Language is fundamental in the cultural and political development of any nation, and it helps to integrate people between cultures. Language helps one to express his thoughts, ideals, feelings, but whenever the knowledge of a language is lacked, one becomes incapacitated and alienated.
Before the Nigeria civil war, when western education came, many Igbo elites who embraced western education prefer to speak English Language in the midst of those who lack such knowledge. To most of them it is a way to express superiority over illiterates. In an attempt to measure up, people were forced to learn and speak English language to the detriment of their own language – Igbo. The noise being made by elites about this foreign language in various Igbo communities make people feel that speaking Igbo language is an abomination. This has resulted to the speaking of English language by both old and young in the various Igbo communities rightly or wrongly. It is disheartening to note that the elite who are supposed to foster the growth of Igbo language are the worst victims of the situation.
In many homes with educated parents, children are only communicated with in English language and not in their native language. As a result, the illiterates who feel that they are being messed up by the elites now send their children to very good schools. Some even flog their children if they hear them speak Igbo. They even prefer them speaking Pidgin English than Igbo. To make the situation worse, most of the Igbo people are masters of other people’s languages. Many Igbo people who are resident in Hausa lands prefer to speak Hausa to their children than Igbo. So are those in Yoruba land. Those who find themselves in America, Britain or other parts of Europe speak strange languages to their children, thereby helping the Igbo language to go into extinction.
There is nothing wrong in knowing other people’s languages but such should not be preferred to one’s own native language in the case of some Igbo today. This makes it very difficult for children born to Igbo parents to appreciate the culture of the Igbo since they do not have knowledge of the Igbo language and culture. In Igboland, a bird is called “Nnunu” and most children do not know that. If you ask many Igbo children resident outside Igboland what a bird is called in the native language of their residents, they will surely give you the answer before the question is concluded. Today many Igbo children marry on the streets because they were not taught or involved in Igbo marriages. Many do not know that their parents, kinsmen, relations are to be involved in such ceremony. How can you have a proper understanding of these factors when the knowledge of the custom of Igbo language is neglected? People who have in-depth knowledge of the custom of Igbo are mostly those who know and appreciate the language.
In the highly Christianized Igbo society today, you just find out that our Lord and Master Jesus Christ is at home with the Igbo language. His name did not only spread throughout Igboland, but He has actually become their Lord and Saviour. Jesus speaks Igbo language because He is the origin of it and as such uses it to communicate the message of salvation to many. Today, the Igboman finds in the word of God some of the accepted laws and customs of the Igbo people, thereby finding their root and origin from God Himself. Jesus is not a stranger in Igboland hence certain of the Christian laws are found among the Igbo people. In the olden days it is rare to witness divorce amongst the Igbo, telling us that the ancient Igbo walked with God. This is why it is dangerous for Igbo children, especially those whose parents do not know Igbo language, to take hold of other people’s culture which they know nothing about.
As an individual I believe that ideology has a bit of its root from language. How can one represent Igbo ideology when he is ignorant of the language? If the language is lost, what then will remain of the identity of the Igbo nation? It pains me on how people frown at certain Igbo dialects but yet are willing to learn other strange languages and dialects which are even more difficult than the Greek language. If we do not believe in projecting our own native language, how can we have the same ideology? A close watch at meetings (traditional, political and religious) reveals that the educated ones (western education) find joy in speaking English language to a lot of people who do not have the same knowledge. At the end the ideas which they have suggested will hardly be understood by those who cannot speak and understand English language very well. Many, who speak in foreign languages other than the Igbo language in meetings, often end up being misunderstood, because of the problem of leaving their ideas halfway or kill it due to wrong communication approach. This has led to lack of direction in most Igbo meetings.
Most people, who were appointed commissioners for culture in some Igbo speaking States in the past, were actually speaking strange languages to their people. This led to the failure in achieving the needed objectives. Many of them were busy promoting western cultures and languages. The Igbo should learn a lesson from the mistakes of the people in the past. At this juncture, it has become necessary to give our language a good footing by teaching ourselves, children and others. We will also communicate the truth of the Gospel better in Igbo language when we understand that our Lord and Master Jesus Christ loves this very language – Igbo! Igbo language has to be promoted and taken seriously as if it is one of our daily menus. I wish every Igbo should accept this as a mistake and then take appropriate corrections to ensuring that the language grows. Steps should be taken to ensure that parents encourage their children to speak Igbo language at all times. It is the language Jesus loves to speak!