Our language is what gives us a sense of identity and remains a veritable tool that aids our quest towards the attainment of self-realization. All over the world, people of different tribes invest huge resources in promoting their language, culture and tradition. Alas, it is with a heavy heart that I proclaim that we seem to be speedily murdering our language, culture and every other aspect that makes us who we are.
Though it is not my wish to malign our ability to display our mastery of languages other than our own, I find it extremely depressing that we are doing so at the expense of our mother tongue; adults and kids alike appear to be basking in an inferior euphoric delusion that suggests that their inability to speak their mother tongue presents them as being posh. I do not really know about other tribes in Nigeria but I strongly suspect that this trend is most prevalent amongst we Igbos. I find it quite weird that we seem to be ignoring the warning by experts that the Igbo language will become extinct in a few years time-though I do not know how this submission came about; I agree that the possibility stares us in the face.
Is this trend suggestive of a people saddled with a feeling of inferiority complex or a situation whereby we allow our love for travel and adventure to consume our identity as a people? I am particularly concerned about our children’s inability to neither speak nor understand our language; it is now a popular trend for us parents to take pride in raising children that are more versed in foreign languages, particularly the English language. A few years ago, I went to visit a cousin that lives in Anambra State and was so miffed when he and his missus informed me with so much glee that their daughter “does not understand the Igbo language”. When I sought to find out why, I was jolted by their insistence that they prefer her “ajebo” status of speaking only English. To them, the English language is a language that keeps you balanced smartly at the apex of some grand social ladder.
Now, my cousin and his missus are not the only parents guilty of raising tokumbo children in Nigeria. In my home, I find it too perplexing when my daughter stares at me in wonderment when I try to have a meaningful conversation with her in Igbo language; at most, she mimics what I say and fills the void with laughter which I find very annoying. We are raising children who are almost like foreigners in their country of origin and this to me is shameful. I grew up reading Igbo novels, story books, watching captivating Igbo dramas on TV and listening to same over the radio; I still cherish the fond memories of that lovely period of my life. What do we have today? Our children are being encouraged by us to cherish foreign cartoons, story books and movies. We think it shows our posh nature when our children can recite nursery rhymes written by foreign authors for their school children while knowing nothing about Nigerian authors and their works.
With every sense of modesty, I see myself as a bloke who has travelled round our beautiful country but nowhere is as marooned with a tendency to take pride in their mother tongue than in the South East of Nigeria. A visit to any tertiary institution in that region will buttress this fact; our undergraduates regale in reminding you that they do not speak the Igbo language but “I dey understand small-small”. These students ridicule those that speak the language as being “bush people” and any male that attempts to seek for a girl’s hand in friendship in Igbo language is rudely dismissed as being uncouth. Igbo names given to them by their parents are immediately westernized; names like Nneka becomes Nekky, Nkechi becomes Nk, Chukwuma is now Chucky, etc. The erosion of our identity to me is total. However, I am particularly impressed when I see Nigerian kids of Yoruba origin born and bred outside the shores of Nigeria who speak their mother tongue without any trace of an accent, and understand same perfectly. In the UK, it is very rare to see a Yoruba person that answers such names as John, Mathew and other names imposed on our culture by Western influences.
Nevertheless, there are still Igbo parents that make great efforts at preserving the Igbo language and culture in the course of raising their children. There are countless Igbo parents that insist on giving proper Igbo names to their children instead of tokumbo names. I commend this greatly. I really do not frown at people adopting the cultures and values of tribes and races other than theirs, but it is my view that this should not be allowed to relegate ours to the background. I see it as an attack on reason and common sense when we see what is ours as being inferior while celebrating imported cultures and traditions; it would be nice to see a situation whereby we take pride in celebrating our diversity as a people from a multi-ethnic country rather than being in an eternal quest to marvel at values and languages from far places.
Is this not funny that while we blame Western countries for our economic woes, we take so much pride in perpetuating a new form of mental slavery by copying their life-style against ours? Generally, Nigerians now trample on their pride as a people by accepting foreign made goods and cultures as being superior to theirs, we try as much as practicable to imitate foreign accents [especially American] when we speak, we prefer hanging out at eateries that stock foreign junk foods instead piling up on our local dishes, we prefer sitting stupidly in front of our TV sets watching uninspiring shows like Big Brother Africa instead of Things Fall Apart, etc. The onslaught on our values is wicked and this is why we are raising tokumbo children in our country. Hence, I really do not blame kids that grow up with a mentality that ridicules their ancestry while celebrating foreign ways of life. We can still reverse this ugly trend by paying attention to how we raise our children by making sure we instill values that will make them proud ambassadors of their origin.