In a recent presentation, Kamala Haris, the Vice President of the United States declared, “Unity is our strength, and diversity, our power.” As the first black woman in the position of Vice President, Haris has a full grasp of the gains in cultural diversity. This expression by the US Vice President equally captures the cultural mix of a nation like Nigeria, one of the most culturally diverse nations in the world with over 250 ethnic groups speaking over 521 languages and over 1,150 dialects.
Our language is our identity and it is the vehicle that drives or showcases our culture. Language is a conveyor of culture, and it preserves a cultural tradition from generation to generation. It explains and breaks cultural inhibitions.
Sadly, some parents and guardians refuse to encourage their children or wards to speak their dialect and other Nigerian languages. In a heterogeneous classroom that has pupils from different tribal settings, teachers tend to discourage pupils from speaking their languages. We have played down so much on our indigenous languages that the youth especially feel ashamed to speak their language among themselves.
In the cities, many parents don’t speak their language to their children. The elite are busy planning for the relocation of their children to foreign lands. They want their wives to give birth abroad so that their children will have dual citizenship. Yet no matter our level of proficiency in the English language, we are compelled to take English exams to qualify for study in some foreign countries. That’s an indictment of our capacity to understand their language. That means we are not included in their linguistic landscape because we don’t belong there.
We are embedded in our culture, and at the same time, struggling so hard to express that culture in a foreign language. It is a dilemma. That is why this generation of young people can’t understand the nuances, values, and norms of their languages. We have left them at the mercy of social media.
Our educational system prevents students from studying their preferred courses because they fail English. Meanwhile, we bring expatriates who can barely speak English to man construction sites and other major projects.
Statistics show that there are more than 200 languages in Igbo land, for example. These have not been harnessed for lasting peace and stability, as there are persistent communal conflicts and boundary disputes among indigenes in the region and other parts of the country.
The fact remains that Nigeria is a multilingual and multicultural entity. Given this complexity, English has played a role in solving some problems. But we emphasize so much on the English language that we have almost destroyed other indigenous languages. Many of them are already going into extinction by the day. If a language dies, it means the culture of the people is dead.
In harnessing our culture, we must encourage the use of our languages. It starts from the home. That means if we want to protect our languages, we must persuade our children from the early stage to have pride in their indigenous languages. When children begin to grow in that knowledge, they will no longer see other languages and cultures as better than theirs.
If we can develop to an extent majority of the indigenous languages in Nigeria, it will go a long way to create a sense of patriotism. In adopting a framework for the development of an acceptable lingua franca for Nigeria, relevant organizations have to be engaged to establish centers for indigenous languages. People will be encouraged to train as teachers and deployed in schools and other target areas.
It is good to know that the National Institute for Cultural Reorientation has a scheme called the ‘Nigerian Indigenous Language Programme’ in which Nigerian languages are taught in ten centers at two or three different levels. with an offer of a Diploma in Cultural Administration. At this center, young people are taught languages of their choice, and also encouraged to choose another Nigerian language.
Cultural diversity extends beyond languages. It incorporates the traditional and exotic mix of cuisines, attires, and other adornments in crafts and ornament pieces, festivals, hills, and other diverse forms of cultures across every part of the nation.
Over the years, the country has put in place several policies to promote cultural integration and nation-building, prominent of which the national youth service scheme (NYSC) was created in 1973. But we have not fully harnessed and utilized such diversity for nation-building as we have observed in some climes. The likes of China have effectively utilized their language and culture for national integration, development, and growth.
Part of our problem is a civilization that has come to deal with our culture decisively. We politicize our diversity and use it as a tool to promote narrow political interests and sentiments rather than take advantage of our differences.
The family is the first cultural incubator. Culture holds the key to growth, oneness, integration, identity, development, and progress. Nigeria offers some of the best cultures in Africa and even in the world. Our collective identity can only be enhanced if and when we collectively utilize this rich cultural heritage and tradition.
Relevant institutions should mobilize cultural resources because they form the basis that makes Nigeria what it is. As social beings, we should devise some means of improving our culture in unique ways for them to be preserved and transferred through human interaction from generation to generation. It is time to start sustaining our cultural and archeological heritage for the benefit of the society and younger generation. It is worthy of note that Durbar, a symbolic creation of pre-colonial warfare in northern Nigeria, has been sustained over the years. It serves as a welcoming activity. There is also some semblance of Durbar in New Delhi and other places. When colonial administration surfaced in northern Nigeria, it used the Durbar ceremony to attend to august visitors. This has been the practice since 1911.
There is a notion that Nigerian society will do better if developmental programs and projects are targeted towards revamping its culture and festivals. There is no part of this country that does not have its language, culture, behavioral pattern, tradition, among others.
We need to appreciate our cultural diversity and even celebrate it outside the country. We should properly harness them to be on the path of progress and development by turning Nigeria into a tourism hub. Many countries that deal in cultural tourism are some of the biggest economies in the world. People all over the world go to Brazil to enjoy their cultural festivals. China maintains and nurtures its culture. The Chinese restaurant is part of the extension of their culture. We can also make money by projecting our identity to the outside world.
Almost everything we teach our children is about western culture. We must take deliberate steps to invest in the cultural values of our society, for instance, by regulating our music. We should have a system that ties in with what we value in our music.
We need to understand ourselves by identifying and respecting each others’ socio-cultural differences. That will enable us to coexist peacefully. Without this, we won’t harness the gains of diversity.
Categories: Culture and Lifestyle