A lot of times, people argue that Nigerians foolishly abandoned their cultural heritage and their languages to adopt English, Christianity and Islam but I think there is no need for that assertion especially with the fact that we look at it from a negative perspective.
As much as many of us aren’t satisfied with the present situation in the country, it doesn’t mean we should frown at everything that has to do with Nigeria. We are subject to evolving and almost every country had something they developed from, a language they spoke that became influenced by another language whether through being run over by war, trade, intermarriage, migration or colonialism.
As long as there are interactions with other people of diverse cultures and languages, cultures and languages must mix, change and may even give way for what seems to be more influential. Britain used to be a pagan country, there was a time Christianity was the minority religion of that region and same can be said of Rome and just any other place where we often assume had Christianity as an indigenous religion. No nation in this world had Christianity or even Islam as indigenous religion.
What we know today as England was highly influenced by Anglo-Saxon migration from Germany in the mid 5th century and Anglo-Saxon paganism was dominant in England till Christianity was introduced and started gaining ground. So, criticizing Nigeria for becoming too Christian or Islamic other than their indigenous religion or practices is out of place. As a person, such arguments don’t make me feel bad for bearing an English name alongside my Igbo name, it doesn’t make me feel bad for being born into a Christian family and I am an advocate of same faith today.
I have seen a comparison between India and Nigeria in terms of language and religion and I think it won’t be fair to compare India and Nigeria as regards to religion and language in modern times. While I wouldn’t delve into what India used to be in ancient times, I would do a little justice to it only with regards to modern history. Maybe, we should look at the United States of America for that comparison on Nigeria in terms of religion and language but not India which doesn’t have the specifics that Nigeria had.
India isn’t extremely multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-religion like Nigeria, to some extent it is and to a very great extent, it is not. Almost all Indians practice the same religion, Pakistan separated majorly on a religious basis. Urdu spoken by the majority of Pakistanis is just like a dialect of Hindi just like Dakhini and Rekhta. Hindi is taught in Pakistani schools too just as Urdu may likely be taught in some Indian schools. However, Hindi isn’t the national language of India and many South Indians have been protesting that Hindi is being imposed on them even while they aren’t Hindi regions. Many Indians still speak English when they want to communicate with their non-Hindi speaking fellows.
Nigeria is very different in this regard. In the Igbo language alone, there are approximately more than 30 dialects that aren’t even mutually intelligible. Till date, a standardized Igbo language is still very difficult because of the challenge as a result of the dialects not being mutually intelligible.
In most part of Nigeria that wasn’t conquered by Islam, they didn’t have an organized religion as each family had their own personal idols. African Traditional Religion is not an organized religion and doesn’t reconcile with each other. Each family communes with their own ancestors while there is a chief priest for the community to serve the community god. The same thing that made Christianity prevail in Britain, Rome and some other places is what is making it prevail in Nigeria (so can be said of Islam).
Hinduism is an organized religion practised by nearly 80% of Indians. It is a different case for Nigeria just like every country that shares the same features as ours. Nigeria has 520 languages and only 9 out of this 520 has gone extinct while India lists only 22 languages in their constitution with a majority of almost 70% speaking Hindi. Out of these 520 languages in Nigeria, which of the languages should serve as the official language? If we say the majority being “Hausa”, then we would have the same problem India is having in South India.
To be able to flow well in communication locally as we are very diversified, the English language wasn’t such a bad thing to have been adopted, we can’t even do away with it as it were. Same can be said of religion where Nigerians originally didn’t have any organized religion. This is why Islam was able to conquer the North and Christianity was able to penetrate easily to places where Islam hadn’t conquered. There was no organized religion in Nigeria like Indians had. When the English people came, they couldn’t penetrate some core Muslim areas of Northern Nigeria with Christianity because organized religion has already been established there.
Look at the USA which is very multi-lingual with respect to the history of that country. Today, English is the only official language on the federal level and we now have American variant of the English language that is being studied as a different dialect with its own dictionary. Same can be said of Australia which also had more than 400 aboriginal languages. The USA has 420+ indigenous languages before colonialism and some of these languages are still been spoken till today.
When it comes to language and religion, I don’t think it is a Nigerian issue. It is a general issue and we can only try to revive cultures and languages but when it is done with, it is done with. Who still speaks Latin today? During the time of Jesus, the Jews weren’t speaking ancient Hebrew anymore, they were speaking Greek and Aramaic, Greek was what served as the official language of those days especially in academics.
like American English and Australian English, there is presently what is known as Nigerian English or Nigeria Standard English. England itself which happens to be the English land didn’t use to speak English. English developed from a German language, it used to be a dialect until it evolved into what it was today.
We are subject to change and nothing can stop it, every language today were results of change, interactions, developments and migrations. If you are looking for the ancient Greek, Britain or Roman heritage, you should be looking at the Museum. Humanity is progressive, directly or indirectly, we are open to changes and we are open to adopting different lifestyles and culture when it is necessary. Some Igbo cultural wears today isn’t indigenous to the Igbo nations the same as some foods and even names of foods.
The Igbo name for Lady’s finger, Okwuru, was borrowed by the English people to name it Okro. In the same way, every culture, every language and even every skin colour will always produce something new when they interact. This is why nothing is more important than focusing on human problems and solving them rather trying to maintain Ancient cultures, languages and so on when it seemed their time is winding up.
So, of all the problems facing Nigerians as a country with regards to the poor leadership systems of the political class, the elites and even the academic institutions, I don’t think cultural change, conversion from traditional religion, change of dressings and lingual influences is one of it. The best we can do as a people is to put our fading cultural heritages in the museum, improve in our literary representation of them but forge ahead to develop along with every other human on earth. We have a bigger problem facing us and it is the problem of hatred, racism, nationalism, tribalism, corruption, greed and so on… Let’s channel; our energy on those things.