Study in Ogun Schools, Nigeria

Varsities Should Adopt Nigerian Languages – Yoruba Literature Author

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A Switzerland-based Nigerian and a graduate of Computer Science, Mr. Segun Adebiyi, is planning to focus on writing Yoruba Literature books for children. In this piece, he tells SEGUN OLUGBILE how the need to teach his  children his local language led him to become an author

When he left Nigeria as a secondary school graduate for Switzerland over 20 years ago, Segun Adebiyi’s aspiration was to become a computer scientist or a banker. Today, the Ado-Odo, Ado-Ado-Ota Local Government Area of Ogun State -born culture enthusiast has not only realised his dreams, he has also become an author.

But rather than author an accounting book or a banking resource material, he has authored a Yoruba Literature book for children. The book has also been adopted by the National Educational Research and Development Council as one of the literature books to be used in the nation’s primary schools. Also, the National Library of Nigeria has enlisted the book in its archive.

Married to a Swiss national, Feline, with three children, Adebiyi had succeeded in teaching his three children how to speak and write his native language even though they have never been to Nigeria.

Life at Switzerland, he said, was not as rosy as he had thought. But with determination and perseverance, Adebiyi who had his primary school education at LGSC School, Atan-Ota and secondary education at Vetland Secondary School, Agege, Lagos, secured admission to Institut für Informatik Ausbildung, to read Computer / Information Science. After his degree, he proceeded to Swiss Business School for a degree in Banking and later had a Master’s in Business Administration.

“I experienced some culture shocks which made me resort to use my local name, Olusegun instead of Mike, my Christian name. Swiss are friendly and they love their culture and language. Though they have four national languages, they never relegate their tradition and culture to the background.  As an African going into such environment for the first time; their punctuality shocked me. Their children are also too informal with their parents   and in some cases they address their parents by their first name. They publicly display affection, when you are invited to an occasion, you dare not go with another friend without their permission, the differences are many but it’s not to be condemned because their values and way of life are completely different from ours,” he said.

However, when Adebiyi got married to Seline, a teacher, about 15 years ago, he decided to teach his children Yoruba language and culture.  To show how serious he was about the initiative, Adebiyi named his three children, Babatunde,  Adeola and Oluwatumininu respectively.

So how did his wife react to this?  Adebiyi said, “She was very fine with the idea, she also encouraged and supported me, their growing up is not limited to being taught Yoruba alone, but to also live as Yoruba persons while also embracing western culture, the environment in which they are growing up. Although sometimes there tend to be conflict of cultural differences, we also take time to explain things to them, on a general note it’s very fascinating how they could swift from being Yoruba children to European or vice-versa.

“To me, the most valuable thing any parent could give a child they raise abroad is to let them know and understand the culture of where they are coming from, this is the norm among Indians, Chinese, Koreans and Italians,” he said.

To teach his children Yoruba in a foreign land, Adebiyi shopped for a collection of Yoruba children literature books that teach morals, folklore and culture of his people.

“After a while, I exhausted the few ones that I could lay my hands on. Thereafter I resorted to telling them folktales including the popular Alo Ijapa (the tortoise stories) that we were taught at home by our parents and in school by our teachers. The children were enthusiastic so also was their mother. So, in order not to kill their zeal, I started putting the story together. The end result was the book titled, Oba Adeleke Alaso Eye,” he said.

Adebiyi said he was also motivated to write the book because of the importance he attaches to Yoruba culture and the need to revive the dying reading culture among the youths.

“I also write the book to promote and raise public awareness at appreciating our indigenous languages and protect our culture and tradition from disintegration. One major problem facing us today is  the problem of cultural pollution.Despite the knowledge and skills we acquire on a daily basis, we are still backward because we have neglected our culture and tradition. I can tell you that Nigerians are some of the most educated people in the world more-so apart from Egypt, early African civilization started among the people of Nigeria, so today we should actually be more advanced in every area of life given our track record of institutional capacity building and knowledge acquisition if we had not neglected our indigenous languages. So writing this Yoruba book is to challenge every stakeholder, Yoruba academic scholars, parents and traditional rulers who are also the custodian of our culture on the need to once again embrace our culture.

“The second reason why I wrote the book is to promote and raise public awareness about culture of reading. We have to again cultivate the culture of reading into our daily lives, and children are the most affected in this area, children usually need to be engaged. One of the ways to engage them is to encourage them to read, most kids of today have an extremely bad reading culture.’’

On how the book was adopted by the NERDC, Adebiyi said it was just by chance. “A Nigerian professor came to Switzerland and saw the book. He was surprised   that  a Nigerian  living in Switzerland could write a Yoruba book. We later met and he brought some copies of the book  to Nigeria. That was how the Federal Ministry of Education and the NERDC got involved,” he said.

So would he abandon banking to become an author? Adebiyi said he had not decided on that yet. “ But I can tell you that I’ve been motivated to write more books by my children and by the acceptability of the first one by the Nigerian education authorities,” he said.

Adebiyi who was on holiday in Nigeria urged Nigerians to encourage the usage of indigenous languages by their children.

“I was shocked that children born and bred in Nigeria find it hard to speak our indigenous languages. This is shameful. We must preserve our national identity. One’s indigenous language fundamentally portrays his or her primary identity,  it’s the most acceptable way by which any human  being can identify with his or her root and race. The good news is that most parents are getting to understand the importance of having their children understand their mother tongue, there is the need to understand and realise that no matter how hard one tries to imitate a white man, he  can never be one,” he said.

Asked if  indigenous languages in the country could go into extinction soon, Adebiyi said some might but not Yoruba language.  “I am very optimistic that Yoruba as a race and as a language would not go into extinction, we are  a people with enormous ingenuity, well informed and diverse so extinction is not an issue at all but it’s good to raise an alarm when we observe abnormality that will always help to get us  back on the right track.

“But government should make one indigenous language compulsory. Another step one would expect from the government is the need to assemble a gathering of the best brains in the art, history, literature, linguistics, anthropology and other relevant faculty which will drive a continuous research and inventions of new words on our languages and make it available for our use. That is one way of eradicating this syndrome of combining local language with English while communicating,” he said.

“But when these words are not available on our own dictionary, the easiest escape route is the use of English to fill those gaps, so to bring our languages back to the mainstream of our society we also need to be steadfast and be consistence with whatever approach we are implementing,” he explained.

Asked to compare Nigeria’s education policy and structure with his host nation, Adebiyi said, that the only difference is in better planning and implementation and a robust improvement processes

But would he  support calls by some Nigerians that indigenous language should be adopted as a language of instruction in the nation’s universities?  Adebiyi said it was a good suggestion.

“I am in support of such initiative, on our continent that is the practice in some universities in Kenya with Swahili, in South African with Afrikaan, in Egypt, Arabic is used for lectures in most universities there, apart from that, in most of the developed countries and eastern Europe, that is the practice.  In South East Asia, it might interest you to know that 44 universities in the US teach Yoruba as a Major, why not in Nigeria? If you don’t try out new things you can’t get a new result,” he argued.

Speaking on the thematic preoccupation of the book, Adebiyi said it is just an educative prose that propagates value versus materialism for children between the age of  nine and 13 years.

January 31, 2013 |

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