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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Why Nigeria should recognize Hausa as official language

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Bashir Aliyu Limanci

Back in 2017 when El-Rufai sacked over 22,000 teachers which caused controversy in Kaduna and beyond, one of the key reasons given for the dismissal was over 70% of the sacked teachers scored less than 25% in literacy exams. This was a shocked revelation that brought all kinds of insults to the north from the southern media as being the least educated region in Nigeria. To add insult to the injury, illiteracy is measured based on how a person living in the north is able to write and read in English regardless of whether the person in point can write and read well in Hausa language. When you insist on using a wrong premise to x-ray Northern Nigeria in terms of education and economy, the chance is you may get inaccurate data.

Until recently when the Federal Government made amends to our national language policy by relaxing its stringent measure as to allow teaching primary school pupils in their mother tongues, English was the only language taught in public and private schools, I mean officially. But this is not really the case in many northern Nigerian states such as Bauchi where I grew up. It is impossible to teach primary school pupils in public schools in Bauchi without using Hausa as a language of instruction because English is not widely spoken. This is a challenge facing many states in northern Nigeria such as Jigawa where I once taught as an NYSC corps member. This is why the teachers often resorted to deploying Hausa as a language of instruction, and the students can only answer the questions asked in Hausa, not English, and failure to teach our students contributed laxity and truancy among students because they do not understand in English. The overwhelming majority of people in Bauchi do not speak English. Hausa language is spoken in our Sharia and magistrate courtrooms. It is the language spoken in almost everywhere including, informal businesses, markets, hospitals, mosques and churches. When two Hausa-speaking professors meet, unlike in other places where they could easily speak in English, they are likely to speak Hausa. The reality of the matter is, despite its social popularity, people are not exactly eager to learn the language. We may not admit it, but our institutions do not need English to function!

The decades of language imposition have brought us to an era during which university students from the region may not be able to be fluent in English which put them at a disadvantage when it comes job opportunities and business management skills. It is one of the key reasons our graduates and young population are economically alienated. Why is it that Hausa language is being institutionally suppressed despite its dominant role in our lives? I am talking about roughly half of Nigerian population who speak Hausa daily as fist language.

Over the past decades, northern states have poured billions of naira in education in a desperate attempt to catch up with the rest of Nigeria, but without taking into cognizance the vital role language plays in the scheme of things, the policy changes as well as the massive intervention in education often end up achieving any tangible result in school enrolment or improvement in improvement in literacy rate.

If you look at the massive double-digit gap in male and female literacy that exists between Northwest, Northeast compared to southern Nigerian states, you would be made to believe that we may not be able to catch up with them for several decades to come unless radical changes are made. Lack of tangible result may have been the reason even the like of Dr Aliyu Umar Tilde, the immediate former commissioner of education in Bauchi, gave up, downed their tools and pursue a more promising career because it is futile to reform a system that is built on suppressive policy with no courageous people to speak out against it.

The world is vast. A lot of developed countries recognize the importance of using a national language in schools, public sectors and institutions. Some countries like India recognize up to 10 regional languages as official with Hindi serving as a language used in the central government. Regional governments make sure children are taught in the dominant languages. With this policy, India is fast becoming a dominant global player in science and technology.

English is well established in southern Nigeria, and this is because the vast majority of the residents are willing to adjust to Western sybaritic lifestyle and allure unlike northern Nigeria where Hausa has defied the odd and still remains the most used language in the region.

By recognizing Hausa as an official language, definition of literacy to mean only being able to speak and write in Hausa can be challenged. Our local businesses in the informal sectors would be able to write business proposals in Hausa, the language they speak the best acquire loans. For further financial inclusion that alienate people in rural area would be easier with banks and other corporate institutions engaging customers in Hausa. Our kids would have unfettered access to practical science in their language. This would create jobs for thousands of starved translators, consultants, ICT industry which are a step away from total collapse.

It is even a good bad idea to recognize Yoruba, Igbo and Pidgin official languages. Nigeria can work even better when our unity is discussed, debated and strengthened.

While it is easier said than done, it is noteworthy that Rome was not built in a day. Recognizing the three dominant languages in Nigeria would foster unity and accelerated progress because people are being engaged in their local language. The challenge associated with the transition can be easily overcome if our policymakers are willing to do the needful. Technology has made language translation easier and faster than ever before.           

It is high time the Federal Government understood this reality. To get accurate data about socioeconomic progress in northern Nigeria, our lawmakers must recognize Hausa as an official language. The transition would pave the way for speedy educational and socioeconomic equality.

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