French Rising in Nigeria

The French language is on the rise within the African Continent; and notably in Nigeria. This will come as no surprise to those within West Africa as Nigerian parents and teachers are gradually coming to grips of the importance of the language in the country. Nigeria is surrounded by the following countries: Niger, Chad, Benin and Cameroun. Nigeria is a member of a sub regional organization called ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States). There are more French speaking States than English Speaking States in ECOWAS. Furthermore, according to the Fatunde Francophony Foundation (FFF); Nigeria’s private companies have established branches in these French speaking States within the oil and gas, telecommunications, banking and other commercial sectors.  These companies are constantly in search of Nigerian graduates who are proficient in French.

“For Nigeria, the study of French language is quite key, considering the fact that our neighboring countries are French-speaking. Apart from the English language, French language is one of the major international languages.”

Linguists and Anthropologists alike often have commented how Africans have been gifted on being able to speak different languages. The average black South African speaks three languages (Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho), in Niger (one often can stumble across those that speak 4; Hausa, Zarma and Songhai, Tuareg and Arabic) and it is common to find that those living within the Democratic Republic of Congo speak four (Lingala, Kikongo, Tshiluba and Swahili depending on the region). This is also minus the French and English within the aforementioned countries (for those that work within private and international sectors). Angola, Mali, Senegal and Tanzania are added to this equation also.Whilst Nigeria is getting to grips with a growing influx of francophone migrations entering into the country; the importance of being bilingual is being discussed on political and academic platforms like never before. Recent security challenges in West Africa have also created employment opportunities for Nigerian graduates. Nigeria’s immigration, customs services, all branches of our military establishments (army, navy, air force and police) are now recruiting French graduates as interpreters and translators because of their collaboration with their francophone partners. Political and Military leaders across the country have formed various partnerships illustrating their consent to the importance of the language.

The Governor of Kano state, northwest Nigeria, Engr. Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso in 2013, handed over admission letters to 100 teenagers who were selected to study French and other languages in Niamey, Niger Republic. Kwankwaso committed about N1 billion in the newly constructed Kano/Niger Bilingual College, jointly owned by Kano and Niger Republic. The establishment of the College in Niamey, Kwankwaso said, was a political strategy designed to further strengthen bilateral relationship between Niger and Kano which share borders.

In late 2013, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt-Gen Azubuike Ihejirika said Nigeria’s inability to speak French Language was the main reason the country was denied the Command of the United Nations Multi-dimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MNUSMA). He also said the Army had recently established a Nigerian Army language school where French is being taught “in realisation of the fact that Nigeria is being surrounded by Francophone countries in the face of the current security challenges.” It is clear that steps towards an understanding of French are being taken from high ranking officials above; but what about the rest of the Nigerian population?

According to Farroq Kperogi (PhD); the proficiency of Nigerians in Hausa, Yoruba, Ibo, Pidgin and others are gradually deteriorating. Except for Hausa and, to some extent, Yoruba, all Nigerian languages are endangered because of a lack of language loyalty, an incompetent mastery of the rules of the languages, and the tendency toward what linguists call code-mixing and code-switching, that is, an inelegant admixture of English and our native languages.

“The desire to speak English is often blamed for the pitiful state of our native languages, except that our mastery of English, on whose behalf we devalue our native languages, is also so awful that other speakers of the language can’t help but notice.(Any form of English that is unintelligible to the rest of the English-speaking world is useless.) And Pidgin English, the other major “language” we speak, is an anarchic, linguistically deficient language that not only has limited utility outside Nigeria, but that is incapable of being the medium for serious scholarly inquiry and global communication.”

Farooq Kperogi, Canadian Professor

In addition, Fatunde Francophony Foundation (FFF) states how parents often ask the following questions:

1)     Why should my children in secondary schools register for the study of French? 

2)     Will my children be employable if ever they study this language at the university?

3)     Why is the language even important? 

Students themselves can ask the same questions. It is important to if one is to take to studying languages; then one must study it well to become employable, knowledgeable and outgoing with foreign stakeholder and companies alike. For example, Cambridge-educated Algerian linguist by the name of Dr. Lameen Souag commented on Algeria’s “language crisis,” that is, the fact that many Algerians under 40 years are unemployable because they are not fluent in French (their colonial language), Arabic (their official language), or Berber (their native language), leading the Algerian professor to label them “trilingual illiterates.” In January 2014; the 216 CAR (Central African Republic) Nigerian Refugees not only arrived to Nigeria having no ancestral homes to go back to; but also did not understand English, Hausa and little French that they had claimed to speak.

Let’s wait and see what the future holds in 2014 and French in Nigeria.

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