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Gift! What is a gift? A simple dictionary definition of Gift is something that is given to another person or to a group or organization. A misunderstood gift, therefore, could be a gift that is not properly understood by the receiver. Having not really understood a gift, the receiver can become confused, disillusioned or even completely and absolutely uninformed on how to make use of such a gift. Look at it this way, a man gives a gift to a woman. One of the first interpretations of the gift by the woman could be that this person wants me. Or if the giver ever had a situation with the receiver, the understanding can be ah, he wants to appease me. In actuality, the giver never intended the gift to elucidate any other interpretation than something that is from the heart with no strings attached.

The Southeast Geopolitical zone of Nigeria happens to find itself in the above situation. This is because this region happens to be a host to a wonderful gift by the late Head of State Gen. Sani Abacha who in December 1993 signed into law a Decree which has become an Act of the National Assembly. That Act presented a beautiful gift to Nigeria and making the Southeast host this beautiful gift. The late Head of State gave to the Southeast the responsibility of hosting the whole of Nigeria as an unquantifiable gift. He was like telling the Southeast, take Nigeria and manage her. Give her a future and an identity. In fact, in a sense, he seemed to have said, ‘Southeast, take Nigeria, give her direction scientifically, technologically, industrially and lead her to the greatest height she can attend.  You know why? Because the responsibility given to this gift to manage determines the communication competence of society. Without communication competence, politics cannot thrive, education cannot work, science and technology will never happen. Most importantly, society cannot exist and man will not be able to relate with a fellow man.

That wonderful gift is no other than the NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR NIGERIAN LANGUAGES (NINLAN). Come to think of it, can much really be achieved without language? Even animals in the forest communicate with one another through a language that they understand. How come that a tiny ant sees food, tries to carry the food without success and before long, a large number of ants surrounds that food and off they go with the food. That is the power of communication using a language. With the above, can the importance of language be overemphasized? The reader is allowed to answer the question.

National Institute for Nigerian Languages has the mandate to develop all Nigerian languages irrespective of the number of speakers of a given language. But many years after the establishment of NINLAN, that Institute is still trying to find its feet. It has been erroneously adduced in some quarters that Nigerian languages cannot be used in science, technology and all other aspects of human endeavour. This seems to be one of the reasons why NINLAN has not been fully supported even by the government. The question is, in which language is China, Germany, Russia and many other non-English speaking nations achieving all the developments in science and technology that they are achieving?  The answer is as certain as day and night-LANGUAGE. So Nigerian languages can stand and achieve all that other languages are achieving if given the required support and development.

Some others have tried to say that NINLAN is unable to do much because it is not a university. This group of people has failed to remember that universities have a specific catchment area(s). Catchment area or areas are usually a few states that are in close proximity to a given university. This truly does not make such a university national. In contrary, NINLAN has the whole of Nigeria as its catchment area. Again the word Institute as a noun suggests an organization created for a particular purpose such as research in a particular discipline. NINLAN fits into this definition as its mandate is that of developing Nigerian languages to fit into every sphere of Nigerian endeavour.

But over the years this Institute has been neglected in terms of proper funding thereby making it difficult to fulfil its mandate. NINLAN further suffers neglect in the hands of the Federal Government when it was removed from benefiting from TETFURN funds used to develop other tertiary institutions in the country. If NINLAN is properly funded and supported by government and citizens, NINLAN has the capacity to develop scientific and technological terms that will take Nigeria into space because Russia did not send the first man-made satellite-sputnik into orbit using the English language. Russia certainly used the Russian language.

To show how important the Institute is, a group of students came from the North to undergo a conversion programme in NINLAN. These students were graduates of different disciplines who had the interest of returning to teach their different disciplines in schools using the languages they learned. Their arrival coincided with the Federal Government handing over NINLAN to another university to manage under the name of that university and NINLAN becoming a campus of the said university. These students decided and promptly returned to their state of origin without achieving their aim of coming to NINLAN. On enquiry, the students said they came to NINLAN to acquire their language knowledge because NINLAN is a research institute and therefore capable of imparting the required language skill. They further said that if they were interested in acquiring language skill particularly Hausa language from a university, they would have chosen any of the universities in the north.  This scenario puts a stamp of authority on NINLAN as an institution established to fulfil the yearnings on Nigerians in developing their languages as a tool for national cohesion.

As a way forward, this column suggests that the Federal Government should properly fund NINLAN to enable it to fulfill the mandate for which it was established. To the management of NINLAN, the column urges it to be up and doing to justify the confidence reposed on it by the citizens of Nigeria. One way of doing this is to ensure that Nigerian languages become mandatory for admission into Nigerian universities. Furthermore, NINLAN should approach the National Assembly with the view to requesting the Assembly to amend its enabling Act making it mandatory for anyone aspiring to teach in any Nigeria language to spend at least one academic year in NINLAN and take a qualifying examination to enable such a person to teach in any Nigerian language. By so doing, the reason for giving this beautiful gift to the Southeast to host would have been justified. Just thinking and I should be allowed!

Richard Akpan is Head of ICT, National Institute for Nigerian Languages, Aba, Abia State

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