A good step toward repossessing Nigeria

Nigeria’s minister of Information Lai Mohammed AFP PHOTO / PIUS UTOMI EKPEI

The plan of the Federal Government to translate some classic Nigerian novels like ‘Things Fall Apart’, The Lion and the Jewel’, and ‘The passport of Mallam Illia’ into indigenous languages is such a good proposal it compels wonder at why it took so long in coming.

This plan, when executed, will certainly make those excellent works available for literary enjoyment and cultural enlightenment by many more Nigerians. It is a commendable initiative that must not fail. Indeed, it is one means by which Nigerians can repossess their cultures and their country from the ravages of cultural globalisation.

It is a shame though, that this idea is coming up decades after these books were released to the immeasurable benefit of the English-speaking – and even non-English-speaking peoples of the world. Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ has been translated into more than 50 non-Nigerian languages. Its profound exposition of traditional Igbo wisdom, its  multifaceted exploration of the tragic contradictions of human existence, its masterly weaving into each other of, on the one hand, the story of  a  tragic hero, and on the other, the  tragedy of  a community have all combined to make that novel one of the most read all over the world. These and other lessons of life are known to impact indelibly on the consciousness of everyone who reads the book.

Wole Soyinka’s ‘The Lion and the Jewel,’ which has enjoyed similar acceptance all over the world, and Cyprian Ekwensi’s ‘The Passport of Mallam Illia’ are, in very unique ways, thought-provoking and didactic books which have cemented their authors’ places in the caravan on the world’s greatest men of letters. And these are just three of the many interesting and enriching writings by Nigerians.

One immediate benefit of this proposal, if actualised, is that it would foster the appreciation and understanding of other cultures among Nigerian readers, nurture personal intellectual growth and support national unity. This is important because there is, too often, a terrible attitude of arrogance by one culture toward another due to ignorance.  Another benefit is that it is likely to encourage the culture of reading and to this end, it is suggested that more works by indigenous and African authors on African experiences should be translated for local consumption. Works by D.O Fagunwa, Amos Tutuola, and writings collectively named Onitsha market literature should be seriously considered.

Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, who announced the new proposal further spoke of plans to go beyond the book medium to adapt local writings into films, comics and television series. Beyond serving to preserve indigenous languages, these projects will definitely teach cultural values to younger ones as well as serve to preserve and disseminate to wider audiences, the nation’s diverse cultural heritage.

The minister appropriately cited reports of a decline in the use of indigenous languages among children, and of youths who cannot read or write in their mother tongues.  Besides that, most Nigerian children and youth know little about the manners and customs of their respective cultures in respect of names and their meanings, greeting, dressing,  food, and  modes of inter-personal relations between male  and female, adult and youth. Of course, bedtime tales, and other forms of traditional education have all been practically lost.

There is no virtue in excelling at aping other cultures. It is the ultimate expression of self-denigration.

It is not in any way a mark of sophistication or of modernity to know little or nothing about one’s culture but deeply acculturated into a globalised foreign way of life. A sense of unique cultural identity sustains personal and collective strength as well as confidence especially in a new world where the politics of identity is a recurrent feature.

The more those Nigerian books are available through various media, to Nigerians and Africans to learn about, appreciate, and value their different cultures, the stronger will be their respective sense of self-worth as well as the esteem of others. Nigeria is the country with the largest African population in the world. This imposes upon it the leadership role to assert, nurture and sustain in every way possible, the African cultures.

The translation of indigenous writings to Nigerian languages is one right step in this direction.  But there is more work to be done. The prices of works by Nigerian authors are not often affordable to the average Nigerian reader. Government should therefore partner with local publishers to subsidize books production. If Nigerians are to effectively repossess their cultural identity and pride, affordability is crucial to the success of this laudable initiative.

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