The preservation of the Igbo Language and Culture has been on the front burner of Igbo discourse for a long time now. A growing number of Igbo scholars and lovers have been expressing the fear that if the current trend of neglect of the Language continues, we may soon end up as a people without a history, with our Language becoming extinct.
Indeed, we do not have to look far to know those who kill our Language. The killers are right in our midst and that's us. As parents, teachers, government officials, students and ordinary people, we have all contributed in the slaughtering of our Language, sometimes knowing full well what we are doing, and actually deriving pleasure from doing it. It is these individual and collective foibles that an eminent scholar and promoter of the Igbo Language, Professor Pita Ejiofor, has captured in the piece I will share with you. After reading it, it is hoped that we will have a change of attitude.
Killers of Igbo Language
By Pita Ejiofor
This write-up is taken from the book, Ajq Qr[a Ji Asxsx Igbo by Pita Ejiqfq (2013) (Valid Publishing Company, Awka) (pp 45 to 61). The diagram shows eight ndi Igbo holding a goat for slaughter. The goat represents the Igbo Language. It is clearly in pains, struggling for life. The killers are indicated below.
Killer 2. Parents. (Killer 1 will be taken last) Holding the goat at its most critical part (the head) are a man and his wife (with their young son). They represent Igbo parents especially those in townships who kill the Igbo Language by:
i. Using the English Language to the total exclusion of Igbo Language to converse with their children in their homes. Consequently, the mother tongue of many Igbo children today is English.
ii. When they return to the villages (during Christmas), proudly parading their children who cannot speak Igbo as the model generation.
Killer 3. Teachers. Holding the goat at its left leg is a lady graduate. She represents those teachers in the school system who kill the Igbo Language by:
i Not teaching Igbo Language in schools from kindergarten to primary through Secondary to the university;
ii Using the English Language as the only Language of communication in all classes in the school system including Assemblies, prayers, sports.
iii. Forbidding the speaking of Igbo Language in school, and caning, fining and ridiculing students and pupils who speak Igbo;
iv Ignoring the mocking of the few students who dare to enroll in the study of Igbo Language with epithets like “Igbo, Igbo, BK”.
Killer 4. The Elders. Holding the goat at its right arm is an elder. He represents those Igbo elders (men and women) who kill the lgbo Language by:
i Using English Language to converse with fellow Igbos;
ii Using English Language to perform virtually all public functions in Igbo land like speaking in public gatherings, delivering Addresses of Welcome to Igbo dignitaries, delivering funeral orations, preparation of brochures, writing and reading of minutes of meetings, writing public notices, posters, sign boards, banners; naming of public buildings like schools, churches, markets etc;
iii. Using English Language to say some of the commonest things like: How are you, bye-bye, see you again, Happy Christmas, Happy New Year, Igwe's Cabinet, President-General, Women's Leader, etc; singing Happy birth day song in English, etc;
iv. Mixing English and Igbo when attempting to speak Igbo and proudly stating publicly that they can no more speak Igbo well.
Killer 5. Religious Leaders. Holding the goat at its right leg is a clergyman. He represents those Igbo clergymen who kill the lgbo Language by:
i Conducting church services in English Language contrary to the directives of Vatican II for Catholics and Primate Peter Akinola for Anglicans. For some Pentecostals it is English through and through;
ii. Using English Language to teach Igbo children catechism and prayers;
iii. Using English for most Crusades and Fellowships, propaganda leaflets, posters and banners, radio /TV programmes.
iv. Increasing the use of non Igbo hymns and choruses in worship to the disadvantage of Igbo compositions.
For Killer 6. Masters of Ceremonies. Holding the goat at its left arm is a young guy. He represents those Igbo Masters of Ceremonies and DJ's who kill the lgbo Language by:
i. Using English to direct ceremonies even when over 95% of the audience is Igbo;
ii. The junior MC using Igbo If the MCs are two in number, while the senior MC uses English or,
iii. The MCs using Igbo during the preparatory stages and switching to English when the big man arrives. The message is that the Igbo Language is for the pedestrians.
iv. Using “Ask Me” tags instead of “Jxq M” tags for ushers.
Killer 1. Governments. Holding the slaughter knife right on the neck of the goat is an urbane gentleman in suit. He represents many Governments in Igbo land who are the No 1 Killers of Igbo Language by:
i. Not ensuring that the Igbo Language is taught properly in our schools from primary to university level;
ii. Government officials using spoken English to conduct Government business with Igbos;
iii. Government officials accepting Addresses of Welcome written and read for them in English in Igbo land and responding in English.
iv. Government not making a pass in Igbo Language at GCE (OL) a pre-requisite for any benefit in Igbo land like employment, admission or promotion as is done for English;
v. Failure to establish an all-Igbo Language Radio Station as the Yoruba States established Radio Amuludun for Yoruba Language and the Hausa States established Karama Radio Station for Hausa Language.
vi. Not requiring broadcast houses in Igbo land to significantly increase the airtime used for Igbo Language;
vii. Not stopping the use of “Ingligbo” in broadcasts. (Pidgin English is never used in BBC);
viii. Not offering employment opportunities to those who dare to study Igbo Language in higher institutions;
ix. Not promoting the production of Igbo films;
x. Failure to take drastic steps to stop the refusal by some private schools to teach Igbo Language;
xi. Failing to enlighten ndi Igbo on the threat of extinction of the Igbo Language and its implications;
xii. Failure of the five State Governments in the South East and Ikwerre and Anioma areas to team up and save their common heritage: Igbo Language.
Discussion. Above is an attempt at portraying how the Igbo Language has been slaughtered since the end of the Biafra War and who does it. Fortunately, there has been some improvement in the past few years in the performance of the Teachers. Some Governments and Religious Leaders have also improved a bit. But Parents have sunk even deeper while the Elders are still coasting along in their illicit love of the English Language, hence the threat of extinction hanging menacingly over Igbo Language. Observe that our two big brothers in gowns (left corner of the diagram) are standing in wait near the fire place to “make pepper soup” of our Language when it is killed.
Regarding using the English Language so as to please non-Igbos in our midst, the big question is: When you go to Rome, do you do as the Romans do or do the Romans do as you do? Ndigbo have to answer that question. What should guide the policy of ndi Igbo regarding our Language is the popular Igbo saying, “onye kpoo ite ya mpempe eju, umunna ewere ya kpoo ntu”.
Conclusion. As far as Igbo Language is concerned, Governments in Igbo land “ji mma jide ji”. They have to step out boldly now to save the Igbo Language. And the cost is very minimal.