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International Literacy Day: A Roadmap To Nigeria’s Language Problem

On the 8th of September each year, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), under the United Nations (UN) umbrella, recognises the International literacy day. The International Literary day is an avenue for Government, civil society, policymakers, intelligentsia and stakeholders to seek improvements in the world’s literacy rate and reflect on the global literacy challenges.

This year, the International Literacy Day 2019, has as its theme, ‘Literacy and Multilingualism.’ The main features of multilingualism in today’s globalised and digitalized world will be discussed, together with their implication for literacy policies and practice in order to achieve greater inclusion in multilingualism context.


Multilingualism is a burning issue in contemporary Nigeria. There are over 500 languages including the three national languages, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba spoken across the country. Of all the languages spoken, there are several indigenous languages that have since gained prominence, some of which are Nupe, Kanuri, Tiv, Efik, Ijaw, and Ibibio. However, since Nigeria’s independence, English, one of the most popular languages in the world, has been adopted as a detribalised medium of communication.

As Sociolinguists explain, language is correlative to culture in a diverse approach. First, it is a facet of cultural values and sacred to the cultural system. Second, language helps to contextualise thought, to explore innovations and breakthrough in science and technology. Third, language is a tool of expressing literature of any given society.

On the basis of having another national language besides English, it has a noted debate among academia. For any language selected as a cardinal language for instruction in schools, government engagement or diplomatic ties, there is a likelihood of indecisive uproar and accusations of marginalisation across all the ethnic cleavages.


With the burning need for a new national language, the calls to adopt Pidgin English is steadily on the rise. Pidgin English, it is believed, holds a sign for the national unity. This is partly because Pidgin is a language spoken by all social classes, and serves as a means of effective communication in various sociopolitical environments. In simpler terms, pidgin is a reflection of our society.

As Faraclas (2008) in his book, Nigerian Pidgin English: Morphology and Syntax, writes, “There is no Creole language worldwide with nearly as many speakers as Nigerian Pidgin. … Nigerian Pidgin can be considered to be functionally a Creole, given the fact that it is used by a great number of people as their principal means of communication in all their daily activities.”


Besides this, several language diglossia gives rise to the need for the speedy recognition of a well-accepted language like Pidgin. Although it is often argued that it is the language of the radicals, we have seen pidgin appear in the works of Wole Soyinka, J.P Clark, and Christopher Okigbo to further aid the use of imagery to its audience. Chinweizu J.O in his book, Towards The Decolonization of African Literature (1980), captures it aptly when he says of Soyinka’s ‘The Beautification Of The Area Boy’, “When you cannot speak to your people, there is a burning temptation either to speak to yourself (private mysticism).”

Given the multicultural uniqueness of the Nigerian society, there is a need to start projects such as the codification of pidgin’s grammar, reading and learning materials, as well as offerings of rigorous training for teachers. After all, competency in one’s language is synonymous to rapid advancement in any human endeavour. Countries such as China and Japan have had much success in the advancement of their economy partly because of the embracement of native languages as a means of communication, especially for transaction purposes. In a country like Nigeria, this example is critical and its reason is not far-fetched. Pidgin is a verifiable tool that can be used as a means of empowerment to the people.

It is, therefore, imperative that there is a re-visitation on the National Policy on Education as the first step to achieving this aim.

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