February 21 is set aside by the United Nations Organization through its Scientific and Cultural Body (U.N.E.S.C.O) as world Mother Tongue Day. The need for its celebration is not hard to seek as a People’s Language is seen as the most essential determinant of their socio-cultural history as a people with common geographical and ancestral root hence the reason for its celebration.
This year’s celebration was held amidst pump and pageantry in many parts of the world that are member countries of the United Nations. So also was the case in Nigeria as the event was properly celebrated amidst thrills and galore. However, in the 5 South Eastern and Igbo speaking states of the federation it was a different story entirely. It was like any other day where people went about their normal activities without any regard for the nearly global event and this indirectly informs the reason for this article.
It is a truism that Ndigbo are no longer proud of speaking their mother tongue. They do not want to be seen or heard speaking their native language especially for those in the Diaspora. No way. As intelligent people who they are, they are in most cases in the habit of learning the language of the local people in places where they are domiciled little wonder you can see two Igbo’s conversing in the Hausa language for those of them who habit the numerous Northern states in search of greener pastures even when the grass is greener in their home states. So also is the case with those who habit the Western states.
It is not surprising to visit an average Igbo family and find them conversing in Pidgin English-‘ I dey come, E dey go’ and so on and so forth. The parents of these children are so comfortable with this trend that it doesn’t prick their imagination that it is a socio-cultural menace that may never be cured if allowed to continue. As is expected, these children grow up without the mastery of their mother tongue and end up as lingual aliens in their Father Land whenever they travel for the Christmas festivities.
As this trend is currently on the increase every day, one wonders if the Igbo language will not go into extinction in the nearest future little wonder the United Nations research shows that the Igbo language may go into extinction in the year 2050. God forbid! But if God must forbid, there must be an attitudinal change on our part as Nwa Di Ala- Sons of the Soil.
An Igbo adage has it that “A king cannot become an orator when the people do not understand what he speaks.” How can Ndigbo that constitute some sixty million of the world population and scattered across the length and breadth of the world be able to converse and understand in their native mother tongue in the time to come? It is one question that leaves me quipped.
It is an unfortunate irony that Ndigbo despite being the most travelled people, most enterprising and resourceful and huge contributors to the Gross Domestic Product (G.D.P) of the States and countries they are domiciled but yet no single international radio or T.V programme is conducted in Igbo language as is the case with Hausa and Yoruba languages which have News and audio programmes in their native language in the international media. I must add that this in no way is aimed to do any bias to the Igbo race for how can you waste scarce funds in conducting a programme in a language whose speakers have abandoned? How can one waste fund to conduct a programme that will not have an active audience base? It will only amount to a waste of scarce resources and betray its chief purpose therefore, Ndigbo should be very ashamed of themselves for this trend as it continues to put them at the tail end of the food chain in both national and international affairs.
In the various institutions of higher learning outside the South Eastern universities, Igbo students find it tasking to speak the Igbo language even when it is written all over their faces that they are the descendants of Nri. As an option, they choose to speak in pidgin or better still converse in the mother tongue of the community housing the said institution. This is a far cry from what is obtainable among Hausa and the Yoruba folks. To them, their language is the best and they are never shy of speaking it anywhere, anytime not even when compelled not to. On A.T.M queues, registration queues and other numerous circumstances that warrant standing on a queue, people from other ethnic group are always free to speak their mother tongue but the Igbo folks only watch and stare in awe. What nonsense and self subjugation to inferiority status! This madness must stop.
Ndigbo must change this trend before it gets to its irrepressible state if at all it hasn’t gotten there already. Centers of Igbo language should be built and awareness campaigns organized to teach and educate the young Igbo sons and daughters of the need to speaking and conversing in their mother tongue in any crowd that lacks formality. If need be, certain days should be set aside for the wearing of native dresses as was the case in the recent past. At the family level, parents must desist from bringing up their wards with the pidgin language as they may never desist from it when they are grown up. If one must speak and master the next man’s language, it should be after the mastery of his/her own native language as anything to the contrary will only be arrant stupidity to say the least.
Finally, let Igbo sons and daughters be proud of their mother tongue for a people without a common language is nothing more but a dead people. No other time could be better; the time to act is now.
The writer is a Law student at the University of Maiduguri. He tweets @yung_silky