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The Army language policy

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Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai

Although in principle there may be some merit in the new local language policy recently proposed by the Nigerian Army, the idea of the army compelling all its personnel to be proficient in the three languages of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba by December 2018 is largely contentious. It is also discriminatory, unrealistic and unlikely to be effective.

According to reports, the new local language policy was a directive from the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Col. Tukur Buratai, aimed at promoting national integration and thereby foster peace and unity in the country.

No doubt, the idea of learning and becoming proficient in indigenous languages is a laudable one. Amongst other things, proficiency in the language of the community in which one works is a veritable instrument of mutually beneficial human relations. It creates a sense of belongingness and affinity. A better understanding and appreciation of the people and their culture is enhanced, whilst seemingly intractable problems are easily addressed.

Moreover, the Nigerian armed forces, especially the army, are reputed to be one institution that promotes national integration by the way military personnel are posted all over the country. By such deliberate administrative policy, it is not unusual for a military officer who has served for about a decade to be fluent in the languages of places he has worked. This is highly commendable and should be encouraged.

Notwithstanding, that three languages only, amongst the multiplicity of languages spoken all over the country, have been selected for the implementation of the policy, is ad hoc and biased. Furthermore, the idea that these languages are viewed as major languages is unfair.

For whom are they major languages? As one legislator argued, this policy may ìlead to discrimination and exclusion from employment opportunities, promotion and ambush of the legitimate aspirations of overwhelming numbers of non-native speakers of Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa in the Army.î

Apart from being a subtle linguistic domination of minority ethno-linguistic groups by the hegemony of the three dominant languages, it is a tough demand to subject the army personnel to begin proficiency crash programmes in Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo within so short a time.

Nonetheless, in support of the directive of the Chief of Army Staff, some informed commentaries have praised the proposal for its timeliness, arguing that it is a demonstration of the army’s resolve to ensure internal security and national unity.

Granted that the use of indigenous language in public affairs is long overdue, the argument that the directive to learn Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo, ipso facto, demonstrates the army’s passion internal security and national unity, is a very spurious argument.

It is spurious because there is no connection between the furtherance of internal security or national unity and proficiency in three languages. How can it be demonstrated that internal security and national unity in multilingual Nigeria could be promoted by proficiency in three languages?

It is also unfortunate that the Nigerian Army, an institution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is being used to pioneer this ambiguous proposal. Should this proposal scale through, it is very likely that such requirement would be demanded from other workers in federal institutions.

Since language mirrors the identity of a people and also expresses their experiences of the world, it is that peculiar activity by which people make sense of their existence and the world around them. In other words, a Yoruba man cannot compel an Ijaw lady to understand her existence from a worldview expressed in the Yoruba language. To do that is to re-create her existence for her. Thus it becomes an infringement of the rights of people whose languages are construed as minority languages to impose a policy that marginalises other language under the guise of expediency. There is no sense in speaking of ìmajor languagesî in a country of about 400 languages.

It is for this reason that this paper stands with the position of members of the House of Representatives in kicking against the policy. It should be discontinued.

Howbeit, cognizant of the fact that proficiency in our indigenous languages is relevant to social cohesion, the authorities concerned should begin to put modalities in place for effective socialisation mechanism through the use of indigenous languages.

An effective way of getting through this would be by encouraging the speaking of our mother tongues in both private and public events.

Besides, the ministry of education should step up modalities to promote the teaching subjects of indigenous language in schools.


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