Using language to unify Nigeria




Prof. Abdallah

The need to uphold sanity of language in a cosmopolitan society like Nigeria has been canvassed especially now that the country needs to uphold its unity even in diversity. ELEOJO IDACHABA writes.

It has often been said that the nation is at the threshold of a break-up because of the utterances of some individuals that are capable of setting the nation on fire.

 This has been the phenomenon especially since June 1993 when what was adjudged the freest election conducted in the history of the country was annulled by the military. The argument thereafter was that the unannounced winner of that election, the late Chief MKO Abiola, was denied the seat of power because he came from a certain part of the country. However, developments since then have proved that argument wrong. Despite that, a lot of commentaries from many fiery speakers still appear to shake the foundation of the country.

No wonder some nay-sayers, a few years back said Nigeria would disintegrate within a few years. Although that has been proved wrong;, events, especially in the last four years in the life of the present administration however, shows that not only is the country on the path towards disintegration, but has also not learnt the bitter lessons from the civil war in which it was said that over three million lives were lost.

The comments of some Arewa youths and other ethnic groups about the unity of Nigeria in recent times also call for concern. For example, in 2014, some Arewa youths gave non-northerners residing in the north including the FCT an ultimatum to leave the territory or be ready to face the consequences. This utterance, though condemned shook the foundation of the country because of the reprisal implication it would have on the fragile unity of the country.

Also, the utterances of clergy men in churches and mosques did not help matters. This is because of the sentiments Nigerians attach to religion. Because of these, the nation has been said to be on a precipice over the years.  

It was probably in consideration of this and many more that the Department of Languages, National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) in collaboration with English Scholars Association of Nigeria (ESAN) organised a three-day conference at its headquarter in Abuja between September 16 and 19, 2019 on the theme: ‘English Language and Literature for National Integration and Sustainable Development’ in order to brainstorm on the way out.

The event which was declared open by the vice chancellor of the university, Professor Abdalla Ubah Adamu who was represented by a deputy vice chancellor and chairman, Local Organising Committee (LOC), Professor Joy Eyisi, said Nigeria is facing serious threat of disintegration because of misunderstanding in language. According to her, “English must emphasise the need for peaceful co-existence. Therefore, the Department of English and Languages must emphasise applied linguistics in order to help the government in its drive towards unity.”

She said the theme of the conference was apt for Nigeria at the present moment when the country is in dire need of what can unite her rather than what can divide her.

The special guest of honour, HRH Hon Justice Sidi Bage Muhammad, a retired justice of the Supreme Court and now Emir of Lafia, in his remarks went down memory lane that in his days at the law school, every lawyer was charged on the use of language because that was the only way a lawyer can communicate his argument to convince the judge and avoid confusion. He said that was emphasised because English Language, which is the medium of communication in the country, should be rendered in a way that would help to mould the society.

According to him, “People are not properly informed about certain things because of a breach in communication; that is why English must take its rightful place as the backbone of education.

“We are looking for those things that can integrate us for development in order to move the nation forward.”

The guest lecturer, Professor Amina Abubakar Bashir, from the Federal University Dutse, in her lecture said the academic calendar of educational institutions need to be re-evaluated in order to be tailored towards a language useful for the society.

The three day conference which has resource persons from other higher institutions in the country was attended by the president of ESAN, Professor Babatunde Timothy and other members of the association from various higher institutions in Nigeria.  




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