In Nigerian schools, English language is the medium of expression and instruction right from the primary through to secondary school and tertiary institutions. As an official language of Nigerians, English occupies a ride of place in the heart of the people. As a multi-ethnic country, every ethnic group in Nigeria is identified with one or more local languages, but because of the need to unite these ethnic groups without engendering jealousy or ethnic bickering, English was made an official but a second language in the country.
The dominance of English in the major domains of the country such as the Educational sector, Law courts, media, politics, business and interactions, has as a matter of fact, left so many people confused and handicapped in developing their ethnic languages. In Nigeria today, a credit in English is one of the prerequisites for admission into a University or other institutions of learning. In securing admission, it remains the only language of instruction used to teach other subjects except languages. No other Nigerian language is accorded the symbol of status that English enjoys. This is why a proficient user of English language is usually respected in Nigeria.
As the language of interaction and a parameter to judge somebody’s educational attainment, English language has succeeded in pushing all other Nigerian languages to the back door.
In my secondary school days, I attended a Science Teachers Association of Nigeria (STAN) exhibition held in the school premises. At the reference hall, venue of the exhibition, there were books displayed for sale. Unknown to me, my school Principal was sitting behind the display table. As I approached the book seller, I requested for the price lists of the displayed books using my local Igbo Language. My choice of the local language attracted the attention of the Principal who looked disappointingly at me. His displeasure over my choice of language sent me out of the hall leaving the bookseller speechless, with book in hand.
The next morning, I was the subject of his usual morning assembly address. Notwithstanding, in my final examinations, I jolted him further by managing only a Pass in English Language while having Distinction in my local Igbo Language. Despite this great feat, I was not able to achieve anything with the high grade in my local language until I have passed English properly in another examination.
Apart from helping to kill the development and interest of people in their local languages, English also dominates the language of modern medicine, technology, academic publications and the Internet. Though Nigerians today, have coined so many words from their local languages and have them integrated into their spoken English to achieve a deeper level of communication, yet it should be understood that our local languages appeal deeper to our feelings or emotions more than the English Language. Our local languages help to arouse such emotions as pity, joy, sadness, etc, and as well sensitize us more, for instance, in times of war, whether to fight or make peace.
When we begin to accept our local languages as prerequisites for admission into our institutions of learning or as a means instruction in classrooms, it will help, not only for easier understanding of the students, but also for the development of these languages. There is an adage that says, “the hood does not make the monk”. Nigerians should know that being proficient in English Language can never remove our Nigerian identity – it will never make us Englishmen!