HARDLY had United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) released its prediction that included Igbo among languages risking extinction by 2050 than a backlash followed almost on frenzied pitch.
While many outrightly dismissed the projection with a wave of the hand, others called on stakeholders to take the warning seriously by closing their ranks and acting fast.
PROMINENT among doubters was Prof Boniface Mbah of Department of Linguistics at University of Nigeria, Nsukka but a pan-Igbo language activist, Prof Pita Ejiofor, spoke in line with those calling for caution.
FOR Mbah and his camp, UNESCO’s prediction deserves a pinch of salt because it was not based on any empirical evidence. Yet, those suing caution fear that in an era when other major languages in Nigeria are being ‘globalised’ by their owners, Igbo language remains infra dig, quite worrisomely among its native speakers.
BUT more worrisome now is that once the crossfire abated, the UNESCO warning was quickly creased to background – leading to heightened fears that the prediction may still come to pass.
NO matter where anyone stands on the controversy, some startling linguistics pitches which do not redound to a continuous existence of Igbo language beyond 2050, whose dateline is only a matter of 30 years, may hit the hammer on the forehead.
FOR instance, experts say that only less than five per cent of Igbo could read and write flawlessly in the language. The plight is even more pathetic among young people, with no spheres or spectrum of society handing them any comfort zone or lifeline.
DESPITE the daunting task and huge boulders ahead, recent reports cited a federal university located in the heart of Igbo land with a suicidal admission policy that outlaws Igbo language from required senior secondary school subjects for study in the Faculty of Law in the institution at a time other institutions, elsewhere such as the Universities of Ibadan and University of Lagos admit candidates with credit in Igbo language.
SHOULD it therefore, still surprise anyone that while seven Nigerian universities teach Yoruba language and four teach Hausa as one teaches Efik and one teaches Kanuri, none teaches Igbo language? Or why will anyone kick when, in the United States,
11 universities teach Hausa, 39 teach Yoruba, while only four teach Igbo, even as DSTV introduced Hausa and Yoruba channels as far back as 2010? Is there not a saying that a utensil derided by its owner will easily become garbage for his or her neighbour?
PERHAPS, a look at Nollywood and its linguistic content may bring the fear nearer home. It does not matter that Igbo language originated Nigeria film industry, but at present, most of the films are produced in Yoruba and Hausa where in 2010, for instance,
31 films were produced in English language, 98 in Hausa, 94 in Yoruba, 11 in Edo and none in Igbo. It took post-2015 stop-gaps for some films to come out in Igbo, but they remain far cry from the battle cry. Nobody needs crystal ball to grip the marginalisation matrix to which this dynamic exposes Igbo language when, in 2013, Federal Government of Nigeria voted N3 billion to promote film production, because it does not show keenness for presentation of Igbo heritage. Most of the films are produced in Hausa and Yoruba languages, the money went into the promotion of those languages.
YET, all these uncomplimentary trends peter into insignificance when interfaced with other factors that gnaws or gradually grates Igbo language to extinction. While efforts by Gov. Willie Obiano-led administration in rising up to the occasion in Anambra State deserves credit, more still need to be done especially at the public realm – to save Igbo language from total death.
THEREFORE other government-owned mass media should borrow a leaf from Anambra Newspapers and Printing Corporation, Awka, published by Anambra State Government, which introduced Ka O Di Taa, an Igbo language newspaper as part of its commitment to promotion of Igbo language.
The paper has been winning accolades and awards. A situation where radio stations in Igbo land give less than two-hour primetime broadcasting to Igbo programmes, for a whole week, certainly falls short of requirement.
It does not show keenness for presentation of Igbo heritage. It is as unsettling – if not terrifying – when one listens or watches presenters mumble and jumble in and out of Igbo language while on air with audience participation, phone-in programmes, as if they are doing anyone any favour by communicating poorly in Igbo language.
IT WAS not so in the 1980s up to early-2000s, and it should not continue. The broadcast regime of two-part Igbo programming along morning and evening sessions should return at state-owned radio stations, and in no time even privately owned stations will cue in.
Religious bodies should also lend a hand by conducting Masses and worship services in Igbo language, even as primary and secondary school curriculums should be retooled by making Igbo language compulsory, with sideshows and extra-curricular regimens inculcating lucrative inter-school debate and quiz competitions in Igbo language to stimulate intellectual interest among students.
In no time, parents would be forced to borrow new leaf and stop teaching or communicating with their children and wards in pidgin at home.
SCHOOLS should also consider new paradigm where the subject is taught by four teachers in each class along culture, literature, language and phonetics for integrated learning that does not neglect any component.
EQUALLY, we call on South-East governors to further rekindle interest by setting up special scholarship boards in their respective states to financially assist students of Igbo language in tertiary institutions.