[lg policy] Language as development: The Lagos example

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Mon Feb 19 09:59:23 EST 2018


 Language as development: The Lagos example
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February 18
09:28 2018
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*A creative edge was brought into governmental policy decisions last week.
It was the unassuming but very consequential policy of the Akinwumi Ambode
government of Lagos State to rescue the Yoruba language from extinction and
revive its utility as midwife of development. **Henceforth, candidates
seeking admission into all tertiary institutions in the state, according to
the state Yoruba Language Preservation and Preservation Law, must possess
credit pass in Yoruba Language.*

It is compulsory for all primary and secondary schools – private or public
– to make the teaching of Yoruba Language a core subject at all levels. The
purpose, according to the government, is “to provide for the preservation
and promotion of the use of Yoruba Language.” No state in Nigeria, prior to
this, had enacted such law which seeks to preserve and promote its
indigenous language. Perhaps even bolder as an initiative was Lagos’
resolve to translate into Yoruba all its laws and “de-criminalize” the use
of Yoruba as a communication tool between individuals. The myriad problems
of this age may not be unconnected with lost values of language and culture.

Unbeknown to many, there is a potent connect between language and
development. African historians say that for the colonial expenditure to
succeed, the colonizers first took the sail off the wind of Africans’
language, culture, value system and history. The realization of this was
probably why, at the beginning of the quest by the Awolowo political group
to rebuild the Yoruba nation in the First Republic, in 1942, long before
even the establishment of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa in 1947, it coalesced all
existing associations like the Egba Society, founded in 1918; the 1923
Union of Ijebu Youngmen; the 1924 Yoruba Union; the Egbado Union and the
Ekiti National Union, into the Yoruba Language Society.

D.O. Fagunwa and Awolowo’s Minister of Lands, J.F. Odunjo, began a crusade
of authoring Yoruba novels and plays which promoted the mythologies,
proverbs and songs of Yoruba people. In 1956, Awolowo himself instituted
the Yoruba Historical Research Scheme headed by Prof Saburi Biobaku who in
turn brought into the team scholars of diverse disciplines and local
cultural and language experts like I. O. Delano and Chief J. A. Ayorinde.
What this did was to grow a crop of passionate, cultured, morally astute
Yoruba nationals who were extremely useful for the Awo group in its quest
to develop the West as the hub of the Nigerian nation.

Odunjo and Fagunwa’s books were revolutionary in this regard. They promoted
the undiluted essence of Yoruba language and culture. Using fables,
anecdotes and historical examples of great warriors, they positively
moulded the mind of a Yoruba into accepting that hard work, honesty,
associational life pay and discouraged vices like murder, greed and
larceny. For instance, not until a few decades ago did this writer come to
know that Mr. and Mrs. Tortoise (Ijapa and Yannibo, and their child, Irere)
were fictitious but fecund imaginations of Odunjo and Fagunwa. They used
this animal, Tortoise to teach a number of values. In *Otooto Ana Ijapa* (Even
Tortoise’s In-law!) they told the story of how, peeved by an infraction of
his in-law, Tortoise had him tied to the intersection that leads to the
market. Farmers and traders leaving for the market, upon hearing the
heinous act of the in-law, upbraided him for having done such evil to
Tortoise but seeing the in-law still tied to the same spot in the evening
on their return, they excoriated Tortoise, asking what he would have done
if the culprit was not his in-law. It is an underscore of Yoruba cultural
trait of sympathy for the persecuted and abhorrence of treachery.

Adapting the Ifa corpus called *Obara Odu Ifa**, *Odunjo wrote a story he
entitled *Itansan Oorun yio fi o han. *It is the story of a monarch who
clobbered to death a lady who refused his love advancement, in the presence
of her little daughter, without anyone else knowing. As she lay dying, the
woman shouted, “The ray of the sun will reveal your atrocity!” Years after,
the monarch unknowingly married this lady’s child and one day, a powerful
ray of the sun indeed shone from his imperial bedroom and he began to
confess. The king was taken to the Ogun shrine where he was beheaded.

The totality of all these taught Yoruba that calamity awaits the evil doer;
that no matter how long it demurs, the wheels of justice grinds slowly but
arrives its destination. They backed it up with contemporary stories of
tyrants and human ritualists whose offspring bear the brunt of their
parents’ atrocities, akin to the biblical saying of the fathers eating sour
grapes and their offspring feeling the tooth ache.

Musicians of the period also helped to promote this ideological mindset.
Hubert Ogunde and his *Yoruba Ronu*, Ligali Mukaiba, (who in his late 1950s
vinyl, *Mi o wa r’ohun t’obimrin o le finni se* long posited the
destructive implication of an untamed libido) Kasumu Adio, Kelani Yesufu,
Haruna Ishola, Yusuff Olatunji and many others established Yoruba
epistemology and concept of justice, equity and fairness. Epo Akara, the
Ibadan-born *Awurebe *exponent, ended every of his tracks with an anecdote
that teaches morals. The musicians sometimes also showcased the
imperfectness of the Yoruba concept of justice, like Ayinla Omowura who
sang that if one does not have a representation in the decision-making
council, one’s innocence may become guilt (*b’eyan o leni ni’gbimo, b’o ro
ejo are, ebi lo mi a je*).

This writer sees in the Ambode Yoruba language policy the ability to bring
back to Yorubaland the profundity of the above regenerative path
spearheaded by Awolowo. If implemented with the zeal and vigour that are
beginning to be the byword of the Ambode government in Lagos, it will have
a remarkable effect on the lives of the people.

Come to think of it, the Yoruba can actually look towards Lagos for the
redemption of the land, if rightly coordinated. No matter his personal
foibles, Bola Tinubu should be credited with churning out of his mills a
crop of leaders who have transformed Lagos. In 2015 when Ambode was
presented as replacement for Babatunde Fashola, the ambidextrous former
governor’s shoes appeared too big to size Ambode. Not many believed he
could make passable improvement in a chaotic Lagos. But Ambode has since
proved cynics wrong. This writer dreaded Lagos like an un-barbed zoo and
only visited when necessary. The other day however, necessity drove me to
Lagos and what did I see? A lit-up Lagos which will surely aid a 24-hour
economy, with the potential of greatly reducing crime. Bridges are
springing up like ferns in a plantation with three at Abule Egba, Ajah, and
Alimosho. Road construction is all over the place. I learnt that 141 roads
were constructed last year and another 181 are ongoing across the state,
including the ongoing 10-lane Airport Road and the construction of lay-bys
across the state to ease Lagos’ atrocious traffic jam. If you add all these
to the unbelievable regeneration of Oshodi and the Lake Rice phenomenon
where Lagos is partnering Kebbi State in the production of rice, as well as
the establishment of DNA lab – first of its kind in West Africa and the
construction of 120 public health centres by the Ambode government, you
will realize that Yorubaland could put an icing on the restructuring debate
by demanding a confederal region with Lagos at the head. With Lagos’ large
internal revenue, dealing with critical issues in the South West like
defense against Fulani herdsmen, unified internal trade, common rail/road
transportation and common educational system would make Yorubaland one of
the most desirable economies in Africa.
*The South African affair*

South Africa opened up its gates for the Third World to pick up
inspirational examples during the week. Its erstwhile President and one of
the surviving vestiges of anti-Apartheid struggles, Jacob Zuma, had been
forced to resign by his African National Congress (ANC) party. Subsumed in
a volcano of corrupt charges, Zuma had become a dis-advertisement for ANC
and the great forefathers of the longsuffering country. Not long ago, he
fought battles to liberate himself from the leech of complaints against his
alleged spending of public funds to upgrade his Nkandla rural estate valued
in 2014 at 216 million rand (then $24 million.) Overlooking countryside
squalor and lack, Zuma’s estate work included a swimming pool with a
fire-fighting facility, a chicken run, a cattle enclosure, an amphitheatre
and a visitors’ centre.

This was just a miniature of how Zuma made the bones of Nelson Mandela,
Albert Luthuli, Ruth First, Ahmed Kathrada and many more who fought for the
liberation of the country turn in their graves. Rated as one of the most
uneducated African leaders as he had no formal education, Zuma glorified
primitive accumulation and exhibited a naivety which made the modern world
snigger at the black man. But those were not South Africa’s advertisement.
It was the supremacy of its party politics. Immediately Zuma’s name became
irredeemably headed for the sewage, ANC hopped up the scene. At that time,
it was no longer necessary what Zuma’s ethnicity was, his religion or
color. If it were Nigeria, those primordial sentiments would have gained
ascendancy.

Some have argued that it was the parliamentary system of government which
allowed such victory for party politics in South Africa. First Republic’s
parliamentary system also allowed for such leeway. NCNC’s Hon Fani Kayode
(Fanny Power) in the Western House of Assembly could effectively play
opposition role and the party was bigger than the individual. Today in
Nigeria, all those are gone. Presidents, governors pay the piper of their
political parties and thus call the tune. If Nigeria is desirous of the
kind of victory South Africa got from the hands of its rapacious elected
leader, shouldn’t we look towards parliamentary system where
parliamentarians and appointed leaders are best among equals in parliament?
*Tinubu’s over-ripe cherries*

The assignment handed over to All Progressives Congress (APC) leader, Bola
Ahmed Tinubu by President Muhammadu Buhari has engaged discussions in the
polity in the last one week or thereabout. If there is one man whose job
description is certainly not to be envied, it is surely Tinubu. Apart from
reconciling the fractious APC members, Tinubu is expected to deliver a very
large chunk of the 14, 626, 800 South West votes to Buhari as he did in
2015.

Apart from the fact that Tinubu himself ranks high among those slighted in
the APC, the former Lagos governor would soon find out that the South West
is no longer the homogenous cherry picks he made in 2015. Apart from Lagos,
the rest of the West isn’t an easy cherry to pick for him any longer. Can
he lay claim to picking Ibikunle Amosun’s Ogun, Ayo Fayose’s Ekiti or
Rotimi Akeredolu’s Ondo as easily as in 2015? In many of the states, APC
has become indistinguishable from the rot earlier PDP governments inflicted
on the people. More importantly is that, because of their cultural disdain
for injustice which they also witness on their land, the South West is
growingly becoming disenchanted with Buhari’s covert spatial provision for
his kiths, Fulani herdsmen, who are terrorizing Benue and even Yoruba land.
If you add these to the insult from the SGF, Boss Muhammed, who on
Thursday said
that there is no alternative to Buhari, it becomes obvious that, in 2019
the cherries awaiting Tinubu are over-ripe and difficult to pick.

*For Aunty Tokunbo*

Youngest child of the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Tokunbo
Awolowo-Dosumu, would be 70 years old tomorrow. For many of us who are not
privileged to meet the former Western Region Premier, Dr. Awolowo-Dosumu is
a huge poster of what the sage looked like, I am told in physique and from
what we read, in character. For close to an hour inside the country home of
Chief Awolowo in Ikenne, Ogun State last year, this writer and
Awolowo-Dosumu engaged each other on how the South West could recreate
Awolowo. Passionate, down-to-earth and a perfectionist, she is effectively
holding her father’s torch aloft. She has the famed self-respect and
dignity of Awolowo and daily bends over backwards in keeping tar from
staining the white apparel of the family. For instance, for the decades of
my interface with Nigerian Government Houses, mention is seldom made of
Awolowo-Dosumu ever walking down these cash-laden homes to scavenge for
crumbs as is the norm among children of leaders who have exited.

This writer has studied Awolowo the father over the years, culminating in a
440-page work on the rift between him and Chief S.L. Akintola which I am
lazily trying to publish as a book, especially the way the tiff is reported
in the newspaper press. I can say without equivocation that I see Awolowo’s
resolve, polish and dignity in Dosumu-Awolowo.

 Here is wishing Aunty Tokunbo many more years in the service of the Yoruba
nation and Nigeria as a whole, in good health.


-- 
=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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