denigration by her enemies and detractors. The Igbo nation must therefore not be allowed to remain in her present state of indignation and sorry situation in our dear country occasioned by self seeking and ineptitude leadership masquerading as leaders of “Ohaneze Ndi Igbo”.
The present ugly situation therefore, calls for soul searching and sober reflection on the part of Ndi Igbo generally wherever they may reside, if the Igbo nation must reclaim her lost glory and pre-eminence in the affairs of the entity called Nigeria. It is said that a stitch in time saves nine and a word is certainly enough for the wise.
Nze Nwabueze Akabogu (JP) is a regular Public Affairs Commentator and Analyst.
He wrote from Enugwu-Ukwu, Anambra State
5th May, 2016.