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French language village gasping for breath 30 years on

By Gbenga Salau
08 May 2022   |   4:03 am
Its strategic place in the study of French language in Nigeria notwithstanding, the Nigeria French Language Village seated in Badagry still grapples with teething problems 30 years after creation.

A class in session

Aggressive Revamping Process On Course – Prof Ayeleru
Its strategic place in the study of French language in Nigeria notwithstanding, the Nigeria French Language Village seated in Badagry still grapples with teething problems 30 years after creation.

Indeed, the over 30-year old village still operates without an enabling Act. Besides, it still occupies the site of former Government Teachers’ Training College along the Lagos-Seme Expressway. At birth in 1991, the Lagos State Government donated a 16 square kilometre permanent site located at Irosu near Owode/Benin Republic border in Badagry Local Council. However, till date, the relevant papers/formalities to establish the institution’s ownership of the land are yet to be delivered to the village.

During the facility tour of the village on April 28, 2022, apparent was the inadequate space affecting the burning commitment of the management to facilities upgrade and expansion.

The Director/ Chief Executive Officer, Prof Lateef Babatunde Ayeleru, said in spite of its poor funding, the Nigeria French Language Village is one of the best projects that emerged from the National Educational terrain, given the excellent profile of its workforce and the dynamic approach of management to initiating development–oriented and self-sustaining programmes and projects.

Ayeleru stated that the feat is premised on the fact that the Nigeria French Village is committed to pursuing its mandate to ensure that the centre remains a centre of excellence and a pride to the Nigerian Nation

Speaking with the media during the tour, Ayeleru stated that the Nigeria French Language Village is, contrary to what most people think, a very poor institution.  He disclosed that the institution receives no foreign aid and has been delisted from TETFund since 2010. The cost of running the Village almost exclusively on diesel, monthly salary payment to Action Guards, payment of labourers and cleaners all sourced from the paltry Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). The cost of maintaining the Village’s hostels, classrooms and residential buildings, the environment and vehicles, leave at the end of the day the Village in deficit which continues to mount every month. The Nigeria French Language Village needs assistance.”

Challenges
Providing some insight on the issues the language village is battling with, he listed the challenges to include the institution operating for 30 years without an enabling Act, revealing that the Village has made several attempts to get the bill passed into law.

“This will be the fourth attempt. Progress is being made on getting the draft bill of the Village signed into law but we discovered that there is the need to harmonize available versions of the draft and we wrote a letter to the Honourable Speaker to this effect. The Honourable Speaker has set up a Committee to consider the bill for further necessary action. We are hopeful that very soon it will be sent for Presidential assent.”

Ayeleru also said the institution was delisted from TETfund beneficiary list in 2010, which is one of the singular acts that has stunted infrastructural and staff developmental growth of the Village. “The Village performs the same functions as the Federal Universities which includes teaching and research among others. It is hoped that the issue of delisting from TETfund will be addressed in due course.

“The Village has been facing the perennial problem of flooding over the years. Some measures have been taken to tackle this problem among which are a request sent to the Ecological Fund in the Presidency to ask for intervention in flood control and environmental upgrading of the Village. Consequently, a team of experts was sent to the Village for physical inspection and assessment. The Member representing Badagry Federal Constituency in the Federal House of Representatives, Hon. Babatunde Hunpe, also sent another group of experts to carry out necessary physical survey on the problems of flooding and environmental degradation in the Village. We hope that either of the two interventions would yield positive results.”

The Nigeria French Village boss also revealed that the institution lose huge revenue to ferrying of Nigerian French students across the border to illegal and unaccredited language centres. “The Village is faced with the challenge of some institutions both in the universities and colleges of education ferrying their students to unrecognized and privately owned centres across the border in places like Cotonou and Porto-Novo.

“These centres parade questionable staff profile with a curricular that grossly distract from the stipulated Minimum Academic Standards of both the NUC and the NCCE. The Honourable Minister of Education had intervened by directing the Vice-Chancellors and Provosts to stop sending their students to mushroom language immersion programme centres, rather they should be sent to the Nigeria French Language Village for their immersion programme.

“Some institutions are yet to comply with these directives, but with the new strategy being explored by the current administration, there is a remarkable improvement on students’ enrolment in the Village.The Village has been facing many challenges in the area of electricity generation.  The supply from the National grid is not regular and the Village has to run its generators daily, given that the programmes of the institution are electronic and electrical-based.  Funds that could have been channelled to other uses have been expended on fuelling and maintaining the Village power generating sets.

Ayeleru

“The Village has been experiencing the collapse of some of its fence at intervals. These were inherited perimeter fence erected in the 60s. The scarce resources that could be channelled to other uses are sometimes used to repair the fallen fence. Lack of service vehicles and insufficient residential facilities to accommodate the systemic increase in students’ population.

“At present, the holdings of the Village Library are quite low.  There has been no significant addition to the stock since 2006 and the Village has not been able to computerize the operations of the Library due to lack of funds.”

The Nigeria French Village boss is however optimistic of brighter day for the institution, despite the many challenges it is grappling with. “In the light of the forgoing and to make the Village function to full capacity, we solicit the Federal Government’s intervention by;Providing special grant to enable the Village successfully carry out its mandate in terms of its operations and infrastructure; Re listing the Nigeria French Language Village into Tetfund beneficiaries list to alleviate her overbearing financial burden occasioned by high infrastructural decay and  technical maintenance among others; Empowering the Nigeria French Language Village to effectively enhance and sustain the prominent role it has assumed in French studies in Nigeria and the sub region and signing the enabling Act into law.”

Commitment To Vision, Mission
Ayeleru maintained that he and his team is committed to the vision of the institution which is to empower all persons, irrespective of age, culture, creed or sex, with appropriate communication skills in the effective use of the French language at both professional and inter-personal levels.

He also added that his administration would remain dedicated to the core and extended mandates of the institution of among others provide the equivalent year-abroad Language Immersion Programmes for undergraduates of French Studies from Nigerian Universities and Colleges of Education; Service Tertiary institutions in Nigeria with adequate human, material and infrastructural backing for effective teaching, learning as well as conduct of research in French; Explore areas of practical application of the French language to the Nigerian situation and Promote economic, technical and social integration of the African Continent.

“The Village, apart from organizing Summer and Easter Holiday Programmes for Secondary School students, also organizes one (1) year Diploma in French programme, 3-Month modular Residential Certificate programme for both youth and adult learners.  This is in addition to various other proficiency programmes organized for government agencies, Military and para-military organisations, private industries, bank executives, broadcasters and others. The Teachers’ Workshop are held annually in the Village. The on-line French was also introduced in 2020, to mitigate the COVID 19 pandemic restrictions.

“Apart from the statutory functions outlined above, the Village also readily assumes the responsibility of assisting the Federal Government in the articulation of policy directives and other initiatives that would actualize the government’s declared commitment to bilingualism for Nigerians.

“The Village is expected to be actively involved in teaching, research, publication and documentation.  It is also expected to serve as the think-tank or consultant to Government as well as interested individuals and corporate bodies on issues relating to French as a teaching subject and a medium of transnational and transcultural communications for businesses, interpersonal relationships and professional needs.”

Background Of The Institution 
The Nigeria French Language Village, Badagry is an Inter-University Centre for French Studies established in 1991. It is an autonomous Federal Government tertiary institution operating within the ambit of the National Universities Commission (NUC).

The Village covers about 16 hectares of land in the coastal and historical town of Badagry.  It occupies the site of former Government Teachers’ Training College along the Lagos-Seme expressway.  We are about 50km from Lagos and 15km from Seme, a border town between Nigeria and the Republic of Benin.

The siting of the Village is strategic.  Its closeness to the Republic of Benin facilitates students’ contact with the neighbouring Francophone population of Benin Republic.  It needs to be emphasized that the present location of the Village was and is meant to be a take-off site.  At inception, the Lagos State Government, which owns the hosting right of the Village, pledged a 16km2 land at the Irosu Village, along Owode Apa Road towards the building of the institution’s permanent site.  It is however sad to add that till date, the relevant papers/formalities to establish the institution’s ownership of the land are yet to be delivered to the Village.

Origin Of The Village
The Village may be considered as the proverbial child of necessity.  University undergraduates of French Studies were required to spend an academic year in a Francophone setting as a major prerequisite for the award of a BA/B.ED Degree in French.  Similarly, students of the Colleges of Education needed the Language Immersion for the award of the Nigerian Certificate in Education, (NCE).

Up till the early 80s, the Year Abroad Programmes were in the main, financed by the Federal Government with the assistance of French Government.  However, by the mid 80s, the global economic recession had taken its toll on the national economy.  As a result of this, the Year Abroad Language Immersion Programme suffered a serious set-back.  University students who had opted to study French Language were faced with the monumental problems of coping with the financial demands of the year abroad programme which by the way was a condition for the award of Degrees in French in Nigerian Universities.  Neither the Government nor parents could adequately source for the requisite Foreign Exchange to keep Nigerian students abroad for one academic year. The French Government had systematically withdrawn its support.

The result was an ever-growing indebtedness to host foreign institutions.  Nigerian students became subject to frustration.  Many of them were forced into unprintable survival strategies, which attracted serious indictment on our national integrity.

In the face of these difficulties, Government being convinced on the need to encourage the study of French in Nigeria, set up various committees to find an acceptable and efficient alternative to the French “year-abroad” programme.  The outcome of series of consultations tours and political activities was the establishment of the Nigeria French Language Village.

The idea of the Nigeria French Language Village was conceived by Prof. Jubril Aminu, it was however, Prof. A.B. Fafunwa his successor as Minister of Education, who saw to the take-off of the Village in September 1991.  The first set of undergraduates from only six Nigerian Universities resumed in the Village on Monday 6th January, 1992.

Academic Programmes  
These include the mandatory Language Immersion Programme for 300 level University Students of French and acculturation programme for 200 level Colleges of Education Students, which run between January and December each year.  It also offers pre-university programmes (Diploma & Certificate Programmes), intensive programmes for individuals, professionals and corporate bodies and holiday Camps for secondary school students.  All these programmes are residential.