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Before our wise men fool us: On alien languages

You cannot change history. But you can get it right to start with. -Eliezer Yudkowsky.
I have read and heard some journalists and other pundits educating us. Their theme is that the insertion of Arabic language into secondary school level curricular is not religious, is not about Islamising Nigeria. If these men had spoken or written, as they best know, it would have been tolerable even if unenlightening. But for them to posture they are educating the rest of us, makes their case not only farcical but doubly ignorant.
A typical argument, impertinent in tone, goes like this: “Arabic is not Islam. You may be wrong if you believe that the insertion of Arabic in the secondary school curriculum as a foreign language elective is a path to the “Islamisation” of Nigeria. Your ignorance is pardonable. Why? I used to think that way too… by sentiment and emotion…. Now, here is my point. Arabic is a “staple” language in much of Africa – North, and some parts of East and West Africa. It is spoken by over 420 million people, making it the sixth most spoken language in the world…. Again, there are many Christian Arabs – in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, etc., who speak the language. Why haven’t they been religiously sterilised? In fact, there is an Arabic Bible used by Christians in the Middle East. It is just a language, people. So, this hue and cry about the Islamisation of Nigeria through the learning of Arabic is needless.’’ -Fredrick Nwabufo, The Cable, 24-06-2017.
All he has established are general data, not facts in their specificity. It is like the statistics of averages. For example, the average American is worth 500,000.00 dollars, say. But that data is fanciful for millions of Americans, who are poorer than the Ikoyi houseboys. So, it is not enough to reel out general facts, specific details are important in individualised cases.
The details are as follows. Arabic as the writer self-confesses is the sixth most spoken language. That is, there are five other more bestseller languages before Arabic. One of those is English, which is our colonially received language. So, we discount her. And the rest are: Mandarin/China, Spanish/Spain, Hindi/India and Russian.
The first poser is why jump the queue to choose Arabic? The only suggestion is that it is a ‘‘staple’’ language, whatever that means, in Africa. The fact of Arabic being a staple in [West] Africa is fiction. Nigeria at 180 million people is a modal West African state. With about half of that number being Muslims, Nigeria is also a bellwether Islamic region. The fact of it is that Nigerians, who can read Arabic are a negligible number. Traditionally, only those who could read Koran in the original/Arabic, especially in the North, were revered as mallams/teachers. Well, your guess is as good as mine, on the population of mallams in Nigeria. In fact, the rite of being a mallam was so rare, that the fact of it was thus a considerable honour. Even now, that the prequalification to ‘‘mallamship’’ is deregulated, the population of Nigerian mallams is still negligible. That is, Arabic is not a staple language in Nigeria, a modal state. Nigeria, by the way, is about 50% of the West African population. Even if for the purposes of arguments we assume the fiction of staple language as fact, what does it imply?
The truth is that Arabic is spoken in Nigeria and much of West Africa, as a priestly or religious language. That is, Arabic is essentially a language of Islamic religion in Nigeria and much of West Africa. It is only in North Africa and Middle East, that Arabic is used as a language of daily life, for commerce, technology and scholarship. In all this, it is important to state that being literate in Arabic is not a pillar of Islam. For Muslims, speaking Arabic as a second language is a matter of priestly scholarship, not devotion. So, one is no less Muslim for his inability to speak Arabic. Speaking Arabic for the faithful, is like jara. You can’t demand it.
Yet, the central question is: What is the criterion for choosing an alien language as an option, an official option for national curriculums? There is only one reason. It is to equip nationals for a life that comes with larger vistas. And the basis for choosing from the many alien languages available, are economics/trade, science/learning and technology. And these are aspects of life that impact ordinary citizens’ daily lives.
Historically, religion has never been a push factor for acquiring alien languages by other nations. What happened in the ‘‘difficult’’ cases of Arabic and Latin/Italian is this: At the peak of their empires/influences, they were also the languages of scholarship. That is people learnt and wrote in Arabic, more to be part of a scholarly community than to be nearer heaven. Both Isaac Newton and Muammad al-Khwrizm for instance, wrote their mathematical treatises in Latin and Arabic respectively. Perhaps, the point needs to be made, that ‘‘Caesar and Saladin’’ both imposed their alien languages on those non-Arabic and non-Italian countries they subjugated. The rite of colonials being taught the languages of their thuggish conquerors was political, not religious.
Additionally most religions have their scriptures translated into canonical vernaculars for easy evangelism, devotion and scholarship. It is only the Koran that precludes that. The Koran can’t canonically be translated. But mercifully Islam does demand one becomes an Arabic speaker.
Now, the reasons a nation chooses alien languages options are, Trade/economics, Science/learning and technology. So, why did we choose Arabic? It just cannot be for reasons of trade, science, or technology. This position is supported by the following data. Nigeria Data Portal, an online data centre, does not have one single Arabic speaking country as a major trade partner with Nigeria. The top countries are India, America, China, Spain, Netherlands, South Africa, Canada, Indonesia, Germany, France and Italy. That is, one can say that there are no economic or trade reasons to cozy-up to Arabic language.
Next, in terms of learning, it is self-evident that the Arabs/Arabic speaking countries don’t wash up. Yes, there was a time Arabic was a language for scholarship. And it produced some of the finest scholars of that era. Names like Ibn Khaldun and Averroes are gifts to learning. However, as the Warri boys tell, ‘‘I get am before no be property.’’ The extant fact is that Arabs/Arabic language, as a mode of scholarship is a joke. Again, according to the Statistics Portal online, the top 10 countries with the most registered patents 2016, are in order: America, Japan, China, Germany, South Korea, France, Britain, Netherlands Switzerland and Sweden. 2016 is a bellwether age.
And according to https://journal.lib.uoguelph.ca/index.php/perj/article/view/826/1358, the top scholarly production by language are, English, German, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Japanese, Italian, Polish and Portuguese. In all these rankings, there is no whiff of Arabic. So, it is obvious that it is not for trade, scholarship or technology that Arabic, as a language is being forced down on us and our children.
That is to say that on the basis of rationality, Hindi, Spanish and Mandarin are more widely spoken, are greater languages of civilisation and scholarship, and their nationals or speakers are greater business partners with Nigeria, than Arabic language and any Arabic speaking countries. That is on the basis of rationality alone, Hindi, Spanish, Mandarin and even Dutch, will rank above Arabic as a language option.
So, if for reasons of state, Arabic does not rank above Hindi, Mandarin, and Spanish, etc. why was Arabic then chosen? Is it because of somebody’s whim? If the answer is yes, then who is that somebody? And how can one run a national policy on the basis of his or her neurosis?
However, since individuals don’t run states, it is certain the choice of Arabic is religious, is cabalistic. That is, a Mahdi has taken over our educational system with a support team of Muslim bigots. And in such incidences, they run rings, excluding others from policy articulation. And by the time a concocted policy, say closet Arabisation or Islamisation of Nigeria is finished, it is then passed on for policy implementation. At that point, it becomes a fait accompli ‘‘concocted’’ by the whole agency/ministry.
So, to campaign that the choice of Arabic in this instance is not Islamic or about Islamisation on the basis of general data does not wash. In specific terms it is now self-evident that Arabic was chosen for non-rational, non-economic, not technological reasons. The only reason Arabic was chosen is because it is a religious pet preferment.
Yes, Arabic is merely a priestly, that is a non-required language for Muslims. But for fanatical Muslims, it is in the same league as wearing beards. It has become fashionable, a defining totem for their bigotry. That is to say, that some Nigerian Muslim evangelisers have become so rabid, so self-confident that they have gone beyond demanding the pillars of Islam for themselves. They now want to force-feed the rest of us with that which is merely fashionable, Islamically. If this is let to go, tomorrow it will be required of you that you wear beards, whether or not you are Islamic. And it makes sense, after all, beard wearing is a ‘‘staple’’ of Africa.
Last words. The guy tells us there are Arabic speaking Christians? Really? Only he cleverly forgot to add that Arabic speaking Christians are an endangered species, even in Egypt, Arab’s most cosmopolitan state. So, there is nothing to recommend the fact.
And should we learn Arabic because we are Africans? Arabic is not native to Africa. Arabic is a language of conquerors, who raped and displaced African peoples off their lands. In fact, Sudan in Arabic, spitefully means land of the black. Sudan was the last outpost of Arab marauders and morbid colonialists. And I once worked for a Fulani man, who bore the title, Sarakin Sudan. What was he really up to? Are the Fulani a yellow tribe? I am lost. Ahiazuwa.

•Ego-Alowes is the author of the classics: Minorities as Competitive Overlords and How and Why the Yoruba Fought and Lost the Biafra-Nigeria Civil War, among others. Available at Patabah Bookshops, Shoprite, Surulere Lagos.

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2 Comments

  1. Peter Okeke 29th June 2017 at 9:15 am

    Nigeria is still blessed with great minds like the columnist who has brought to light such mediocrity in education ministry’s imposition of unpopular ancient Arabic language as compulsory part of their curriculum. It is sad that such important decision as an educational policy has been handed over to shoe shiners in “Albakari” market. No wonder then the IPOB Igbo group are making a case for a referendum for a state of Biafra to escape from the dark ages imposed backward policy such as the one playing out in education ministry.

  2. mazi offor joseph okereke 29th June 2017 at 11:59 am

    it is for this gradual islamisation that religious study was yanked off including history from academic curricular. the christian association of nigeria, CAN, should sit up. if not, we all shall be taken by surprises. one should question why arabic languages in our national currency, army logo and other national emblems in a secular Nigeria if there is no ulterior motives. the federal government of today nigeria is a sod of double edges . they ask for peace from one hand and fan the ember of discord with the other hand. we are watching.

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