While literally everyone else is working hard to bring the world closer together, make everything more accessible to as many people as possible, the Lagos state government is hellbent on moving the wheel backwards.
Last week Thursday, the Lagos state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode signed the Yoruba Language Preservation Bill was signed into law.
This was supposedly done “to provide for the preservation and promotion of the use of Yoruba Language and for connected purposes,” thereby making it the first state to enact law seeking to preserve and promote its indigenous language. That's an innocuous enough reason, until you start to unpack the hidden ramifications.
The law now makes it compulsory for all candidates seeking admission into all tertiary institutions in Lagos State to have at least a credit in Yoruba Language; and it also makes it mandatory for all primary and secondary schools – private or public – in Lagos to include teaching of Yoruba Language as a core subject at all levels. Not just that, all state-owned tertiary institutions have to start teaching (or using) Yoruba Language in the General Studies (GNS) courses.
Making Yoruba mandatory in primary and secondary schools is fine - some of us even did other Nigerian languages in school. But it's super unrealistic to expect people to be so fluent in a foreign language that they learn for one hour every week, that it becomes a condition to get into university.
The law reads:
"The use of Yoruba language shall be an acceptable means of communication between individuals, establishment, corporate entities and government in the state if so desired by the concerned. It shall not be an offence for a person to speak Yoruba language by the state government."
The law also states that any school in Lagos State that fails to comply, commits an offence and is liable on first violation to issuance of warning and on subsequent violation be closed down and also pay a fine of N500,000. The Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan, gleefully said:
"Yoruba language has become mandatory for all candidates seeking admission into our tertiary institutions. Yoruba will now become a major requirement to engage in normal business communication in Lagos State.
This is a clear and conscious commitment to the position which Lagos State prides Yoruba language as the cultural vehicle for us to be able to articulate our position and it also shows that Lagos has further recognised the importance of language as a vehicle for development."
The law will particularly affect those seeking admission into the Lagos State University, Lagos State Polytechnic, Michael Otedola College of Primary Education, Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Lagos State School of Nursing and Lagos State College of Health Technology. Oh and all the laws in Lagos “will be translated into Yoruba Language".
Never mind that Lagos is a literal melting pot of every single tribe/faction/sect/language in Nigeria. According to official data, there are more than 520 languages spoken in Nigeria, and I'm willing to bet that there are people who speak each of those 520 languages trying to live, work, and get an education right here in Lagos. Why make moves that will try to exclude them? And at a time where tribal tensions are high?
Language preservation is a noble cause - especially since much of indigenous culture is being eroded. But mandatory language preservation at the expense of other people? Significantly less noble.
Language is the vehicle for development, yes. But why can't it be the English language which, by the way, is the official language of Nigeria, and the rest of the world, and most importantly is the common sense move.
Will other states in other parts impose language restrictions too?