The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed has decried the dwindling ability of most Nigerian children to write and read in their mother tongues.
He made this known in Kaduna on Monday at the 2017 edition of the Annual Round Table on Cultural Orientation (ARTCO), organised by National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture.
To this end, he maintained that there was the urgent need to curtail the trend of indigenous language extinction.
He said the language should go digital on various Internet platforms where youths and children are familiar with so that they could begin to pick up their mother tongue from such electronically devices.
He, however, commended NICO for its work in the promotion of Nigerian languages over the years, and particularly for working tirelessly to ensure that this programme became a reality.
While, reiterating the commitment of the Administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to accord Nigerian culture, its pride of place in developmental agenda, he stressed that, “We will leave no stone unturned to ensure that our cherished cultural legacies and values are transmitted from one generation to another.”
“The importance of indigenous language to national development cannot be over-emphasised. Language is the soul of culture; it is an indispensable tool for the promotion and preservation of culture. We cannot be genuinely committed to the promotion of our culture without addressing the serious issue of language endangerment and extinction.
“There is no gainsaying the fact that our indigenous languages are endangered and if urgent steps are not taken, they will go into extinction in no distant future.
“Situation reports show that there is a remarkable decline in the usage of our indigenous languages by our children and youths; many of them cannot read or write in their mother tongue.
“This is not surprising because, according to Nigerian writer Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezigbo, indigenous languages have been labelled as “vernacular” or “garbage” and as such, most African children in primary and secondary schools are even punished for speaking their mother tongues. That should never be the case.
“It has been my desire since I assumed duties as Honourable Minister to convene a strategic stakeholders’ meeting to underscore the relevance of the indigenous language newspapers and to engineer a road map for their sustenance in the face of formidable challenges. This explains why one of my first assignments in office was to visit identifiable indigenous newspapers like Alaroye, Iroyin Owuro, Rariya, Aminiya and Leadership Hausa.
“The visits convinced me, more than ever, that indigenous language newspapers have a vital role to play in reviving the fortunes of our endangered languages if their potentials are maximised.
“The way forward is to fashion out strategies to address the problem. We must take urgent steps to encourage parents to ensure that their children are taught our indigenous languages. The teaching and learning of Nigerian indigenous languages as contained in the National Policy in Education must be fully implemented. Various platforms, such as the indigenous language newspapers, which promote the use of indigenous languages, should be supported and sustained.
“Beyond encouraging the teaching of indigenous languages to young people, a critical catalyst remains the engagement of young people via platforms popular with them. I am talking about, for example, translating our incredible treasure trove of literature, brimming with exciting classics such as The Lion and the Jewel, The Passport of Mallam Illia and Things fall apart not only into indigenous languages but also by adapting those classics into comics, graphic novels, TV shows as well as animated and live-action feature films.
“These remain extremely popular media, especially among those aged below 30 years and who form a massive 70% of the population, where the storytelling is primed to excite, engage and enlighten. Indeed, not only will this optimise access to the wondrous worlds and richly realized characters teeming in these works, the exercise stands to reintroduce the younger generation to the rich and remarkable mosaic that is Nigerian culture, instill and inspire in them a strong bond with said culture as well as facilitate a greater understanding of their cultural identity and place in the world.
“The role of the electronic media in disseminating, aggregating and curating our indigenous languages cannot be overemphasised. There is serious potential in the plethora of programmes on radio, television and on the web to spread the comprehension, appreciation and adoption of indigenous languages.
“Still on the theme of electronically engaging the youth, it is imperative to deploy digital tools in ensuring the survival of our indigenous languages. Today, social media, YouTube, texting and specially developed applications for use on mobile devices are being used to attract young people to learning ‘endangered languages’.
“There are also websites and online forums where people can interact and optimise their knowledge of those languages. Those solutions are worth exploring seriously. An aggressive, digital approach to the challenges of preserving our indigenous languages for posterity will definitely yield great dividends especially among the youth.”