His loud cry for help was too frightening to be ignored. Just before help came his way, Adeola Adesanmi, 12, had had his body designed by a horsewhip. His father, Moses, who is a welder and pastor, at his Berger neighbourhood in Lagos, had flogged him mercilessly. His sin? He spoke Yoruba.
In a broken voice, Adeola tells his story as he gasps for breath: “My younger brother caught me speaking Yoruba. I begged him not to tell daddy but he insisted he would tell him because he had told us to stop speaking Yoruba.’’
Kunle Aderemi’s story is somewhat similar to Adeola’s. But lucky Kunle has never been horsewhipped or flogged for attempting to speak his local language.
With the tribal marks etched on the cheeks of his father, advertising his Oyo background, Kunle’s British accent is one that does not give a hint of his tribe.
But his disjointed Yoruba kills every hope of having a smooth conversation with him. He confesses he is a victim of uncomplimentary remarks for he is perceived as fake.
“I wish I could speak Yoruba fluently. I really feel uncomfortable when people think I’m fake. I didn’t make myself this way. I want to tell jokes and proverbs in Yoruba,’’ he stated.
But Frank Nweze profits from his knowledge of the Hausa Language despite being very fluent in his native Igbo.
“I intend to learn as many languages as possible. Look, when I meet Hausa men, especially traders, I’m always favoured when I speak their language. I’ve discovered that I connect easily with people when I speak their language,’’ he said.
Languages, experts say, are an integral part of culture. Given what has been described as a deliberate attempt to kill Nigeria languages by concerned Nigerians, fears are rife in certain quarters that a great number of Nigerian languages may extinct if stakeholders don’t step up measures to save Nigerian languages from dying.
Investigations have shown that in the northern part of Nigeria, languages like Odut, Mawa, Kpati, Kubi,Holma, Gomo- Ningi, Auyokawa, Basa-Gumma and Ajawa have gone into extinction due to the preference of native speakers of the languages for Hausa and Fulfude.
Some observers, however, believe it is only a matter time that more languages will go into extinction in the Southern part of Nigeria due to preference for the major languages like Yoruba, Ibibio, Edo, Igbo, et al.
In a song dedicated to the late Afrobeat creator, Fela Kuti, and titled “Vernacular”, Nigerian musician, Lagbaja, took a swipe at those covertly or overtly killing Nigerian languages.
For the masked musician, nothing compares to the potency of expression in our local languages. Lagbaja drew attention to expressions like “On momi loju”, “ On yimu simi’’, “Eku ile” and other expressions in the Yoruba language that can’t be expressed in English, affirming the superiority of our local languages.
Worried by the threat posed to the existence Nigerian languages, the Lagos State government enacted the Yoruba preservation and preservation law recently. The law makes Yoruba a compulsory subject for all primary and secondary schools in the state.
Also, candidates applying to higher institutions in the state must have a credit pass in Yoruba Language. Lagos State Commissioner for Information says the importance of language as a vehicle for development cannot be overemphasised.
He said:“ This is a clear and conscious commitment to the position which Lagos State prides Yoruba language as the cultural vehicle for us to be able to articulate our position and it also shows that Lagos has further recognised the importance of Language as a vehicle for development.’’
Meanwhile, the Head of Department of General Studies at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism and Public affairs commentator, Dr. Dele Omojuyigbe, has expressed worry over Nigeria’s dying languages.
According to Omojuyigbe, the secret of Soyinka and Achebe in their mastery of the English Language can be traced to their deep knowledge of their indigenous language.
“Every second language takes its bearing from one’s experience of the local language. It is worrisome that our local languages are dying. The custodians are leaving one- by-one and now, even the villages have deserted their mother tongue.
They prefer English, and this is dangerous. Yorubaland hasn’t found a replacement for Fagunwa since he died in 1963. J. F. Odunjo is gone; Adebayo Faleti is gone and Akinwunmi Ishola too! Yoruba language is in trouble and Igbo language is even worse. More English, less Igbo is the description of the Ibos who speak Igbo, and I wonder if they are better than Achebe in English.
Hausa language looks best at present because northerners speak it undiluted. The loss of our local language is the erosion of our identity, culture and freedom.’’
On his revealing interface with Prof. Chinua Achebe, Omojuyigbe said he was shocked that the literary giant conversed with his secretary for almost an hour in undiluted Igbo.
“Professor Achebe was a giant I had yearned to know; but I was taken aback when I discovered that he was a man of few words. He spoke tersely and got me confused whether he was not the same loquacious man of letters I had read expansively in his proverb-laced novels.
“Teachers are garrulous, no doubt, just like lawyers and clerics, but Prof. Achebe was different. I met him on few occasions and the last one was quite revealing. I met Prof. Achebe discussing with her (secretary) outside.
“The woman noticed my anxiety and signaled that I should wait. Since they were both standing, I stood also, but very close to them. They spoke for almost one hour and shockingly, I didn’t hear Prof. Achebe pronounce one English word all through. Their conversation was in full blast Igbo language. I moved closer to greet him after a long discussion and I think he sensed my bewilderment.’’
He continued: “He looked at me interestingly and replied, “How are you?’’ That he was apparently effusive wasn’t really the surprise, but that he could speak untainted Igbo for so long was it!
He shocked me! Nobody would believe that he understood English! My mind quickly raced to Prof. Wole Soyinka who also speaks Yoruba fluently. He translated D.O. Fagunwa’s “Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole’’ into English: “The Forest of A Thousand Demons.”
“Recently, he translated “Igbo Olodumare’’, also written by Fagunwa.
“How he strangely handled Fanguwa’s convoluted Yoruba expressions and descriptions would beat anyone’s imagination. Therefore, I concluded that the secret of Achebe and Soyinka in their mastery of the English language was traceable to their deep knowledge of their indigenous language.’’
Speaking on the propriety of enacting language preservation laws to save our languages, Mr. Olu Afuye, Educationist and Proprietor of Divine Model Schools, said it is far from being the solution.
Afuye said parents must play a very vital role in the campaign to save our languages.
“Children in nursery schools don’t speak their local languages. They speak only English because that’s what their parents speak to them. If we must save our languages, it must start from the family. Enacting a law to make passing Yoruba a requirement to secure admission into schools as we see in Lagos is too extreme,” he stated.
Meanwhile, reacting to the move by the Lagos State government to resuscitate dying Yoruba language through Yoruba preservation law, Omojuyigbe said: “It is ironical that Lagos is the state championing the resuscitation of the dying Yoruba language where Oyo, Ogun, and Osun states are.
Revisting the days of Aworerin, Atoka and Alawiye in Yoruba land may not be out of place. “Taiwo ati Kehinde’’ and “Ijapa ati Yannibo’’ stories can enact coded functions once again as done when Fagunwa gave them to us.
It is common now, shamefully though, to find two tribesmen in an informal setting discussing in English. I don’t know who they are trying to impress. If we choose to investigate their true origin and paternity, I don’t think we are guilty.’’