The association of our native Nigerian languages with bushies is assuming a stereotypic dimension that needs to be called out. Below, I share two experiences that support my view.
Chike; a learned Igbo scholar and colleague shared an experience that struck me. One of the interesting features of the Igbo people is its regular meetings across different cities where they have a sizeable number. Usually, under the umbrella of a union, it’s a rallying point for uniting individuals and families from the same towns outside of their homeland. Here, among others, issues relating to the welfare of its members, development of the homeland vis-à-vis people, and even political ambitions are discussed. Other than that, its members are of diverse career backgrounds and literacy levels as in the case of Chike’s Lagos chapter of the union.
In recent times, he had begun to observe a common trend in these meetings; how hard some members try to table their views in spoken English. Hard because this was least expected in a gathering where the unifying cause is the Culture, hence communication is expected in the Igbo dialect. For him, it had something to do with some members showing their supposed superiority in literacy over others by way of a sound expression of the spoken English and vice-versa where others tried to measure up. In the end, it exposes a broader problem; the association of our native Nigerian languages to being bushy or unsophisticated. Startling!
If you’re tempted to think the foregoing is confined to the city of Lagos or the Igbo language; well, here’s another experience.
Sometime in November 2014, I was at the Greyhound station in Downtown Dallas looking forward to the four-hour bus ride to Houston. If it was going to be anything like similar rides across Nigeria, then I imagined the experience would involve beautiful sceneries, countryside landscapes, stopovers in small towns with distinct food, people, reception and culture that made one fall in love with any diverse country. On another hand, hours to collect my thoughts, draft notes and daydream.
I grabbed my ticket from the machine, went through a brisk search and was on the bus. The bus was near empty save for a few seats, which had been taken up. A glance at my ticket revealed there wasn’t a seat number to indicate where I was to sit. Perhaps, I missed it. Notwithstanding, I took an empty seat beside a black lady. I was still pondering on if I was rightly seated when it happened! The black lady’s phone rang; she picked it up and started conversing in crisp clear Yoruba. A Nigerian language speaker; timely! Her conversation went on for a few minutes in clear unadulterated Yoruba. Afterwards, I turned in her direction and greeted in Yoruba, “bawo ni” to which she responded, “hi”. Next, I inquired about the seat order in Yoruba too. Again, her response came in English! At this point, I wondered if she thought I couldn’t communicate in English. Matched with her tone and body language, it seemed like I’d just resurrected a relic that had no place in the West. To ask a question in Yoruba from one who obviously understands it only to be responded to in English was illogical.
I could go on and on but both scenarios already capture everything that’s wrong with that mindset in relation to our native Nigerian languages; one that clearly contributes towards its decline in appeal among many today. To some, raising a child in any of our native Nigerian languages bastardizes his or her spoken English. I disagree with the latter. To buttress my point, Chike pointed out that he was raised in Igbo like some brilliant minds in his generation. He was taught Mathematics in Igbo and pointed at amazing adult education materials he’d come across recently that were in Igbo. These stereotypes are thus not accurate.
In conclusion, our native Nigerian languages should remain dear to us. One demonstrable way is to express these Nigerian languages with all sense of dignity and pride.