Nigeria is a country of population with diverse languages. There are at least 500 languages spoken by peoples within its borders alone. Language is a vital aspect of human existence. Humans group and regroup based on similarities such as tribe, ethnicity, and language. You will find people gravitate towards one another because they speak the same language.
However, amidst the many languages spoken in Nigeria, there are what is regarded as the three major languages in Nigeria. These are Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba. In fact, many have argued that Nigeria in itself is made of three different nations, and each of these ethnic groups is struggling to lead or survive. The first and major language problem then is; which of these major languages is to be the official language of the country. Any attempt to make any of these languages an official language of communication is bound to meet with something akin to war.
Language Problems in Nigeria & Solutions
There is one other option though, the adoption of English language as the official language. The amalgamation of these three regions in 1914 already placed the English language in the position of the official language of Nigeria. This seems to be the only unifying solution to the problem of language in Nigeria.
The possible extinction of the Nigerian indigenous language
Many fear that the Nigerian indigenous language; Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba face the problem of going into extinction. The problem of extinction of these languages can be attributed loosely to the adoption of English language as our official Language. It can also be traced to the way Nigerians accept western ways as the classiest i.e. one is only educated if one has mastered the ways of the western world. This leads us to the probable factors that contribute to this thought:
Language of Education
English language is the language of education in Nigerian schools. Although different government administrations have claimed to recognize the need for Nigerian students to be taught their own indigenous language so as to preserve the culture, the country has not witnessed much progress. Not only is the English language the language of instruction in Nigerian schools, it is also taught as a core school subject at all levels of education in Nigeria, to include the first year of tertiary institutions where students are taught the Use of English. Also, one must have obtained a credit pass in English in order to gain admission into the higher institution. All the above shows the importance of the English language in Nigeria. How then does the government elevate the status of the Nigerian indigenous language to the status of English language when this is all the average Nigerian is exposed to? The situation is not helped when one thinks of the situation in most secondary schools where students are punished for conversing in their indigenous tongues.
English as the language of business
English language was adopted as the official language of the nation in order to achieve and promote national unity and development. As noted earlier, language is a vital tool in uniting people, Therefore, it is a medium through which a nation can achieve the goal of national unity and development. English language is the only language that binds the various tribes that constitute Nigeria together. A heterogeneous population such as Nigeria requires a language that will unify the people instead of further dividing them. English language is a universal language that each ethnic group can understand and use in communication. Although one cannot ignore that the language is a foreign one, it is a common medium of communication used in every part of Nigeria. The diverse tongues in Nigeria would have created a communication barrier that will lead to strife and other socio-economic problems if not for the adoption of English language as the official language of communication.
Language of Administration
In a country with political problems that border on ethnicity, it is only wise that English language is the official language of administration in the country. English language is used at the federal, state, and local government levels. It is also used in all the arms of the government; executive, legislative and judicial arms. The constitution also affirms that the business of the National Assembly should be conducted in the English language. However, the constitution also stipulates that the indigenous languages, Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba can be used when adequate arrangements have been made. However, past and present governments have not put efforts into materializing the provision of the law for the use of indigenous languages to conduct business. English language is unarguably the sole language used for administration in Nigeria.
English language as the language of Broadcast and communication
Language has posed a problem as regards to the media and broadcast in Nigeria.
Many have proposed that the Nigerian pidgin English should be adopted as the official language of Nigeria, to the exclusion of others. Other suggestions include:
- The adoption of the three major languages; Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba as the official language
- The adoption of one of the indigenous languages that are correctly spoken in the country as the official language
- The adoption of the English language as the language for communication and broadcast to the exclusion of others.
English language has been instrumental to fostering the national unity and development of Nigeria. However, the country needs to be careful to put policies in place to ensure indigenous languages do not go extinct. Educational policies should be developed to encourage the use and teaching of indigenous languages in schools.
One needs to also take note of the fact that the majority of the Nigerian population are not well educated in the English language. If the goal is that systems should be put in place for the majority to participate effectively in the process of national development, then the government needs to set policies and methods to reach these ones via their local languages. These are the ways the indigenous languages of the nation can be kept alive even as the English language remains the official language of business and communication in Nigeria.