Lagos State Governor, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, recently signed into law the Yoruba Language Preservation and Promotion Bill. Known as Yoruba Language Preservation and Promotion Law 2018, the law, according to the Lagos State Government, “aims at providing for the preservation and promotion of the use of Yoruba language and for connected purposes”.
The law which is the first to be enacted by any state government in Nigeria for preservation and promotion of indigenous languages, provides that all the laws in Lagos State will be translated into Yoruba Language while all state-owned tertiary institutions should incorporate the use of Yoruba Language in the General Studies (GNS) courses.
The Law also provides that: “The use of Yoruba Language shall be an acceptable means of communication between individuals, establishments, 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. Those who may be willing to contravene the law, the provision of Section 2 of the law states that any institution found guilty of flouting it 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 N500,000.00”.
There is a provision that clearly makes it mandatory for all candidates seeking admission into tertiary institutions owned by Lagos State Government to secure Credit Pass in Yoruba at SSCE. This, therefore, implies that as soon as the law becomes operational, those seeking admission into Lagos tertiary institutions must obtain Credit Pass in Yoruba.
We commend the Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration for enacting the law which is not only the first of its kind in the country, but would also ensure growth and development of indigenous language and culture thereby preventing Yoruba language from going into extinction in Lagos. We recall that a couple of years ago, the then Lagos House of Assembly passed a law to make it mandatory that on a designated day every week, deliberations on the floor of the House are conducted in Yoruba. There is no doubt that the Yoruba Language Preservation and Promotion Law 2018 is another bold collaborative step by the Executive and the Legislature in Lagos to give Yoruba Language its much-deserved pride of place.
It is significant that the Lagos Yoruba Preservation Law was born at the auspicious moment the world was commemorating this year’s International Mother Tongue Language Day which UNESCO has been organising since 1999 to ensure survival of indigenous languages.
As good as the Lagos law is, we are not surprised that it has attracted mixed reactions from stakeholders in the education sector. For instance, Director of Press and Public Relations, National Universities Commission (NUC), Mallam Ibrahim Yakassai, reportedly said although education is on concurrent list, since admission into tertiary institutions is central, Lagos State Government has no power to enact law that is against admissions policy of Federal Government. However, President of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Professor Biodun Ogunyemi, reportedly claimed that the Lagos law not only aims at protecting indigenous language but is also supported by the National Policy on Education and the constitutional provision that puts education on concurrent list.
It is noteworthy that in spite of the mixed reactions from stakeholders, they seem to agree on the need for Lagos State government to let Yoruba be a general study course for all students in its tertiary institutions rather than make Credit Pass in it a compulsory prerequisite for admission into its tertiary institutions.
While we commend government for introducing the law and call on other states to emulate Lagos, we, however, like the law to be modified in such a way as to allay possible fears of non-speakers of Yoruba seeking admission into Lagos tertiary institutions. Such modification is expected to engender mutual understanding between government and relevant stakeholders to avert judicial litigations. Rather than make Credit Pass in Yoruba at SSCE compulsory requirement for admission which could be perceived as discriminatory in certain quarters, government should make Yoruba Language one of the General Studies courses that must be passed by all students after gaining admission.
Consequently, any modification to ensure the law is not discriminatory but still helps Lagos State Government achieve its objective of preserving and promoting Yoruba Language, is desirable.