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The effective use of indigenous languages in mass communication platforms to attract audience understanding and participation formed the kernel of discussions at a two-day International Conference on Indigenous Language Broadcasting in Nigeria, which held recently.

Eminent scholars, communication experts, journalists, publishers, regulatory authorities and stakeholders in the industry that gathered at the forum organised by the Faculty of Communication, Bayero University, Kano, discussed ways of improving indigenous language content in broadcasting, addressing contending issues and underlying challenges, as well as managing its influence on the country’s cultural identity.

Convener of the conference and Vice Chancellor, Federal University, Kashere Gombe State, Prof. Umaru Pate, said that the conference was also aimed at addressing major challenges undermining the use of indigenous language contents in broadcasting services, and other platforms, which invariably builds and widen gaps between literacy and illiteracy.

The professor of media and society stressed that though indigenous languages have been an integral part of communications, the media need to adopt an acceptable language of delivery, which will capture audience attention, as well as make the targeted population understand both the contents and messages conveyed.

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“We want to examine how our indigenous languages are utilised in our broadcast stations and other platforms: how indigenous languages are used to promote content. You cannot talk to people in a language that they do not understand because that will not gain maximum participation. Again, from studies, we have realised that English language has remained the dominant language of broadcast on our channels, generally. We have also checked the amount of time devoted to broadcast in indigenous languages across various channels in the country, and the outcome was not significant.

“English language still remains dominant, and to some extent, our three major indigenous languages follow. But there are reasons for that. Broadcast organisations are economically challenged because it will be difficult for them to devote huge resources to indigenous content broadcasting because these are areas that hardly attract sponsors and advertisers. These are some of the challenges that we are putting our heads together to brainstorm and see how we can further change the narration,” Pate said.

In his presentation titled, “Broadcasting, Language Use and the People’s Right to Know and Participate,” Prof. Cecil Blake reflected on the imperialistic influences projected through foreign broadcasting services with deliberate intention to rewrite Africa’s story.

The emeritus professor, who looked at several issues, including the power of reaching audiences, ethical challenges, and the right of audience to know and participate in what media content they are served, equally decried the power of reaching audiences deployed by western broadcast services, and how African broadcasting services currently imitate contents and programmes’ design from foreign media, a development, which influences the appearance and entire life style of audiences.

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“The conference couldn’t have come at any better time because what we are witnessing in the African continent is more or less a serious cultural erosion, and that is largely, because we have abandoned the use, and application of our indigenous languages on the continent. It is even more worrisome that we now have a percentage of African elite, who refuse to talk to their children in their local languages.

“There is a need for us to see the restoration of the beauty of our languages in radio, television and in the social media, where media owners return, and make important recognition of our languages as important vehicles for communication,” he added.

In her remarks, a professor of language at the University of Maiduguri, Aishatu Ahmed, raised concerns over what she described as cultural invasion and the gradual loss of core value orientation, especially among the youths.

She noted that much as scholars continue to canvas for the adoption of indigenous languages on mass communication platforms, conscious attempts should be made to regulate media contents to check moral decadence.

According to her: “While we are we trying to encourage the use of indigenous languages, we must not lose sight of our core values, which are very critical to the cultural and religious aspect of our lives. By the time you encourage the use of indigenous languages, especially on social media, and platforms we must not forget the decadence that is raging on the Internet, including youths engaging in all sorts of immoral acts using indigenous languages on the social media.

“While we are considering the adoption and usage of indigenous languages, we have to consider whether or not the mode of application is in conformity with our core values, because the moment the moral values of our youths are distorted, we are in trouble. I don’t have issues with the use of social media, but they should be controlled. If you check several pages where indigenous languages are a mode of communication, you will be surprised. There should be regulations that will restrict visiting some pages honestly,” Ahmed stressed.

Reiterating the right of the public to have access to information as enshrined in Section 36 of 1999 Constitution (as amended), ace broadcaster, Eugenia Abu, added that no individual reserves absolute right of freedom.

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Abu, who was reacting to Prof. Blake’s presentation, equally acknowledged the negative impact of imperialism on African audiences, stressing the need to address challenges associated with translating folklores in addition to other institutional challenges.

“If we want to do indigenous language, we need to address the challenge of translating our folklores into products that are marketable and saleable. We now have technological tools that can translate. If you watch some paid channels, they take some English programmes and translate them to Hausa etc., with little or no effort because all that is required is just an application; they don’t do anything else. That is how you end up seeing people speaking Hausa when the actual programme was recorded in English. So, we need to be intentional and that is a major challenge.

“Our languages have not also developed; they are not dynamic enough to be written, and if a language is not reduced into writing, then there is a challenge. There is also a challenge that is generational. When your languages are not transmitted to the next generation, it is going to die. And if our children are not interested in our local language, there is a challenge. So, we need to be intentional about pulling youths into our languages; giving them prizes, scholarships and opportunities that will build their interest. Our parents also have a big role to play here because if they are not teaching the children our culture and values, the children would only be copycats in America,” she explained.

In his presentation titled: “Mass Media, Community Broadcasting and Rural Areas in Nigeria,” Dr. Akin Akingbulu of the Institute for Media and Society said that despite the democratisation of broadcasting in the country, findings have revealed that radio stations are still situated mainly in urban centres and use of English language dominates broadcasting services. To this end, the identity of minority indigenous languages is being jeopardised.

Akingbulu expressed worries that despite years of advocacy for liberalisation of community broadcasting, only 20 out of hundreds of applications were granted operating licenses, thereby, limiting access to information and communication for local dwellers.

He, therefore, appealed to regulatory agencies to review the statutory mandate that disallowed commercialisation of programmes/contents and airtime on community broadcasting stations, stressing that such enablement will afford them self-sustainability and reduce the cost of running the station.

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On the contrary, the former acting Director General of National Broadcasting Commission, (NBC) Prof. Armstrong Idachaba, insisted that allowing community broadcast outfits to compete for market share with commercial broadcasting stations will derail the rationale behind their establishment.

On the seeming delay, which granting of operational licences take, Idachaba said: “Government takes so much time before granting licenses for security concerns. You know Nigeria is a multi-ethnic country, which is also heterogeneous, and our sensitivity bar is still very limited in terms of how people react to ethnic issues. And so, the government is being very careful to avoid some level of conflagration. But fortunately, once the licenses are issued experimentally first, with the campus license to UNILAG, and subsequently to other communities, we realised that rather than increase ethnic division and rivalry, community broadcasting services are playing their development role, which is encouraging. After that, more licences have been given.”

Idachaba, who decried the worrisome feeling that individuals can own community radio, said: “People need to understand that individuals are not qualified to obtain community radio license the way it happens with commercial radio. But even when any community applies for it, and satisfies the documentation process and legal procedures, the commission will also do background checks on those that are on the board of trustees to ascertain the valid purpose the radio is intended for, and it is only after that, that the licenses are considered. But we are glad the numbers are increasing and more are coming.”

Idachaba disclosed, “it is dangerous to commercialise the activities of community broadcasting as doing so definitely negates the essence of its establishment. For instance, the commercial radio services have little, or no airtime for developmental issues, and we have seen where commercial items dislodged very important human-centred and developmental programmes simply because of money.

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“So, if you commercialise community broadcasting services, how are you going to address health, education, rural issues and community matter, which are basic developmental issues, and the core objective for licensing. So, it is important for us as a country, based on our national needs and challenges, to deliberately and intentionally focus on the essence of community radio and TV broadcasting, which is principally to facilitate development at the grassroots,” Idachaba submitted.

A former director of public relations, Nigeria Army, Brigadier-General Sani Usman Kukasaka, also stressed the need for the deployment of indigenous languages in communicating with victims of insurgency, especially, given their level of literacy.

Kukasaka, who explained how the Nigeria military changed the narrative regarding the disconnect between the government and victims of insurgency with the use of indigenous language, said the dominant use of English language to report the situation in the insurgency-riddled Northeast has demoralised victims of insurgency, who barely understand any language other than Hausa and other indigenous languages.

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“From the result of a research conducted, we found out that there is a visible disconnect between victims of the insurgency and the government in terms of communication, while dealing with terrorism and insurgency. Most of the time, communication and issues around the insurgency are always done in English language leaving disconnected, the bulk of victims of the insurgency, whose languages and mode of communication are predominantly in Hausa and other indigenous languages.

“On the basis of that, we made extensive use of indigenous languages in reaching out to the people in the heat of the battle, and this, eventually, brought a lot of confidence to the people concerned. The people also realised that this is a proactive military that listens, reacts to their plight and communicate to them in the language, which they understand; they now understand that the government and the military were doing everything that they could to restore normalcy, save lives and property.”

“Therefore there is a critical need to concentrate on the use of indigenous languages, especially given the literacy level in our society. We have to think of de-emphasising the use of English language in our broadcasting services because of the large chunk of the population who are not lettered in English language. Beyond that, we need to take cognisance of advancement in technology and the dynamism of language itself,” Sani noted.

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