ප්රශ්නය: My five years’ efforts at promoting the “WAZOBIA” concept of a Nigerian language have not yielded any fruit. Associates are now urging me to direct my energy and resources to boost another language that is already here, but requires effective promotion and utilization – “Nigerian Pidgin English” (NPE). What’s your advice about this? - Bola Smart
One has every cause to praise your attempts at promoting the concept “WAZOBIA”, for this length of time. This is an idea that made much waves as far back as early 1990s, and hinged on the concept of introducing a language in Nigeria, with vocabularies extracted from the officially recognized three major languages of Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba. “WAZOBIA” is indeed a coined word from ‘come’ in these languages. “Wa”, “Zo”, “Bia” all mean the same, as translated from Yoruba, Hausa, and Igbo respectively. Many have been of the view that deriving a national language from just the major languages would likely not work out, in terms of recognition and acceptance.
It is estimated that there are slightly more than 500 Nigerian languages. No matter the rationale of fostering linguistic unity being behind the idea of “WAZOBIA”, as it is an ad-mixture of the above three major languages, what happens to other languages – Ibibio, Fulfulde, Kanuri, Annang, Igede, Angas, Egun, Batta, ආදිය? With inconsequence of other languages (often referred to as minor languages) මෙම අරමුණු ඉටු කර ගැනීම සඳහා, who says people of other ethnic groups will be interested in being a part of “WAZOBIA”?
Bola, after five years of promoting “WAZOBIA” as a new language in Nigeria to no avail, coupled with the likely realization that this issue is no where near the top of people’s list of priorities at this time (Man never chop belle full), I advice you to channel your efforts towards promoting an ‘already-made-language’ instead – “Nigerian Pidgin English” or NPE, this time with another name for better impact. Without delving into its origin, variations, structure, pronunciation, grammar, scope of coverage within Nigeria (and even beyond), ආදිය, NPE (commonly referred to as “Pidgin” or “Broken”), according to some experts, remains the native language of three to five million people, and is a second language to at best another 80 million.
I am in support of a recent suggestion by a newspaper columnist, Azuka Onwuka, that NPE be given another name and formally recognized in Nigeria. Onwuka suggested Naijana as a suitable name in line with the growing popularity of the word “Naija” (as reference to Nigeria) mainly among the youths, who obviously comprise the bulk of the country’s population. To this end, my justification for the adoption of this language below, instead of wasting time on “WAZOBIA”, will be reflective of Onwuka’s suggested ‘baptism’ of NPE to Naijana. I am supportive of this idea that my tested skills in awareness creation and promotion remain easily available to boost this concept. For this purpose, the term (Naijana) becomes applicable for the rest of this article, in place of “Nigerian Pidgin English” or NPE.
While I hold firmly to strengthening the indigenous languages, individually, among various Nigerian ethnic groups, Naijana henceforth could be properly structured (for spellings, pronunciation, and grammar), promoted and given official status. This should be considered based on its obvious common use in Nigeria. Rather than wasting efforts at promoting “WAZOBIA”, attempts at evolving a Nigerian language which stands as ‘number two’ to English, should take front burner.
We all know how English evolved from Nigeria’s colonial past and chosen as its official language, to help foster cultural and linguistic unity of the country. English remains widely used for business transactions, official purposes, and education here. It is clear also that the English language tends to be an exclusive preserve of the urban elite in Nigeria, and not widely spoken in the rural areas – Where about 75% of the populace reside. These certainly are no strangers to Naijana whose benefits, if adopted officially, comprise what the rest of this piece bears.
Naijana has a major advantage of being a vital tool of communication, as each of 250 or more ethnic groups in Nigeria can easily converse in this language, even where it is ‘spiced up’ with native words, for effect (e.g. “Biko” from Igbo language; “Haba” from Hausa expressions; “Wahala” from Yoruba language). It is spoken more by the younger generation, who make up the majority of Nigeria’s population of about 167 million. Naijana is indeed the most widely spoken language in the country, hence politicians use it more to connect with the people during electioneering campaigns – They use the language commonly spoken by the people.
There is no doubt that more Nigerians can express themselves more clearly and naturally in Naijana than in so called ‘Queen’s English’. It clearly serves as a language of inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic communication, as is widely used in all the country’s towns and cities. Its application in markets, schools, for radio and television programmes, is well known.
It is no secret that apart from those with little or no formal education, this language is also spoken by the educated (e.g. professors, journalists, university graduates, ආදිය). Naijana seems to be easily imbibed by the people, since the language does not require much of literacy in formal English education for one to ‘flow in it’. So, the wahala of any massive, government sponsored, formal programmes of education is eliminated.
Many have grounds to tag Naijana “language of unity” as no ethnic or linguistic group can lay claims to it. It can easily be used by those who have no other common language (a common situation in most urban centres). What else can be said to reflect a common national identity? Often times, those who prefer not to speak in English, but of different ethnicity, automatically use Naijana.
Mister Bola Smart. Instead of ‘beating about the bush’ by promoting “WAZOBIA”, think of the effective development of Nigeria through standardization and adoption of Naijana as the national tongue. Abi, no bi so?
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