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Nigerian language institute sick

• Lacks facilities, staff owed, executive director has no official car

By Okey Sampson


On December 30, 1993, history was made when the National Institute for Nigerian Languages (NINLAN) was set up by Decree 117, as one of the four inter-university centres in the country. Other institutions in the same category doing immersion or acculturation for languages are the French Language Village at Badagry, Lagos, which is an acculturation and immersion centre for French students; the Arabic Language Village at Ngala, teaching Arabic language and the Mathematical Centre, Abuja, which was supposed to be doing mathematical immersion.

Now operating under Act 117 cap 50 of the National Assembly, NINLAN was established principally as the apex institution for research, teaching, documentation and co-ordination of studies in Nigerian languages. In capsule form, it is an inter-university centre for Nigerian Languages.  Part II (7) of the Act establishing the institute empowers it to explore ways to encourage the learning of Nigerian languages in an environment, which will prepare her students to, among others, speak Nigerian languages fluently and stimulate general concepts, practices and interests in communicating in Nigerian languages.

Make up

By this, if one is learning Igbo in a College of Education, for instance, and he needs acculturation, then NINLAN would serve his purpose because it is for people who are doing language as an L2; that is as a second language, language that is different from theirs. It also has the mandate of awarding testimonials, certificates, diplomas and degrees to persons, who complete their courses of study. Aside from serving as research centre into problems of learning and teaching as well as centre for the exchange of information in the study of Nigerian languages, NINLAN serves the interest of diplomats, foreigners and business associates willing to learn Nigerian languages.

Before NINLAN was established, a National Language Centre was created in the Federal Ministry of Education as a means of having a centralised co-ordinating body for Nigerian languages. By 1987, the then military government established the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) and the activities of the National Language Centre transferred to it. However, boxed to an uncomfortable corner that the nation was yet to sing halleluiah in her quest for the co-ordination of the requirements for the use of Nigerian languages in education when the Federal Government in 1993 established NINLAN, having felt that search had been found, transferred the activities of the Language Development Centre in NERDC to the institute.

NINLAN presently operates under four schools: School of Linguistics and Nigerian Languages under which are the departments of Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba and Tiv with L1 and L2 programmes except Tiv that has only L1 programme. School of Education and Ancillary Studies, comprising departments of Teacher Education and General Studies; School of Communication and Translation Studies, which has departments of Mass Communication and Translation Studies and School of Postgraduate Studies, which offer advanced courses.


Latent argument

There has been this latent argument over the veracity or otherwise of the establishment of an institute of Nigerian languages. Those on this line of argument were of the view that it amounted to duplicity of purpose to have such institute since most Nigerian universities have departments of linguistics. But Professor Ben Elugbe, the Executive Director of NINLAN, said in an interview that the challenge of advocating Nigerian languages was best faced by an institute, such as NINLAN.

He explained further: “NINLAN is different from university departments of Linguistics and Nigerian/African Languages in that they teach Nigerian language courses designed for L1 – i.e. native speakers, while we are to teach Nigerian languages, especially the major ones as L2 – i.e. for non-native speakers. Thus we teach Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba the same way the universities teach foreign languages, such as German, Russian, etc. The L2 programme will allow Nigerians to teach Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba as the case may be in their states or linguistic localities.”

Prof Elugbe, in making further clarification, said: “Nigerians generally see teaching as a last option. NINLAN’s products would be professional teachers, which the students of Linguistics and Nigerian Languages in the universities are not. NINLAN will be offering B.A (ED) in Linguistics, Igbo Hausa, Yoruba etc, ensuring, for instance, that non-Igbo teach Igbo language, non-Hausas teach Hausa language and non-Yorubas teach Yoruba language, etc.”

He said that NINLAN was the only institution under Nigerian Universities Commission’s (NUC) supervision, where the three major Nigerian languages of Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba are taught both as L2 and as L1.

Hear Prof Elugbe further: “Above all, we are supposed to be the answer to the questions or the problems of implementing the national policy on education 1977 and 1981. In its original form, that policy required that Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba languages must be taught in the secondary schools and then also, of course, the major languages in certain states like Effik, Kanuri, Edo and so on should also  be encouraged. With this, at the time of leaving secondary school, we were supposed to take one of them, which is not ours. By this, if one was Igbo, he will take any of the other major two languages – Hausa of Yoruba and if the person is not from any of the three major ethnic groups, then he will be free to take any of them because he was supposed to take a major Nigerian language that was not his.”

The NINLAN boss was of the opinion that was the policy part of it originally introduced by the colonial masters in 1922 and 1924 for British territories in West Africa,  which stated that a child should be introduced to education in his mother tongue for the first three years. Properly pursued, it would have led to a time when Nigerians would always have a Nigerian language in common as there was unity intention in the policy.

“So, we were supposed to be the answer to that because we would produce graduates and diploma holders in Nigerian languages because one of the major problems of that policy was that we did not have the graduates, we did not have the teachers, people who can teach Nigerian languages.  The result  is that you are suppose to pass one of the three languages, but the policy foresaw that it may become a serious issue, it didn’t say whether you must pass or not, it didn’t say whether it is compulsory to pass but it is compulsory to take. In fact, there were no sanctions for not meeting the requirements for Nigerian languages in our secondary school education. Government should try and address the issue of this policy, because policy is more than language but because language is the vehicle, the medium of instruction, it was necessary that the language issue be addressed and the founding of NINLAN, like I said earlier, was the solution to it,” Prof Elugbe asserted.


Although NINLAN is a world class concept in every material particular, it has suffered serious neglect. In a manner of speaking, it looks like relics of war. It is littered with abandoned and dilapidated facilities.

Mr Nnamdi Cos-Ukwuoma, a public affairs analyst and media strategist, succintly captured the situation thus: “It is heart-rending to note here that no meaningful attention has been given to this innovative institute since inception in 1993. The institute is yet to get a take-off grant, whereas other centres have all got the approved fund and much more.  Over two decades after its establishment, this novel institute has remained undeveloped with only meagre facilities. Rather, it has been an object of mindless politics and discriminatory treatment by our policy makers and budget preparation and implementation authorities.”

Cos-Ukwuoma, who visited the institute recentlt, added: “Worse still, South East leaders in the National Assembly and governments have not shown interest in defending the cause of a significant Federal Government establishment in their zone, which has a very good potential of becoming a full-fledged university, providing jobs to the youths and improving the economic condition of the area where it is sited.

“It is funny that the Nigerian government has striven to promote foreign languages and fund centres for such languages with enormous resources while leaving the one established to promote Nigerian languages to die. It is equally frustrating to note that Nigeria leaders seem to treat anything ‘Nigerian’ with ignominious attitude while celebrating foreigners – their languages, cultures and products. This is an aberration and an unfortunate situation in our education sector and other sectors.”

Indeed, NINLAN could be likened to a brilliant child whose parents feign ignorance of their responsibilities to and left unattended. Consider Prof Elugbe’s view about the institute: “This institute is a wonderful idea, but it’s not being funded. It came back in 2013 and didn’t get money, so salaries of workers were being paid this year.”

If you think that was all you may be in for a shocker. The institute is so poor that it could not afford the luxury of buying an official car for the Executive Director, who moves around town in a bus.

“I have been going around in a bus; there is no money to buy an official car for me, not to talk of other officers. Because our students’ base is not yet there, we do not have an Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) that can simply hold the management of this place together financially. All we have is that little secondary school there and you must pay the teachers and equip the place. So, things have not been easy for NINLAN,” Prof Elugbe said.

What NINLAN lacked in money and infrastructure, it has in super abundance in land mass. The institute has a landmass of 209 hectares but without perimeter wall. Due to paucity of funds, the school cannot even clear the bushes within not to talk of walling it round, whose cost is put at about N150million. What the institute had done instead was to invite local farmers to rent little pieces so that when they work their farms, the part they work is opened and this stretched down over two kilometres from the main gate.

Security in the institute is also poor. In fact, the porous nature of the institute, occasioned by lack of perimeter walls, engenders serious security risk. In 2010, one student and four staff were kidnapped right inside the campus as they were leaving the academic side of the school.

If lack of funds and other sundry issues outlined earlier were cogs in the wheel of progress of NINLAN, the biggest problem which really brought it to its knees was the attempted scrapping of the institute by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration in 2007. According to Prof Elugbe, “all the progress we made during 2004-2005 when I first came here was stopped by the emergence of the ‘Scrap NINLAN’ sword, which first appeared late in 2005 and more clearly in January 2006. Both in 2006 and 2007, when we were denied a budget as a result of this plan, the National Assembly gave us a budget on the grounds that we exist in law. We had grave problems accessing even the recurrent aspects of the 2006 budget even as the 2007 was totally cancelled.”

It was gathered that out of the four inter-university centres in the country, it was only NINLAN that was merged with a university, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN). This is despite the fact that it was establish by law and that law was not repelled. Another aspect of  it was that when the directive came from the Federal Government, the other supposed affiliating universities set up committees to look at the wisdom of that directive and came out with reports that the centres should not only be allowed to exist on their own but also be properly funded. But UNN rushed to take over NINLAN and during this period of the merger, the institute lost over N1 billion in subvention and UNN was not funding the place. To make matters worse, when UNN left, it went with its students when the merger failed, leaving the institute at its own mercy.

Prof Elugbe put the situation then in this touchy and sad tone: “This is my second coming to this place. I came in 2004 and left mid way through 2007, following the decision to wind down NINLAN and hand it over to UNN. But some patriotic staff took a case to the court and on May 13, 2013, the Federal High Court, sitting at Umuahia delivered judgment, bringing NINLAN, its governing council and the Executive Director back. That’s how I found myself back here and I thank government for obeying the law.

“I discovered that what I left is not what I found when I came back. You would expect that in seven years, even with as little as N10 million capital allocation per year, there ought to be some improvement in the place but I found that, that was not the case. So, I was obviously very sad because if NINLAN had continued from then till now, this place, I’m sure, would have been something else and full of students.”

However, the pig-headed headache, which the institute has in this direction, according Elugbe, was recent versions of the national policy on education, which have whittled down language requirements which, perhaps, in the first place, gave the leeway of muting the idea to scrap NINLAN thinking albeit wrongly it had out lived its purpose. The institute’s Executive Director faulted this, advising Nigeria to instead take a queue from Japan, which he said were great today because they were faithful to their language and culture.

“As it stands now in Nigeria, parents have come to the conclusion that given the power of English in Nigerian society, they will need to make their children English children. By that, I mean they will make their children to start speaking English right from their mother’s lap. But for that to work, those children will have to be on the lap of English mothers. You know, our mothers are not English mothers. Second, they will have to ensure that their children are in English culture and we are not in English culture, we are in Nigerian culture and even within Nigeria, we are in different cultures. You are trying to make your child an English person and for him to speak English like an English person. But you are not in a position to make him an English person because you are not an English person. You are not in an English culture or environment so that child will not make it. The child will be half baked or at best end up with Nigerian pigin.

Inadequate subvention

Like any other, the institute is supposed to receive subvention from the Federal Government but what it gets annually is laughable. Prof Elugbe said: “When I came in 2004, what we were getting was very small. It started from N10million to N25million and then to N60million per annum. But now we are back; we wrote during the budget defence; we pleaded with the Senate and House of Representatives committees on education and have written to the Federal Ministry of Education of the need to increase our subvention. For eight years it was under UNN, this place received nothing and during those years, Arabic Village, Ngala; French Village, Badagry and Mathematical Centre, Abuja were all receiving capital allocation and developing themselves.

“I’m ready to go before anybody to let them know what NINLAN is suffering; it is wretched when you look at the condition.  In the 2015 budget, we have N53million and they tied it to two buildings, one is administration building and the other one is classroom block. We are supposed to have N38million for the year as overhead, but it is not enough for an institute that needs about N4.5billion to be resuscitated. To clear the grassland here, we are going to look for money elsewhere and this means that the perimeter wall is not going to be done this year unless somebody comes from somewhere to show us mercy or the Federal Government itself suddenly wakes up to its responsibility to us.”

Although one can say that it is not yet Uhuru for NINLAN, the  Council has taken steps to ensure there was light at the end of the tunnel. Indeed, with the coming back of Council, there is sustained employment of academic staff that was almost halved during the locust years.   With strengthened staff strength, the institute says it’s ready for the visit of NUC for accreditation to run degree programmes.

“As we speak right now, we have enough academic staff to start what we want to do. There are some people who want to come on sabbatical; there are part time people and so on and so forth. Right now, I think of the professorial cadre, we have enough as well as in the other cadres,” enthused the Executive Director.

As they say that no one person could man the post as well as play in the middle of the field at the same time during a football match, observers says there should have been synergy between NINLAN and the people’s representatives at the National Assembly to push for this, has not been the case. “This is an issue I remember that a member of the House of Representatives approached me and asked me whether they were denying us our right to run a degree programme. He said that I should bring the matter to the House, which was not done,” he lamented.



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