The Executive Secretary, National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), Dr. Barclays Foubiri Ayakoroma, has stated that there is every need for government to take proactive measures towards ensuring that the right things are done to give our indigenous languages a pride of place in the scheme of things.

Ayakoroma made this known in his office, Wednesday, 19 February 2014, while fielding questions in an exclusive interview with a BBC Media Action reporter, Chibuike Utaka, on the fear that over forty indigenous languages spoken in Nigeria will soon go into extinction.

In the interview, which lasted for about an hour, the ES expressed worry that if the UNESCO prediction that Igbo language (one of the big three in Nigeria) is facing extinction is anything to go by, then one can only imagine what will happen to the smaller ones, stressing that language is one of the factors or instruments that give people an identity and losing it implies that they have lost their culture.

According to him, NICO as an agency of government, with the responsibility of orientating and sensitizing Nigerians towards a culture-friendly lifestyle, has been concentrating on Nigerian indigenous languages as one of its core programmes.

His words: “We teach Nigerian indigenous languages during the long vacation in August. We have progressed to what we call the Weekend Language Programme because the long vacation programme was targeted at children so that during the vacation, instead of their being at home and playing video games, being on social media, at least they will spend that valuable time to learn their indigenous languages. With the response we have had, we felt there was need for us to go on a Weekend Language Programme so that it will offer an opportunity for those who may not have the time during the long vacation programme to now attend the weekend programme.”

The NICO boss blamed the dyeing state of our indigenous languages in the school system, the family, the religious system and even in offices, saying: “In the primary school system then, when we were growing up, learning started with the indigenous language. I am from the Ijaw speaking part of Nigeria. We started school learning the alphabets, the numbers in our Izon language; but that is not the case now. Somebody could say the National Policy on Education provides that for the early years of a child, the learning should be in the indigenous language or the language of the immediate environment. But are we really implementing it? You come to the family; how many parents speak indigenous language in their home?”

Continuing, Ayakoroma regretted that in many families today, indigenous languages are dead, in such a way that when parents speak their indigenous languages to their children, they rather ask their parents what they were talking about, which implies that they do not understand what their parents are saying, a situation he described as a major problem, warning that unless the use of indigenous languages is made key in our communication process in the family, our efforts at saving Nigerian indigenous languages from going into extinction will be a mirage.

While lamenting that our religious bodies too have not helped matters as it is only in the villages today that pastors preach in indigenous languages, Ayakoroma pointed out that the Federal Ministry of Education, on its part, has had the responsibility of ensuring that our indigenous languages are taught compulsorily.

He recalled a number of countries where he has visited and got to understand that their educational systems were fashioned in such a way that learning starts in the indigenous languages and further queried why it was not mandatory for foreigners students to study our indigenous languages in Nigerian universities; while our children go abroad to study and are subjected to learning their indigenous languages before proceeding to study their main courses.

“Even talking about the UK, a graduate from Nigeria will be made to take the Test in English as a Foreign Language, which to me is an embarrassment; that you studied English right from primary, secondary up to university level and you are going to UK to do a masters programme and they still test you because they know that English is not your own language. If you read Yoruba or Hausa or Igbo, they will not say come and do exams in these languages because they know that is your own area of efficiency.”

Ayakoroma disclosed that NICO has made it in such a way that all culture workers, who register for the Diploma and Post-Graduate Diploma programmes in Cultural Administration study Nigerian Language compulsorily, and that it is fashioned in such a way that if a candidate is Igbo, he or she will not be allowed to offer Igbo; if Ijaw or Hausa, the candidate will equally not be allowed to offer those languages because it is assumed that candidates should be able to speak their mother tongue.

He therefore expressed optimism that if Nigerians can speak more of other languages, there will be accelerated integration stressing, “If I come to your house and I speak your own language to you, I am not sure you will look at me as a total stranger. You will be surprised that I speak your language and ask me how did I do it and friendship starts from that very moment and that is what we are trying to do in NICO.”

Caleb Nor

Corporate Affairs

NICO, Abuja