Noel Ojotule Ichado
Department of French, Kogi State College of Education, Ankpa
Language is one of the greatest gifts of God to mankind. It is a major tool of communication among people in a given society. It is not only needed in most human activities but also a tool for unity and integration. This paper is a non-empirical work aimed at exposing the possibility of having the nation rooted in unity and the achievement of national integration through the teaching and learning of indigenous languages. It therefore proposes a viable indigenous language teaching and learning as a way of solidifying national integration and unity in Nigeria.
The depth of national unity and understanding that is experienced in a nation is entirely a product of the cordial connection that exists among the various ethnic groups. Integration among groups of people with entirely different cultural backgrounds does not happen spontaneously. It is only achievable when there is a concrete link to trigger interpersonal understanding among the different individuals. The realization of the dream for inter-ethnic unity in a nation like Nigeria may remain a mirage until our indigenous languages are given their proper place. Nothing makes a person feel at home like being in the company of people with whom there is linguistic homogeneity. Josiane and Hammer (2000), affirm that ‘’a balanced bilingual can be recognized as a native speaker in either of his languages’’. This assertion establishes the fact that one can comfortably operate in an environment even if one is not an indigene of the place, provided one speaks the language. The use of English can not make for the realization of national unity in Nigeria. This is not far from the fact that there is a psychological connection between a language and the speakers. English Language can better serve as a tool for bridging the communication gaps, given that Nigeria is a multilingual nation. However, it cannot connect the hearts of Nigerians because the language is not indigenous to Nigerians. Generally speaking, it does not house the identity of Nigerians, but that of the owners. This explains why there are no words in English for some objects and ideas that are peculiar to us. Ezikeojiaku (2007) maintains that many people who have been through the school system cannot make effective contribution either to the humanistic or scientific development of the country through the medium of English. This is due to the fact that the language is almost alien to the Nigerian society.
Exposing a deeper relationship between a language and the speaker, Josiane and Michel (2000), insist that ‘’language is a component of culture along with other entities like, values, beliefs and norms. It is the main tool for the internalization of cultures by the individuals’’. In the light of the fact that language is the carrier of the culture and identities of the owners, it becomes very obvious that no other language can best bring Nigerians together like our own indigenous languages. As a result of the ethno cultural plurality of Nigeria, national integration and unity can be achieved through multilingualism in the indigenous languages. This linguistic inter-connectivity can be realized by entrenching the native languages in our educational programme. This paper therefore reveals the validity of the teaching-learning of indigenous languages in achieving national integration; it exposes the teaching-learning of indigenous languages as solution to ethnic prejudice and the key for achieving technological integration.
Teaching-Leaning of Indigenous Languages and National Integration
Language is the vehicle through which the entire values of a particular set of people are transmitted. Nigerians can have common cultural values and identity through the elements of indigenous languages. An Igbo man who learns Igala language already has a share in the cultural identity of the Igala people. This opens the Igala society to him to operate as an Igala man does. According to Okolie (2007), the acquisition of a new language exposes a person to new ideas, cultures and exchange. He further opines that such encouraging change in education would lead to a proper sense of our own dignity and identity as a people.
Language is a tool that houses the culture of a group of people. As a multi-ethnic country, Nigeria experiences multiple ethno-cultural boundaries, a situation which triggers national segregation and disunity. However, the teaching and learning of indigenous languages will bring about intercultural contact that will facilitate national unity and integration. It is a potent means through which Nigerians can maintain an open heart towards one another, irrespective of the different ethnic backgrounds. Josiane and Michel (2000) points out that “at the societal level, acculturation occurs when two independent cultural groups come into contact, over an extended period of time…” This assertion supports the argument that engaging the indigenous languages across the various ethnic groups in Nigeria will surely give birth to cultural harmony and integration. Ramlatu (2014) maintains that ‘’language is central to the sustenance of a group of people for it is the vehicle through which other constituents of cultures are communicated’’. She argues further that language is the means through which human culture is acquired, shared and transmitted. If the platform for the acquisition of Nigerian languages can be deliberately structured in the academic programme, the issue of cultural boundaries will be fast forgotten.
In his effort to press for the cultural content of a language, Maduka cited in Luke (2001) maintains that the literature of various ethnic groups constitutes the cornerstone of the Nigerian literary life and therefore calls on the various levels of government to accord recognition to Nigerian languages and literatures as viable tools for national development. He argues further that Nigerian literature can only orient the citizens towards national unity if rendered in indigenous languages. Maduka canvasses for the expression of Nigerian literature in indigenous languages because the cultural content of Nigerian literature cannot be properly delivered if it is enveloped in a language that has no bearing with our native culture.
Teaching-Leaning of Indigenous Languages as Panacea for Prejudice
One cannot deny the possibility of nursing reservations against a group of people with different ethnic backgrounds. It is often noticed that people maintain a high level of preference for somebody with whom they share the same ethnic identity, over someone who bears no ethnic link with them. Nigeria, being a multi-ethnic country is not yet healed from this social scourge. Baker (1996) stresses that “in Nigeria, the need for compromise as well as the need for national unity can be clearly seen”. It is obvious that a proactive action has to be taken toward bridging this national gap. In order to satisfactorily handle this, the teaching and learning of indigenous languages has to be sincerely enforced. It should metamorphose from policy to implementation for the benefits to be experienced. If Nigerians learn indigenous languages irrespective of their ethnic classification, there will be an inter-ethnic bonding between the various ethnic groups that will neutralize prejudice.
Lamenting the drift from our indigenous languages, Baker (1996) further traces that “in the colonial era, the primary school pupils learned in vernacular the first year…, then after independence, English was introduced right from class 1”. This was a development that pushed aside our indigenous languages which should serve as inter-ethnic magnet among the different ethnic groups. The national unity we yearn for can only be a reality if the academic status of the indigenous languages is sincerely enforced.
Prejudice is a major cause of intolerance among different ethnic groups. There is usually difficulty in maintaining a relaxed spirit towards people who are of different ethnic backgrounds. People believe that the other people are bad when they don’t understand one another. This deep misunderstanding can be dispelled via the acquisition of our indigenous languages. In her position regarding this fact, Ramlatu (2014) opines that, ‘’without language, there is bound to be problem and the society would become incommunicado’’. If indigenous languages are properly diffused across the various groups in Nigeria, there will be a robust inter-ethnic understanding.
Teaching-Learning of Indigenous Languages and Indigenous Technology
The development of the indigenous technology of a country like Nigeria is hinged on the educational status which the indigenous languages enjoy. Every group of human beings has their own technological endowment and skills that are peculiar to them. There are skills and local ways of getting things done that are naturally linked to a particular set of people. This standard native technology would not have interpenetration among the ethnic groups in Nigeria as long as the teaching and learning of the indigenous languages remain uncultivated. There must be a viable link among the various ethnic specializations and skills for indigenous technology to gain a working status. This will facilitate technological integration.
The level of understanding that one possesses in an indigenous language has a high influence on his acquisition of that language’s indigenous technology. In order to deepen the skills and competence in indigenous technology, sincere effort must be made to widen the academic scope of our indigenous languages. Expressing her stand on the place of indigenous languages in native technology, Uguru (2007) maintains that “since our indigenous languages embody our indigenous technology, it is important that the curriculum of language study should have sections which deal with the study of scientific and technological concepts, particularly those deriving from the language under study”. Indigenous languages are the medium through which there can be a network of indigenous technology. For instance, in Nigeria, the Yorubas, Ibos and the Hausas have their peculiar ways of farming. These diverse agricultural technologies can be harnessed and even developed to give Nigeria a prolific agricultural output. This cannot be realized unless the linguistic gaps separating the various ethnic groups are bridged through a cross-ethnic spread of our indigenous languages.
The fact that indigenous languages are not properly explored in the development of our native technology is what informs the lamentation of Ezikeojiaku (2007) that “neocolonialism in Nigeria is immensely aided by the continued use of English Language’’. He goes further to argue that the use of indigenous languages will enable Nigerian scientists to research into our local products, which will in turn become the basis for our industrial growth. One would not hesitate to believe that if our indigenous languages were given their proper place, Nigerian technology would have gotten to its peak by now. Instead of being a dumping ground for foreign products, we would have been exporting indigenous products for external consumption. This validates the contention by Shoja (2005) that most of the leading countries in science and technology especially Japan, China, Germany and Russia among others achieved this through their local languages.
Exposing the possibility of having a working indigenous technology through indigenous language education, Uguru (2007) points out that “indigenous technology is best studied, transmitted and transferred in the indigenous languages embodying it”. This assertion exposes the fact that the teaching and learning of indigenous languages opens up the technology of the owners of the languages across the various ethnic groups and it is a way out of overdependence on foreign technology.
It is not possible to have a united nation with neglected indigenous languages. For the inter-connectivity of ethnic identities to be a reality in Nigeria, our indigenous languages must take their place in the Nigerian educational system.
However, this paper does not contend with the place of English Language as the official language of Nigeria, considering the fact that Nigeria is a multi-lingual nation. But, while English language bridges communication gaps, it is only the indigenous languages that can bridge the hearts of Nigerians. This can only be possible if the academic status of indigenous languages in the curriculum is expanded and executed with every sense of sincerity.
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