Skip to main content

Yesterday, I left a conversation sad and disappointed. The main reason for my despondent state was as a result of the emotions that spurred out as the discussions I voluntarily participated in progressed. I was also a victim at this as I allowed my emotions take control of my opinions — Something I always watch out for whenever I have controversial conversations. The main reason why I decided to write about this isn’t to rant and exhume my personal feelings to the world. But instead, it is to remind every reader of how delicate, crucial and complex the issue of colonialism, decoloniality, and matters or issues relating to these concepts and realities are, specifically using the issue of language in Nigeria as a microcosm.


Decoloniality is a concept that I think has various definitions by people and these definitions or descriptions are motivated by the context and backgrounds of people. For instance, the way an African might see decoloniality could be different from the way an Indian sees it. For some theorists, they define it as a rebellion or a refutation against the forces of colonialism. In addition to this, I describe it as the refusal to completely succumb to the ways of the colonizer; a force that triggers us to recreate what has been invented by the colonizers beforehand; a knack to transform what has been given to us by colonial masters and make it OUR OWN. You might be wondering why do we even need decoloniality? It is required to help us make sure that our languages and heritage is not lost in our quest to please the norms of the colonizer; it is like a reality check — to keep us in line so that we do not subconsciously make our traditions go on extinction. Although there are controversies about the definition of this term, I want you to see it as a mechanism that helps us build upon what we have inherited from colonizers and transform it into our own whilst upholding our traditions, cultures and norms (i.e. food and language).



Ngugi Wa Thiong’o talks about language as being a carrier of culture in his book “Decolonizing the Mind.” He also made mention of how people have uplifted the language of the colonizer while suppressing and subjugating their own language which is a tool that maximally informs their heritage. My personal experience is an anecdote to this. While in Primary school, English language was widely spoken. However, since the use of vernacular was getting “out of hand”, the school initiated a policy of pupils paying a small sum for breaking the school’s language culture. Note that Yoruba (my local language) was seen as a vernacular at all times in school except during the one and a half hours of when you have Yoruba classes. I once spoke Yoruba to one of my close friends at that time, my name was written down for reference purposes by the class captain and only for me to be whipped a few days later for not having the money to pay for breaking the rules. If you didn’t have the money on you, you get punished which included being beaten — an instantaneous punishment. This was the case. (Although I would later become one of the monitors who would greatly enforce this policy by catching the “offenders” and writing their names so they can be punished). The conversations at the decoloniality reading group at the African Leadership University, Mauritius campus helps me think of how we can decolonize this norm and strike a balance between the culture of the colonizer and the cultures of the colonized (i.e. striking a balance between English language and my traditional language). For too long we have comfortably sat down on the seat of colonialism and sub-consciously continue to discourage people from upholding their values, cultures, traditions and norms. How do we break this barrier? How can children of generations unborn go to school and feel free to ask for something or converse on a very private issue with their brothers and sisters? How do we decolonize the mindset of people? These are intricate questions which require delicate answers.

But we have to be very conscientious and take absolute cognizance of how we use this term and in the context that we use it. Inasmuch as English language is and will continue to be the language of the colonizer, it remains a bridge that joins or a focal point that attracts the length and breadth of a country together, unitedly. As a Nigerian, English is that language that brings us together, hence, our official language. Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa or any of the other minor languages can never become the official language of the country. If one of these languages is considered official, we’ll be setting ourselves up for another civil war. This is because each tribe and “Nation” will not want to accept another language from another tribe. I already can imagine a very conservative traditionalist in my hometown thinking “why should I learn Igbo?” if Igbo were to be the primary language. Hence, the reason why English is the apparatus which connects us all together.


However, inasmuch as English language is seen as the norm, Nigerians with time have transformed it into a new language, the “Pidgin English” which literates call “Broken English.” When people realized that they couldn’t meet up with the language of the colonizer, pidgin English gradually erupted. While many parents do not want their kids to learn the “Broken English”, the irony is that it is understood by almost everyone in the country. That is, as English language is being taught in schools, Pidgin English is being taught based on the interactions you have with people anywhere (on the street, at the market, at the shopping mall, etc). Hence, while English is limited to literates, Pidgin English accommodates both literates and illiterates. Therefore, I feel like we can start the whole idea of decoloniality with the Pidgin English. This can be done by encouraging children and everyone alike to learn and speak Pidgin English with people who speak the language to them on the street or at the market and not scolding kids for learning pidgin English based on their interactions with people. This cannot be achieved until we see the language as something that is our own (that is something which was created from what was given to us). In addition, we also need to encourage kids to converse in their traditional language and not scold them for sporadically speaking it within the four corners of their classrooms. For other African countries, let us find a mechanism that exists within our boarders to pave way for decoloniality. For instance, in East Africa, Swahili can become a force that will become a contrivance towards the actualization of decoloniality.


In conclusion, truth be told, there is no way we can go back to the old norms and values that our forefathers once upheld during their lifetime (I know this can be up for debate anytime). However, I believe that the way forward is accepting what we have been given and recreating something else from it (i.e., Pidgin English), squashing some norms and traditions enforced on us that do not meet our wants and needs as well as upholding our traditional language which maximally drives and informs our heritage.