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Nigeria needs national language, cultural reorientation in schools, governance

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Troubled that reading culture is waning among youths and elite, Dr. Joseph Omo-Emevor opened a free readers’ library on the street of Ikeja, the capital city of Lagos State in the late 1990s, to bridge the gap. His love for knowledge made him, in his 20s, to sacrifice his monthly income to hire canopies and buy books.

Omo-Emevor saw it as an avenue to promote a reading culture and make Nigerians contribute to knowledge.

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Moving away from the streets, he took his library, named So-fine, to a rented apartment in 1999 to give readers a more befitting place to acquire knowledge.

Looking back now, the bookworm observed that the problem of Nigeria has gone beyond mere reading to a more patriotic issue of developing a national language that would define the people’s collective identity.

According to him, in 1999, when he started the library full time, readers’ responses was very encouraging, adding that he even went to the extent of delivering lectures on how Nigerians can accept cultural values and make the impact on governance. He noted that developing local languages would boost growth and development of the economy, saying the situation where “our main language of communication is the English language will not make us value our human and natural resources and also to be patriotic.”

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Stressing that national language is key to the development of any country, he disclosed that with all his education got with a foreign language, he has not been able to translate what he has been taught in school to his local tongue.

Omo-Emevor said that if he had been taught in his local language, he would not be struggling to do this now. “Languages are the pride of a nation; they free a nation from mental slavery. Slavery is of two parts — mental and physical. And if you do not liberate yourself from both you are wasting your time saying you are independent. Failure to develop a national language will make us unpatriotic, which is one of the reasons many of our leaders would comfortably steal our money and put it in their personal accounts abroad.

“The Arabs, Chinese, Indians and other developing countries do not speak a foreign language, but this to the ordinary Nigerian means nothing because they are much more concerned about money, which is the mentality of a slave. A slave wants to eat what his master eats without bordering to find out what his master does to get money and eat what he eats.
“Developing the citizenry is a national project; you must first educate the child in the language he/she understands, which is a local language, before preparing him/her for leadership. Educating the child in a borrowed language has destroyed his/her spirit of patriotism and the love for his/her people because you have indirectly told him/her that the foreign language used for his/her education is superior to his/her local language. The situation, which started in 1960 is worsening by the day, to the extent we now want to eliminate ourselves because we believe everything about us is useless,” he said.

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According to Omo-Emevor, who also doubles as the Chief Medical Officer of So-Fine Clinic, English language in Nigeria is an international language, which should be spoken at the international level, but not as a national language.

He explained that a national language is a language used in a country and whose origin is from the country using it; while international language is a language used among nations, but does not emanate from the country using it.

Omo-Emevor observed that another way the Black man has reduced himself before the comity of the nation is to believe that its festivals are fetish and not worth celebrating. He noted that all the races of the world have festivals that bring them together, revealing that the Chinese earmarked February 13 as their New Year and that the Arabs, Indians and others have their New Years too, but the black man has none.

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“Roman Empire at a time colonized Britain, German, France and others, but when these countries gained their independence, the people sat and developed their languages, knowing too well that a man without an identifiable language is regarded as an animal. Money is not everything in development; human development comes first and the development of man is the development of his values — language, festivals, technology and others,” he explained.

With over 200 ethnic groups and more than 400 dialectical differences would there not be any challenge picking one language as a national language?

“No,” he said, adding, ”each geographical region of the country should be allowed to develop the local languages in their region, while the National Assembly choose any of the regional languages as a national language at the centre. This means in the west the people should be allowed to speak Yoruba at all levels; Hausa or Fulani in the North; Igbo in the South-East; and so on. The dominant language in each geopolitical region should be spoken in the regions, while the National language will be spoken at the centre.”

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He continued, “America at a point used to have a lot of witches and wizards. They even burnt many of them in the public square, but after a while, they realised they were making mistakes and began to celebrate them. Today, there is a Halloween festival. Witches occur in all traditions and the reason we regard our festivals as the primitive tradition was the introduction of science.

“The Black man is still backward because the people see science as European culture, instead of taking it as the intellectual and practical activity that encompasses the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment. Science is not the culture of any race, rather it guides one to develop his/her environment,” he noted.

Calling for the overhaul of the nation’s educational system, Omo-Emevor, who has authored different books about man and development, as well as science books, said a functional library is the engine room of modern education. According to him, if the nation wants to move forward it must structure its educational system to reflect cultural values; the way people live and learn. “This is compulsory if we do not want to be following another country in mental slavery.”

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Was this what informed the book, Arrested Intelligence? “ Yes, he continued, I wrote it after studying how other races developed their human value. I felt bad that with all our resources, the Black man has not been able to move as fast as others.
“And to date, we still have this bondsman attitude. However, forage, I have decided to put my ideas in books for future generation to read and, perhaps, take the necessary actions. I have done my best to set up a library and stock it with books. I leave it for the younger generation to upgrade and turn it into e-library. I have also taken the pains to publish and document some of the things we need to do for the future generation to use.

“Right now, books are scare. What many people do is to write a biography or autography, which they launch and make huge sums of money. The emphases are on money not on writing books that deal on topical issues or issues that would change the society for good,” he said.

Frowning at the ills of the society and governance, Omo-Emevor observed, “For Nigeria to move forward it must develop its human resources and value system and not merely developing infrastructure. If you put up the best infrastructure and could not develop the human resources and values to maintain them, the infrastructures will collapse. So, to develop a nation you must combine the value system with the infrastructure, both should go together, lest the coming generation would not know their usefulness and as such destroy them.”

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