by Paul Chika Emekwulu
At my age I never knew I was going to be involved with Igbo Language either formally or informally beyond what transpired in secondary school Igbo Language class or any other formal instruction.In 2 Corinthians. 9:6, the word of God says, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”Also in Galatians 6:7, the word of God affirms, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows that will he also reap.”Not taking enough quality time to teach your child his or her native language could be regarded as sowing sparingly despite other things available to the child through you the parents or guardian. Such a decision will only result to reaping sparingly, and reaping sparingly means your child will either understand the language when spoken but never speak the language or never understand the language and never speak the language. You will agree with me that this is still a type of input. In addition, for most private schools in Igbo speaking states, a weak Igbo Language curriculum or none at all could also be regarded as sowing sparingly, of course the harvest is not going to be different. The harvest is a set of students whose mastery of the language is very weak or a set of students who don’t speak the Igbo Language at all or still, a set of students who have concluded that Igbo Language is boring, unstructured, difficult to learn and therefore, have lost interest in learning the language.There is no pretense about it. The Igbo Language is experiencing a myriad of problems and almost all of these problems are self-inflicted. They are inflicted by the very owners of the language. They are not inflicted by non-native speakers who will like to adhere strictly to the rules of grammar and syntax of the language as they were taught both in their native language and then the Igbo Language. The non-native speakers therefore, do not, let me repeat do not contribute to these problems.These problems as I’ve identified in my various writings (books and articles) include what I call the Anglicizing movement which can be defined as any deliberate act designed formally or informally to deface or disrespect the Igbo Language.Such acts include preference for English names over Igbo names at baptism, Mixed Spelling Syndrome, Vowel Interchange involving ọ and ọ, i and ị in addition to ụ and ụ. All these and others not mentioned here are various types of disrespect towards the Igbo Language and such are all metaphorically evil including the inability to speak the Igbo Language.To make sure Imo State schools, parents and guardians sow bountifully and consequently, reap bountifully, the Imo State government has taken action in this direction.The Imo State government has taken the lead in making the Igbo Language compulsory in all primary, secondary and tertiary schools in the state. According to this plan the Igbo Language would be studied side by side with English Language which is already a compulsory subject. What a fair treatment for a language that has, over the years suffered disdain in the hands if the very owners of the language All this was made known by the state Commissioner for Education, Professor Viola Ọnwụlịrị at the matriculation ceremony of the state’s College of Nursing and Midwifery, Ọlụ (Ọrlụ) held on 30th of October, 2019.She was represented at the occasion by the state’s Director of Tertiary institutions, Basil Iwu who said,”We have resolved to make the Igbo Language a compulsory subject in schools in Imo State. We believe our children need to know their roots and we can encourage that by teaching them our language which is our heritage, in schools.”She also said that “parents and guardians should equally teach their children and wards at home “This is exactly what Hispanic and Asian parents are doing with their children born in the United States because these parents intuitively know that at a certain age in the life of a child some mistakes can be corrected while some can’t and failure to teach a child his or her mother tongue is one of them.Evidently also, these parents don’t want to cry over spilt milk as some Nigerian parents do later on in life. They study Ecclesiastes 3 but don’t live what it says. In April of 2022 I had an interesting encounter just a few days after I came back from Nigeria. Permit me to share it with you. Here is the story. At a Walmart store parking lot in the United States, I met a Hispanic family. “Do your children speak Spanish?”I asked the mother of three (two boys and one girl all less than six years of age) before the husband, a smoker joined us. .”Yes,” she responded excitedly.”How do you do it?”I continued.”We speak Spanish at home while we let the xchool handle the English aspect,” she responded with an amazing smile. “Good job,” I said. “Keep it up.” I purposely feigned ignorance for I already know that most, if not all Hispanic and Asian parents make sure their children speak their native languages fluently.To most Hispanic and Asian children born in the US, their second language is their mother tongue while for most African children born in the United States, a second language in the form of mother tongue is non-existent.Unfortunately, most African parents take pride in it by maintaining that their children were born in America. They expect that these children will be objects of admiration. Now, while Hispanic and Asian parents in the United States are busy sowing bountifully and reaping bountifully, Nigerian parents are busy sowing sparingly and reaping sparingly (2 Corinthians 9:6) for garbage in garbage out..As a continued effort to save the Igbo Language the commissioner enjoined the provost of the institution to ensure that Igbo Language was made compulsory at the school.Now whether this bold decision by the Imo State government has been implemented or not, other state governments in the rest of the Igbo speaking states of Abia, Anambra, Delta, Ebonyi and Enugu are hereby being urged to borrow a leaf from the Imo State government by making Igbo Language compulsory in all schools in their respective states.That, when done, will not only increase the popularity of the Igbo Language in the schools and in the society, but will also reverse the UNESCO’s prediction that Igbo Language would be extinct by the year 2050.
Paul Chika Emekwulu is an Igbo Language activist, an award winning and an international bestselling author, a seminar presenter, publisher and author of several books including When Spell Your Name in Igbo is Equivalent to Spell Your Igbo Name in Igbo – A Mathematical Slant. He is a regular contributor to Trinitas and Msranatha newspapers.