I had a long conversation with my friend Jeff Uzor about Igbo Language and its compulsory inclusion at all levels of education in Imo State. This discourse opened my eyes that many of us do not know the potentials of our language and what it can translate into for us. I will preface this submission by first submitting that we have not seen our language, especially, the Igbo language as what it really is. Beyond just a means of communication amongst Ndigbo, the Mercantilism in us as a people, changes the dynamics of this language as both a product and a tool for wealth.
China has at least 100 million people who do business directly with Igbos. India has more than 50 million. Turkey has up to 1 million. USA and UK similar numbers and the list goes on. The Igbo Language is the most widely spread Language out of Africa (It is not however not nearly the most widely spoken though), but by virtue of the penetration of Ndigbo globally, it cannot be denied that we have both the potentials of taking advantage of this penetration to make tons of money and the capacity to achieve same in terms of manpower. I shall explain.
The 150-200 million people who do business with Ndigbo globally would be more than willing to learn the Igbo Language and to communicate in it as an edge to gleaning some of the best customers they have in the market. Ndigbo buy in bulk, but continually and sell in every country in the world including Cuba and Mongolia! If learning Igbo costs an average of $100, That translates to $15-20 Billion. And if spread over 10 years, that means that our language alone has the potential to earn $1.5-2.0 billion per annum (N500 – 700 Billion). And who will teach the language: The same youth who do not have jobs today! And even if 100,000 Igbos engage in tutoring Igbo Language, they can make between N5-7 million per annum.
The best part is: with cheap data and internet penetration, teachers can run online classes from the comfort of their homes and earn hard currency. This is trend that has already caught on globally for language tutorship. But then again, this can only be possible when we standardize the instruction and certification of Igbo Language. And where best to start than in our educational system by making the language compulsory.
The major challenge against the rise and spread of Igbo Language is that we the Igbos have very little regard for our language. Parents of Igbo extraction instruct their Children in English Language on the assumption that Igbo Language is inferior. It reminds of how parents beat their children in the past for going to play football. All that nonsense has since changed, thank heavens. Our attitude towards Igbo Language needs to massively shift. I was raised by parent who were so proud of Igbo Language and culture that none of their Children have English or foreign names. My father will openly insist that Foreigners do not give their children Igbo names. He therefore has no business giving his children foreign names.
Such awakening must spring forth in us. This is what will create that sense of value in the language and culture. Our governors and leaders, just like how we have progressively tried to put our dressing on the world stage MUST do the same with our language and culture. Any Igbo man outside of Nigeria will agree that our dressing remains a thing of awe for the Western nations. They are both curious and amazed. Africa and Igbos in particular cannot continue to be known for dance and handcrafts only. We have a language and something valuable to offer the world. English was spoken world over because the Britons exported their language alongside colonialism. They did not just go to take resources. They tipped the scale in their balance by stamping their language on every place they set foot on.
It is absolutely sad that our youth of today simply see Igbo Culture as “fetish”, our Language as “inferior” and parent will gladly tell you that their children cannot speak Igbo… a child that was born in and resident in Owerri or Umuahia! We are watching before our eyes, our heritage disappearing. Our collective heirloom that has the potential of lifting tons of us from poverty, yet we rile and scorn it every day. This is indeed sad.
I thoroughly salute Professor Viola Onwuliri for her decision to make Igbo Language compulsory. And when all Igbo states key in, and our generations to come appreciate our language a bit me will stop this idiocy of exalting the English Language over our bo Language
Obinna Onyeka Mgbeahurike