INTRODUCTION: Apologies. Let me apologise for writing this short piece in a foreign language. This is the first time since Otu Suwakwa Igbo Nigeria Initiative (OSINI) was formed by us on February 14, 2006, that I am addressing ndI Igbo in a foreign language contrary to Articles One and Five of OSINI Code of Conduct (Iwuokpu Ndi Otu A). I am breaking this rule because, as our people say, “a hu ihe ka ubi, elee oba” which is like our Lord’s Parable of the Hidden Treasure (Mtt 13: 44-46).
So, members of OSINI, please forgive me. If I write this in Igbo, about 90% of ndi Igbo, including university graduates, would not be able to read it.
That is the sad condition in which our language is today. Is this a sign of life? No other language in Nigeria is facing this ugly situation. Ndi Igbo, when do we start reversing this? As we celebrate this year’s Igbo day, let us turn our utmost attention to rescuing our most important heritage: Igbo language.
In this paper, after apologizing to Ndi Igbo for writing in English, I drew from my twelve years experience in campaigning for the saving of Igbo language to passionately appeal that Governments in Igbo land come out boldly to save the language by taking six measures or the language will die as predicted. I end with a post script on the speaking of English in Igbo homes.
- Our Suwakwa Igbo Travels. Since 2006 when the OSINI was formed, there is almost no important organization, particularly in Anambra State, that I have not given a lecture of at least one and half hours to, on the sad condition of our language.
These organizations include the State Government from GL 10 officers up to the Governor (thrice), four times to the Anambra State Council of Traditional Rulers, twice to the Anambra State Association of Town Unions (ASATU); once to each of the Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education’s topmost officers including Vice-Chancellors, Rectors and Provosts; different Catholic, Anglican and Methodist Diocesan conferences with all the priests/pastors including the bishops/archbishops participating; the three Senatorial Zones; Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools, CWO’s of Dioceses, Education Board, etc.
In addition, I have also delivered the keynote address in the following great Conventions of ndi Igbo: 2014 World Igbo Congress in Houston, USA; 2011 Anambra State Association USA (ASA-USA) Convention in Dallas; 2009 Umuigbo Catholic Community Convention in London; 2014 Igbo Farm and Museum Village Convention, Staunton, Virginia;
Igbo Day Celebrations in Awka 2004, Enugu 2008, and Umuahia, 2010; 2013 Annual Convention of the Igbo Catholic Community in USA (ICUSA) in Raleigh, N. Carolina; and 2013 Odenigho Lecture in Owerri. I thank the leaders of all those organizations for giving me the privilege to address them.
- Outcome of the Seminars. In all those public lectures, very well attended, I have been asked hundreds of questions, given numerous suggestions; over fifty communiqués have been issued on the way to get our Language out of the woods. Some organizations have faithfully attempted to implement their resolutions.
But for others, it is a re-enactment of Our Lord’s Parable of the Sower (Mtt 13: 1-12) as many of the resolutions fell on paths, rocks and thorns, were soon forgotten, not worth the paper on which they were written. Reason?
Igbo Language is deemed not important, “after all we are still making the money”; in our people’s rating certainly not as important as political party pecks, Abuja plots and contracts, Apapa containers, flamboyant funerals, etc. Accordingly, Igbo language simply remained a goat owned by many dying of hunger while its counterparts, the Yoruba and Hausa languages, also owned by many, are waxing and thriving, proudly spoken by their people, being spread by them to all parts of the world.
I have gone to this extent to mention some of our efforts not to attract any accolades. No. I am aware that many of my readers have done far much more in other fields of endeavour. The objective of the narration is to convince the reader that I have been on “this business” for some time, have seen much of it, and so should be able to identify the problem of our language and hazard credible prescriptions.
- The Yawning Gap: Government Intervention. In the struggle by OSINI (and others) to save the Igbo Language these twelve long years, despite our modest achievements, we have come face to face with the stark import of the Igbo proverb, “a naghi arapu isimkpruaka agba ufio” (you cannot snap without the thumb). Simply put: Government is the most powerful institution in modern society.
It is the isimkpuruaka (the thumb). Without it, no one can snap. Igbo Language is dying because many Governments in Igbo land are not interested in the language. The remedial measures being taken by some of them are so half-hearted that I have likened those measures to someone trying to blow out with his mouth fire burning a house.
- The “Malaria” Pills for the Igbo Language. The following measures must therefore be taken by Government if Igbo Language is to survive. No other organization can take the measures for them. They are:
(i) Make more comprehensive laws to promote the Igbo Language. Neither Otu Suwakwa Igbo (OSINI) nor Igbo World Association (IWA) nor Ohanaeze can make laws.
(ii) Enforce the laws made like say, hiring qualified Igbo Language teachers to teach in our primary and secondary schools (today many do not have enough qualified teachers); closing any (private) school that does not teach Igbo Language. Neither OSINI nor IWA nor Ohanaeze can do these.
(iii) Compel every Igbo child to study the language by making a pass in GCE Igbo or equivalent a pre-requisite for admission into tertiary institutions, getting employment or promotion in the public service, and, after a grace period of five years, recognition of a new Traditional Ruler. Neither OSINI nor IWA nor Ohanaeze can do this.
(iv) Insist that all Government officials from the highest to the lowest address any assemblies of ndi Igbo in Igbo Language. President Buhari does not address Hausa/Fulani people in English. Chief Obasanjo does not address Yorubas in English. They address them in Hausa and Yoruba respectively. Ndi Igbo must imitate them or our language will die.
(v) Stop the practice of ndi Igbo presenting Addresses of welcome in a language that is not Igbo to any Igbo Government official or church leader. Neither OSINI nor IWA nor Ohanaeze can do it.
(vi) Create a Directorate for Igbo language in the Governor’s Office and back it with adequate authority.
- Action By IWA, Ohanaeze and OSINI. A high powered delegation of IWA and Ohanaeze, accompanied by OSINI should visit all Igbo State Governors immediately with a mono agendum: presentation of Par 5 to them. The delegation should reserve another time for discussing other pressing matters like:
Marginalisation, Igbo Presidency, Re-structuring, Second Niger Bridge, Fulani herdsmen, etc; because once these are presented with Par 5, rescuing the dying Igbo Language would be relegated to the background, as is always the case in the past.
- Conclusion. Rome, in a sense, is burning today in Igbo land: our language is lying prostrate before all of us, neglected by our own people, denigrated and adulterated in speech, grudgingly taught, seldom written, rarely read, visibly phasing out amongst the young generation; in short, dying, while many privileged ndi Igbo are fiddling, looking the other way.
About a century and half ago, when the numerous Germanic peoples were defying all persuasion to come together to form one nation, the great German statesman, Otto von Bismark (1815-1898) in desperation declared on September 30, 1862 that “Germany is to be united not with speeches or votes, but with blood and iron”. Later events proved him right. Germany is today a great nation.
Today, the condition of Igbo Language is germane to the condition of ancient Germanic peoples. The Germans indeed were united with blood and iron. Fortunately, no blood need be shed to save Igbo Language; no billions need be spent to rescue it, no authorization from Abuja. Igbo language will be saved not with wishful thinking (asusu Igbo agaghi anwunata), or lectures and communiqués but with action by Governments in Igbo Land.
- Post Script. Igbo Children Speaking English in Homes. I usually giggle when I hear people complaining that many parents do not teach their children Igbo Language in their homes. Why should we complain? This is like someone crying while beating himself.
We are the causes. Why would parents teach them Igbo when virtually every public function in Igbo land is conducted in English, or, worse still, in “Ingligbo”?. Who would not want his child to “blow grammar” like the big men, the powerful preachers, the funeral orators, the entertaining MC’s, etc.
Telling them that their children who speak Igbo at home will still master English in schools is seen by them as a ploy by the ruling class to continue to keep their children down as underdogs. Igbo parents will stop that obnoxious practice the day the six measures of Par 5 are introduced. The day to start is today. Thank you.
Boston, USA: September 14, 2018.
Prof. Ejiofor, founder and National President, Otu Suwakwa Igbo prepared this paper for the Igbo World Assembly’s 2018 Igbo Day Celebration.