By Gilbert Ekezie
It was a moment of honour and excitement at the maiden edition of Emume Iri ji Ohuru (New yam festival) and award ceremony organised by Bond FM, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, Lagos.
At the epoch-making event attended by who is who in all fields, Publisher of Ekwe kuo Ama agbaa, an Igbo Language Newspaper and a Real Estate Consultant, Mrs Nneka Chimezie, expressed her commitment and resolve to ensure that Igbo Language and Culture do not die, as being speculated by many.
In furtherance to the efforts in promoting Igbo interest, she revealed her plans to establish Igbo language schools in all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria.
This, she said, would go a long way in reviving the dying culture of the Igbo race. Chimezie, who was given an award at the event in recognition of her enormous contributions in the uplifting and sustenance of the Igbo language, culture and tradition, said all that she has been doing is to ensure that the Igbo language and culture do not go into extinction.
‘Before the end of 2022, we are going to establish Igbo language schools, which will serve as a yardstick to overcome the language problem, just as our children go to school to learn the English language on daily basis. If we can teach them our language and bring our culture and tradition as subjects, it will go a long way to saving the future of our children, she advised, tasking Igbo parents to make the speaking of the Igbo language compulsory at their various homes in order to encourage their children and wards to learn the long-existing language.
‘We are raising a campaign to encourage parents to make it mandatory for Igbo to be the only language to be spoken at home. If it means making a law that if anyone speaks the English language, the person will pay a fine, as applicable in my house. Also, in my office, if an Igbo person, speaks any other language, other than Igbo, the person will pay a fine. In fact, that has forced my children and those around me to consciously put their energy into speaking the Igbo language. So, we task every Igbo parent to know the danger of our children not speaking the language. Unfortunately, some of them will tell you that their children can hear, but can’t speak, which is as good as not speaking, because their children will not even hear. The danger is that if our children cannot speak our language, they cannot transfer it to their own children. Remember, language is something you transfer from generation to generation, so if our generation can only transfer hearing, and not speaking, eventually, it will go into extinction at a point. That means the future generation will not speak our language. Most importantly, I was moved to sustain the Igbo language and culture due to UNESCO’s prediction that the Igbo language will die by 2025. “There is a prediction by UNESCO that the Igbo language will go into extinction by the year 2025. Having heard that as an Igbo person whose identity is her language, I felt challenged because without one’s language, he is a lost human being. The only thing that places you and shows your identity, is your language. And, once you miss that language, you are a nobody. For instance, many of our African-Americans relations are trying to trace their roots today, but cannot, because their forefathers lost their languages. So, I am not worthy to be seen as a responsible person if I sit and watch Igbo, a language that is spoken by over 6million people to go into extinction.”
She also said she pull her resources into supporting the growth and development of the Igbo language, that was the reason she was invited by Bond FM for an award “I took it upon myself to do whatever it takes to promote the Igbo language, I put my energy and resources into it, to make sure that my language does not go into extinction. That is what I have been doing and people and organisations like Bond FM saw it and found it worthy to honour me with an award.’
Chimezie, who is a member of Indigenous Language and Culture Initiative also informed that they celebrate mother tongue day, where they organise awareness programmes and visit schools to ascertain how much Igbo language is being taught and spoken.”In fact, it was in the course of our work that we discovered that 90% of the children that attend Private Schools are Igbos. And you would as well know that Lagos State Government banned the teaching of other languages in Lagos State other than the Yoruba Language. We are raising a campaign against that declaration and we are telling them that it is unacceptable.
‘When you hear that some people went into extinction, not that the people went into extinction so to speak, it is the language, once you don’t have the people speaking their language, automatically they will vanish from the surface of the earth, because it is your language that places you at a particular place, identifies and defines you. So, we cannot stand by and watch. These are some of the achievements we have made to make sure that we sustain the Igbo language.’
Other efforts she has made in order to encourage the Igbo language is the establishment of the Igbo language newspaper Ekwe kuo Amagbaa. ‘We have an Igbo Newspaper, Ekwe kuo, Amagbaa, a newspaper we write in the Igbo language. I can assure you that ever since I started this newspaper, I have not sold it. In fact, it is this very edition that we want to start selling, and we don’t care how many we sell. What is important is we keep printing and I know that over time people will embrace it.
‘Again we have a plan, I have this organisation I belong to, Igbo Women Assembly, we are not resting, we also have a plan to establish Igbo language all over the world, so that every five minutes walk we are going to have a centre where the Igbo language is taught on a daily basis when our children come back from school, they are going to go there. If you look at Moslems, they have something like that, there are schools where they visit every evening, that is why you see their children, their culture is embedded in them, that is why because we don’t have such a thing our children have no means of learning our culture, language and tradition, what do we do? Because the father works, the mother work, the children go to school, comes back and that is it, sometimes you don’t blame them for not embracing the culture and tradition, and the language and we want to right the wrong we have done, and I have to say that it is our fault that our children are not embracing our language. They are not speaking the language, so we want to do all it takes to right the wrongs, things we failed to do before, we want to start doing them.’
Chimezie also spoke on the marriage in Igbo land and how it is been eroded by other cultures and called for the introduction of marriage counselling for Igbo children.
‘Look at the issue of match-making, which was a way of marriage for Igbo people. In the past, we had solid marriages. But these days, we see our tradition as not good enough, and have started on; Nobody can find a wife or husband for me, I need to find it myself. As a result, 80% of Igbo marriages are shaking today, due to the carefree attitude of wanting to know the root of whom we want to marry. So, we want to educate and counsel the younger ones, to avoid the marital mistakes, and to make Igbo marriages remain enviable and remarkable.’
She appealed to the management of Bond FM to continue to propagate and encourage Igbo culture to come to the limelight through the new yam festival and other Igbo related programmes.
A media practitioner with Voice of Nigeria, Lagos Office, Mrs Chibuzor Nwanedo, described the award being conferred on Chimezie as well deserved, pointing out that she is dogged, loves everything concerning Igbo Language and does not take no for an answer. “Mrs Chimezie is the Founder and Chairlady of Igbo Women Assembly that teaches women the significance of speaking and promoting the Igbo language in our various homes. For the reason that the Igbo language is said to be going into extinction, we need to promote and sustain it.’
The anchor and presenter of ‘Ikemba’ in Bond FM, Elder Kelechi Ulutorti aka MC Oxygen said the theme of the event is ‘Upholding the Igbo Culture and Tradition even in the Diaspora.
According to him, the Iwaji was supposed to be celebrated in Igbo land, but because a lot of Igbo could not travel home at that point in time.
‘Truth of the matter remains that an Igbo man is supposed to be an Igbo man, no matter where he is. So we decided to have this Iwaji festival, and at the same time, appreciate and honour some prominent Igbo people who have helped our people. The sole reason is to uphold our culture and tradition here in Lagos.
‘The awardees were chosen for what they have done in the society where they live, here in Lagos and in their towns, he or she must have touched lives,’ he said.