With the alarm raised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), linguists and researchers that in less than 100 years, almost half of the known global languages would be lost forever including 50 out of the 520 languages spoken in Nigeria, Ifie Sekibo, the managing director, Heritage Bank is looking to reverse this in at least one, Ikwerre, a local dialect from Port-Harcourt. Ajose Sehindemi writes.
Nine languages in Nigeria are already extinct, according to the National Council for Arts and Culture. They are Ajawa, spoken in present-day Bauchi, Basa-Gumna of Niger State, Auyokawa which used to be spoken in Jigawa State, Gamo-Ningi, a Kainji dialect in Bauchi State, Homa of Adamawa State, Kubi of Bauchi State, Kpati, formerly spoken in Taraba State, Odut, which used to be spoken in the Odukpani area of Cross River State, and Teshenawa, formerly spoken in Jigawa State.
While they might not ring a bell, the assertion from UNESCO and linguists that Yoruba, Igbo, and Ishekiri languages are endangered due to declining use should is perhaps unsurprising as little has been done to encourage teeming youths and children to speak local dialects.
Though it has become acceptable that most parents are guilty of not teaching their children their dialect, several governments’ agencies and private institutions have also neglected the call to reawaken the national language policy and protect the sector which contributes immensely to the development of tourism in Nigeria.
Elsewhere in the world, people value their local dialects before they learn or speak any other language. But that is not the case with children growing in Nigerian as the English language seems to have taken away their ability to speak their mother tongue.
Looking critically at the issues and trying to encourage the youths to speak their local dialects, some private citizens have taken it upon themselves to champion the cause of supporting local dialects being taught in schools.
Recently, the Managing Director of Heritage Bank, Ifie Sekibo, reputed for returning moribund businesses to the path of profitability championed a launch of a book titled “Let us speak Ikwerre”, (A KWU IWNUROHHNA), in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The book which was originally written in English language was authored by Oyintarela Ebiere Umeri and translated to the Ikwerre language by Tony Enyia, an indigene of Rumuor-Ogbakari, Emohua Local Government of Rivers State.
Umeri is the founder and Managing Director of Niger Delta Books Limited and holds a master’s degree in development management from London School of Economics, United Kingdom, and a BSc. in Politics and Modern History from Brunel University, United Kingdom.
She also studied both French and German up to A-levels and has successfully managed the production and publication of other books like Izon Fie, (Speak Izon) book and audiobook CD.
After the successful launch of Speak Izon language, Ifie Sekibo, who said he stumbled on the idea of converting the English language to local dialects, sponsored the Niger Delta Books Limited to launch an audio CD in the Kirike language, (Okrika dialect) titled ‘Speak Kirike’ which was successfully launched in 2017.
Speaking during the launch of the ‘Let us speak Ikwerre’, Sekibo said his support for writing books in all Niger/Delta languages is borne out of the fact that Nigerians must not allow their local dialects to go into extinction.
He said, “The idea of converting English to our local dialect wasn’t mine, I stumbled into it by chance. I was invited by my bosom friend, Timi Alaibe to the launching of Izon fie, a book written in the Izon language, so I felt if people can think of printing books in the Ijaw language, why we can’t do the same for all Niger/Delta languages. And I decided at the event that I will be ready to fund or sponsor the production of these printable books in our language. Not just Izon but in all Niger/Delta languages.
‘’So, I decided to set out with languages in Rivers State and Bayelsa state. So, we did Kirike Fie which is the dialect of Okrika in Rivers state and I found out it was very successful, so I decided to give sponsorship for other languages which include Ikwerre, Kalabari, Ekpeye, Nembe and Ogoni languages”.
Sekibo said there is a need for children to speak their local dialects and the only way it can be done successfully other than speaking at home is to introduce English books into the local dialects and all hands must be on deck to achieve this. To make more local dialect books available, he sponsored the Niger Delta Books Limited to develop and publish books in some local languages, but still need to publish more in other local dialects like Kalabari, Nembe, and several other dialects of Niger Delta.
Realizing the urgency of the mission to save the cultural heritage of the Niger Delta region by preserving its languages, which some might say is easy, he asserted that to achieve the feat of translating English to several Niger Delta dialects is not an easy task as it entails a lot, and ‘’we need to act fast before our dialects go into extinction. So, we plan to introduce the books in other local dialects of different states across the Niger Delta, at least before the second quarter of 2021, we should have been able to achieve six other languages”.
Aside from making the books available in different local languages, Sekibo realised that without getting it to the youths for their usage might jeopardize the whole exercise. On ‘Let us speak Ikwerre’, he said their ambition is to put a copy of the book into the hands of all Ikwerre students and as it presently stands, they need at least 10,000 copies to achieve that feat. He said they have started but they need to print more with speed because the younger ones need to speak the languages.
He stressed that “One of the things we have done is that these books are to be distributed and given free to all the schools and colleges and that is why we need well-meaning Niger Delta citizens to support this cause so our language which is also our identity will not go down. When my son greets me in my dialect, which is Okrika, it is a great deal for me. So, we as parents need to encourage them in speaking our dialects. Some of the children would love to speak but they do not have access to reference books that will help them. This is one of the major reasons we took it upon ourselves to support this cause”.
In his remarks, legal luminary, and Chairman of the event, Onueze C.J. Okocha, (MFR) commended the Managing Director of Heritage Bank, Ifie Sekibo for encouraging the children of Niger Delta in speaking their dialects, as he called on other notable citizens of the Niger Delta to take a cue from Sekibo.
According to him, “This is a very commendable feat by Ifie Sekibo especially in the area of preserving our culture and I think every other VIP in the Niger/Delta should take a cue from him. If you are not proud of your culture, then you are a foreigner. This is a legacy work for humanity, and I must commend it while I call on every parent to encourage their children to learn their language before they are 10 years old. With such in place, we would have helped preserve our languages”.
In his submission, Director General, Rivers State Tourism, Yibo Koko, urged Nigerians, especially the Niger Delta people to value their mother tongue.
According to him, “It is important we value our language and I encourage parents to teach their children because this will help us revive our languages. Languages used to be our way of doing business and it is important we do not forget it. The Corporate world is contributing its quota through the help of Ifie Sekibo, who has single-handedly supported the introduction of English languages to various Niger/Delta dialects. Achieving this feat is not an easy one and we call on all well-meaning Niger Deltans to join us in this course”.
Other personalities present at the event include former NDDC Managing Director, Timi Alaibe, former Minister of Transport, Abiye Sekibo, former Managing Director of Unity Bank, Henry Seminitari, Senator Emmanuel Diffa, Charles Bekee, Social commentator, Eugene Abels, amongst others.