By GELE AGBAI
The Igbo have been told that their language would go extinct. In fact, those who claimed to have conducted some researches predicted that 2025 would be the decisive year the race would lose its language. Language is part of a people’s culture. It is a means of identification. Once a language is spoken, the identity of the speaker is known. Never mind that some people could speak a language without necessarily being a native of the race that has the language.
Various efforts have been (and are being) made to ensure that Igbo language does go extinct like the dodo bird. The Catholic Archbishop of Owerri Diocese, Most Rev. Anthony Obinna has been in the vanguard of sustaining the language. He has been guiding the Catholic faithful in the archdiocese to host the annual Odenigbo Lecture. The lecture which has enjoyed tremendous support is delivered in vernacular by dons who are proficient in the language.
His elder brother and publisher of bi-lingual Nigerian Strides newspaper, Mr. Paddy Obinna devotes a page in his newspaper to report/comment on issues in Igbo Language. The governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha has also been leading the campaign to preserve the Igbo Language. When recently he travelled to Kosovo on an official duty, he spoke in Igbo Language. Former senator, Chief Osita Izunaso interpreted for him.
The governor has gone a step further to decree that traditional rulers in the state are to speak in Igbo Language at public forums. He has also inaugurated the Traditional Rulers Parliament which will conduct its sittings in vernacular. Today, the chairman of Imo State Traditional Rulers Council, HRH Eze Samuel Ohiri grants interviews in Igbo Language.
The Igbo Language is worth sustaining. The Igbo should not allow the prediction of the doomsayers to come to pass. The effort to preserve and perpetuate the language has to be intensified. As part of his own contributions to perpetuating the language, arts and culture of the Igbo, Nigeria’s 2008 best highlife musician, Ugo Stevenson has come up with Ekwe Awards.
Music is a vehicle to communicate ideas, feelings and messages. It is a veritable instrument to preserve Igbo Language. Besides, musicians who use the language as a medium of communication in their music deserve commendation and accolades to encourage them.
Stevenson explained at news conference recently the motive for the honours ceremony his Ogbakoro Theatre Group has packaged. According to him, Ekwe Awards is intended to honour practitioners who have sustained the language and culture of the people through the most effective medium of mass communication known to man.
Hear him: Ekwe is a percussive instrument used in all Igbo music styles: that is why we have chosen to brand the All Igbo Music Awards as Ekwe Awards. Each Igbo-speaking state in the federation has a unique brand of music that is peculiar to it. These unique music styles have found strong expression in highlife which may be described as Igbo contemporary music. These music styles are currently performed by more than 2000 practitioners around the globe with high record of successes.
There are variants of Igbo music namely Ekpili of Anambra people, Nkwanwite of the Ebonyi people, Odumodu, Bongo and Abigbo of Imo people , Ogene of Enugu people, Eri-Obo of Ikwerre people in Rivers State, Oyolima of Delta State and Igbo gospel and highlife. Stevenson said the best practitioners in these genres will be celebrated during the awards ceremony.
A good music may not sell if it is not properly marketed. And how will it be marketed if the public does not get to know about its existence. As a result, Stevenson has also expanded the scope of the awards to include marketers, producers, radio/television presenters and journalists who have shown great patronage to Igbo music.
Ogbakoro Theatre Group is indeed engaged in a good enterprise in organizing the awards ceremony. Anything intended to preserve Igbo Language, culture and arts should be supported. I therefore appeal to local and state governments not only in the South/East region but also in other Igbo-speaking states of Delta and Rivers to lend a helping hand to his group to enable hold the ceremony.
Individuals and corporate bodies interested in the preservation of Igbo culture should equally help the group. Even those who consume Igbo music should not be left out. Imo State government must show the light for others to follow in this respect. Stevenson has done Imo State proud by winning the coveted best highlife music award in 2008.
He has also through music promoted the cause of Imo people and Igbo culture. Good a thing, one of the cardinal programmes of the Okorocha government is to promote Igbo Language and culture. Stevenson is ready to help the administration to realize this objective.
Honours award is without doubt an incentive; a morale booster. The stage is set. It is holding in December this year. This is the time for the Igbo to rise in unison to halt the extinction of their language and culture. All hands have to be on deck to make it happen. What you make happen to Stevenson and to the Igbo will not be in vain. Posterity will remember you.