Raymond Ozoji, Awka
In spite of the predictions by the United Nations that Igbo language will become extinct by the year 2025, there seems to be little or no efforts made to save the language from untimely demise. Despite the plethora of Igbo organisations such as Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Ndigbo United Forum Worldwide, Igboezue, Otu Suba Kwa Igbo, to mention a few, who are supposed to be in the vanguard of ensuring that Igbo language and cultural identity do not become history, the mother tongue of the Igbo race seems to be dying by instalment with the passage of time.
Will Ndigbo be responsible for the death of their own native dialect as exemplified in the way and manner in which the language is being jettisoned by the owners for other borrowed languages? Somewhere in Anambra state of Nigeria, a school called St. John of God Secondary School Awka compels her students to pay between N10 and N20 as penalty for speaking Igbo language within the school premises except only on Wednesdays the state government approved officially for speaking Igbo language.
Afoma Maduekwe confirmed that at St.John of God, students were restrained from speaking Igbo language, else they pay N10 or N20 fine to the school authorities. Precious Ekemezie, also a student of the school, recalls that she paid fine for speaking Igbo language when she was in the junior class but no longer pays fine now that she is in the senior class. She alleged that it was the Form Miss that compelled them to pay such fine and didn’t know if the school principal was aware of such development.
In the Southwest, the official lingua franca is the Yoruba language. Apart from being the most generally acceptable means and mode of communication at public places, it is also used in the school environment as means of teaching and learning. The same situation applies in the North where the Hausa language is the most predominant. Why then should Igbo language be treated with scorn and disdain? The situation presents itself as even worst because most Igbo parents abandon the native language to teach their children French, Chinese, Spanish and a host of other foreign languages to the outright neglect of their own language of origin and heritage. It is indeed a perilous time for Igbo language because it is gradually sinking deeper and deeper into the abyss.
The question, however, is how can Ndigbo prove the United Nations wrong that Igbo language will not become history by the year 2025? To this end therefore, Anambra State Ministry of Culture, Tourism, Diaspora Affairs and Indigenous Arts offered itself to help redeem Igbo language from going into Oblivion. To achieve this laudable objective, the ministry organised a programme at Cana House Awka, the Anambra state capital where recommendations were made as to how Igbo language and culture will survive trying times.
Dr. Arinzechukwu Agbanusi of the Philosophy Department of Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, who was the guest speaker at the event, observed that it was during the colonial era that Igbo language began to suffer because children were flogged by the white missionaries for speaking Igbo language in schools.
Agbanusi also noted that in recent times, Ndigbo had abandoned their native names, food, traditional dresses, dance, folk tales and many others for foreign names and alien cultural values. Indeed, the guest lecturer maintained that Igbo language is suffering gross neglect.
He however recommended that it is imperative that Igbo parents should adopt Igbo language in the training and upbringing of their children. He referred to the provisions of the National Policy on Education, where he said that “governnent will see to it that the medium of instruction in the primary school is initially the mother tongue or language of immediate community and at a later stage English language,” pointing out that it is wrong for parents to think that their children will be deficient in English language, when they teach them Igbo language at home or elsewhere. Dr. Agbanusi also cautioned that children shouldn’t be penalized for speaking Igbo language in schools or any other public places because language, according to him, is what identifies an individual or a nation.
Furthermore, the state commissioner for Culture, Tourism, Diaspora Affairs and Indigenous Arts, Barr. Sally Uwechue Mbanefo, said the ministry organised programmes and activities aimed at promoting Igbo language and culture. Mbanefo said the ministry took the campaign to primary and secondary schools in Anambra state where they inculcated Igbo traditional values in the children through traditional dances, drama, songs, Igbo proverbs and so on.
Represented on the occasion by Mr.Tony Ezenwaka, Permanent Secretary Ministry of Culture, Tourism, Diaspora Affairs and Indigenous Arts, the commissioner frowned on the idea of school children being compelled to pay fine for speaking Igbo language in the classroom. She said even though the state assembly made a legislation that Igbo language should be used as official language on Wednesdays in Anambra state, it was not a precondition to determine where and when Igbo language should be spoken. She said one of the reasons Governor Willie Obiano created the ministry was basically for the promotion and sustenance of Igbo language and cultural values as well as discover and promote indigenous art works across the state. The commissioner therefore stressed the need for Ndigbo to ensure that the prediction of the United Nations does not come to pass because Ndigbo have unique cultural heritage and that such heritage should transcend from one generation to another until the passage of time.
Igwebuike Grammar School Awka, St.John of God School Awka and a few others attended the programme while cultural dance display and recitation of Igbo proverbs and their interpretations by students of the two schools added spice to the occasion.