By Cyriacus Nnaji
Igbo language spoken predominantly by people of Eastern Nigeria and parts of South-South, and North-Central, at various times has been said to be a language heading to extinction, due mainly by the sole reason of the people embracing westernization and English language.
However, there is now a new vision, mission and plan to resuscitate interest, a reawakening and sensitization of the people on the need to preserve the Igbo language so that it does not go into extinction.
Part of the initiative for the sustainability of Igbo language was the hosting of International Mother Tongue Day by Ekwe Kuo Ama Agbaa, an Igbo language newspaper, heavily supported by the trio of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Lagos State Chapter, Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF), and Indigenous Language and Culture Initiative.
The event which was held at Ohanaeze Lagos secretariat at Robertson Street, Surulere recently has the theme “Igbo Langusge: A Dying Language of a Living People.”
Mrs Nneka Chimezie, who doubles as the National Coordinator Igbo Women Forum and Chairman, Ekwe Kuo Amagbaa, said the conference was being held in response to United Nations’ prediction that Igbo language is going into extinction. “So what we intend to achieve with this is to spread the news around to tell our people to embrace our language and to do whatever we can to save it, it is only a tree that you would tell you want to cut it and it still stands in the same place. Igbo Language is a dying language of a living people, so since we are still alive we want everybody to join hand, this language is our own, you can learn it, nobody else can preserve this language for us, so this programme is designed to call on all well meaning Igbos to join hands and see what we can do to save our language from going into extinction.”
At the event which has Secretary Alaigbo development Foundation (ADF) Hon Emmanuel Ifeanyichukwu Mok in attendance, Chimezie revealed other plans to ensure the language continues to fly “Plans are underway to offer scholarship to whoever is willing to study Igbo language in tertiary institution, to be able to have teachers that can teach in schools, we want to establish Igbo language schools in every corner, every state in Nigeria, to give access to our children, bring Igbo language to their door steps. If God helps us, we want to have Igbo language schools in every street, not just in Lagos but all over the state in Nigeria,” Chimezie said.
Speaking on the origin of mother tongue Chimezie said “Once a child is created by God, he lands in his or her mother’s belly that is his first point of call, then when he is born his/her true identity is revealed by his parents who determine where he or she comes from and the name he bears. Now if these individual’s parents are Igbo, we will say he or she is Igbo. Therefore, it is believed that the first language a child speaks is the one he hears from his parents, that makes the home the bed-rock of language. So if a child cannot speak his language it is the fault of us the parents.”
Chimezie maintained that a child that cannot speak the language of his parents is as good as having no identity “May I remind us that a child that cannot speak his language is as good as having no identity because you are defined by your language not necessarily your name. American, British, Ghanaian, Togolese, Yoruba, Hausa or Edo man will help, defend or care for his countryman first before any other person.”
She spoke further by giving a word of advice to parents “As a parent I want to encourage us to make sure our children speak our language. Make it a point of duty to speak our languages at home especially Igbo language. So that when they eventually grow and leave home it will be easy for them to mix with their people where ever they may find themselves.”
Chimezie disclosed that efforts by her group are underway to advocate that the legislation in Lagos which makes it compulsory to take only Yoruba language in schools be changed so that other native languages like Igbo, Hausa etc. can be taught as second language. She stated that Nigeria has over 200 languages, “but in order to make communication easy we choose the language of our colonial masters which is English language as our lingual franker. But in our bid to retain our mother tongue the Nigerian state approved the learning of the major three languages Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba to be taught in schools. This was done so that children will have the opportunity to learn not just how to speak but also be able to write in their language. But with the bill recently passed by Lagos State House of assembly which says that only Yoruba language will be thought in public schools should be revisited.”
Chimezie also has a word for Lagos State Government, “I want to remind them that, Lagos is not just any State but was once the capital of the federal republic of Nigeria and is host to over twenty million people from all works of life which among these are Ibos and Hausas it will not be good to deny this children the right to learn how to read and write in their language. For me I say ‘This is Modern Day Colonisation.’
“Please I urge the Lagos State government and the legislatures to revisit that bill to enhance more cordial relationship between the government and the guest communities that live in Lagos to give them some level of Sense of belonging,” she added.
She said there is not enough Igbo language graduates as a result of which there are not enough persons to employ as teachers of Igbo language. “It has been shown that we don’t have so many graduates of Igbo language making it difficult to have lgbo teachers or people developing and encouraging the study of the language. It’s quite alarming because it wouldn’t help encourage the study and speaking of our language for our youths.
“We need to build up activities and programs that will encourage Igbo speaking especially to encourage youths to study the art of Igbo speaking and writing in tertiary education. In this light, we need to create jobs and opportunities that will encourage this program so that they can see the need to embark on the study of the language. We need to make this available and create the platform so that our children can have a pathway in Igbo language,” Chimezie stated.
She disclosed that Ohaneze Ndigbo, Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF), Indigenous Language and Culture Initiative and Ekwe Kuo Ama Agbaa Igbo news paper, have put measure in place so that anyone who wants to study Igbo language in tertiary institutions will have a fully funded scholarship.
She stated that Igbos should reach out to various communities and create friends with them. “In this way, we will be able to reach out to more people, create more friends and be able to understand ourselves, our problems and we can grow together in business, relationship-wise, family wise, mentally, physically and even spiritually. There is a better bond when we speak our Mother-tongue to one another. There’s this sense of togetherness, oneness and love that we share if you’ve noticed. So we have to be strong, we have to encourage one another, we have to empower one another and we have to be one,” she stated.
She stated further “Igbo needs an empowerment medium to support and give scholarship to our children who wishes to learn Igbo language so that they can be encouraged to study Igbo language and transform it into a language of science and commerce. “In our effort to encourage the speaking of our language in our society we need sponsors that will help give our children scholarships that will help encourage our little ones by supporting them in this course so that there will be hope for the future generations to come.”
John Chukwu Ezenwa Founder and Initiator of Indigenous Language and Culture Initiative that gave birth to Ekwe kuo Ama Agbaa, which is an Igbo language Newspaper, stated that the annual programme has been going on for the past 10 years, he added that as the day progress there would be more people on board to create more awareness, to make people understand what United Nation Mother Tongue means and the importance and value why the society need to embrace it.”
Speaking further on the challenges faced by the group he said “Challenges include awareness, support has been limited, if people understand what we are doing, it will strengthen our goals and aspiration. We launched the first Igbo language newspaper and we have successfully published first and second editions and now we are on the third publication.”
On the area of coverage, he disclosed “In December period we were able to print over 10, 000 copies of the Newspaper, we toured all the Southeastern states and two other states in the south-south. We visited Omu of Anioma in Okpanam, we had a rapport with her in the area of promotion of culture and language; we were also able to meet Alaigbo Development Foundation, also part of promoting Igbo ideology,” He said.
Speaking on the theme of the programme, ‘Igbo language: A dying language of a living people’ Solomon Ogbonna, President of Ohanaeze Lagos Chapter, encouraged his people to speak the language, with a promise to making it compulsory in every gathering of Ndigbo. “Part of it is the reason we are here, to ensure that our language is still flying the way it is supposed to be and also carry our culture which has been as undiluted and as old as Ndigbo since time immemorial.
“Most of the activities of our people here, not only in Lagos even down East, they use English language to host their meetings, so their meetings are no longer secret, because any warrior who is going to war, has set a strategy before going to the war, so if you are speaking English language, and you want to fight an English man, where is your strategy, you have already told them your secret. Where are the tricks to win the war? You will fail. So we need our language.”
Eminent Igbo leaders that graced the occasion include Hon. Chief Obinna Ugwu, Vice President, Igbo Speaking Community; Nze Henry Dim President General Akpo Development Association; Chief CFC Obih (Ugoabata) Market Leaders Association of Nigeria; and Chief Chris Ekwilo one of the critical stakeholders of Ndigbo in Lagos.