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Okrika Language Takes Centre Stage…As Museum Celebrates 2012 International Mother Tongue Day

Tuesday, February 21, 2012, was a memorable and unforgettable day for the people of Okrika, as the National Museum, Port Harcourt, focused on Okrika Language in its celebration of the 2012 International Mother Tongue Day.
February 21 of every year was chosen by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, as a day to recognize the value of the Mother Tongue and promote its usage as an instrument for transmitting culture in the socialization of the child.
The event was held at the National Museum, Port Harcourt, and has the theme: “Okrika Language Development and its challenges”.
“Language is the epitome of culture, it conveys and transmits culture. It is through language that the folktales, proverbs and other literary forms of the society are conveyed to teach societal morals and values,” the curator of the National Museum, Mr. Fadamuo Omolayo, stated, as he addressed the people of Okrika who were gathered to celebrate their mother tongue.
He told the audience that Rural-Urban, Inter Group Marriage and Globalization are some of the challenges militating against speaking of mother tongue and that they were gathered, “to draw the attention of all to the need to continually engage ourselves in activities which seek to promote and protect our mother tongue for we all lose if our language is lost.”
The chairman of Okrika Local Government Council, Hon. Tamuno Williams who was elated by the attention given to his mother tongue, stated, “As a scholar myself, I know the importance of language. World all over, people protect their language jealously. We notice that Okrika language is gradually going extinct,” and gave example of how it affected even his children.
Stressing the importance of language, Hon. Williams stated the steps he would take to ensure the revival of Okrika language.
His words, “We are aware that our tenure in the first instance is three years. We have commenced the process of putting in place Wakirike Heritage Centre. It will be the gathering point of Okrika people. In that centre, we hope to get a library, an ICT centre, a language and heritage hall and a place where we have our cultural displays. So it will be a one stop bus-stop where anything about Okrika Culture or language heritage will be found. Again we also have the restaurant where we can have our native delicacies, like Abana soup, Mgbe soup, Ofingo soup and all that.
“We are going to raise funds, not just from council resources, but from Okrika people worldwide. You know that with N120m we should have a befitting Okrika Heritage Centre in Port Harcourt.”
The chairman who was impressed by students of Okrika who took part in dances and competitions in Okrika dialect, went further to state, “we may be coming back here sooner to celebrate Okrika Heritage Day. This one is engineered by UNESCO and we, as a people, let us take out a day when we celebrate our culture, our heritage, our language. We are in Okrika proper; we are in Ogu/Bolo and also in Opobo/Nkoro. We are also in Port Harcourt and we are also in Oyigbo. We can come together and the have Okrika heritage day where our language and culture will be shown to the people.”
He said he would encourage the Okrika Language Group by funding it, adding that the agency responsible has approved the Okrika language as a national language, but first teachers would be trained to teach the language and thanked the Amanyanabo of Ogoloma, HRM, E. H. Obudibo, Ikwo the 5th . for gracing the event.
He pledged to build a four-room toilet facility for the National Museum.
“The Museum has no public convenience to answer the call of nature. We accepted that if they show us a place, we will construct a four-room toilet for the Museum so that every 21st of the year, Okrika will be remembered,” he concluded.
The chairman of the occasion, Chief Nemi Adoki, said all efforts would be made to ensure the preservation of the Okrika dialect. Chief Adoki who is the current chairman of the Okrika Divisional Council of Chiefs, went further to state, “we are not unaware that today the UNESCO is focusing on languages. We are also not unaware that here in Rivers State the national museum has decided to focus on the dialect of Okrika. There was a time when news were given at designated times in Okrika dialect. That sustained and made people to understand that language is important and is also powerful.
“The focus on Okrika today could not have come at the most opportune time. At the time when most dialects are getting almost extinction, at a time that people are beginning to wonder if we can sustain the languages and dialects that we do have in this country. I am sure that the organizers are aware of the enormity and challenges that we have in maintaining the language culture that we were born into, and I am glad enough today that because of its importance, the Amanyanabo of Ogoloma has found time to be with us here. That is to show that the Okrika dialect is one that cannot be allowed to go into extinction. The Okrika dialect is one that should rather be allowed to grow steadily with momentum unbounded, so that our children, the ones of today and the ones for the future will hold on to a language that we are particularly proud of.
“Okrika has much to showcase and has been instrumental in making Rivers State the first position at the national cultural festival over the years. At the RIVIFEST, we have demonstrated our awesome capacity in terms of culture and our masquerades are second to none.”
The Royal Father of the day, HRH, E. T. I. Obudibo, Ikwo the fifth, expressed delight at the occasion.
“I am very happy that the dialect is encouraged and the young ones called to participate. There was a time Okrika Primer was taught in primary schools, but unfortunately, it is no more encouraged. Am happy the interest is rekindled,” the Amanyanabo stated.
He also thanked the children who participated and told them, “Your efficiency in your dialect assists you tremendously in speaking English. Things become easier for you when you are fluent in your dialect and you find it easy to translate it into English.”
The Guest lecturer, Dr. Charles Jenewari, Senior Lecturer, Department of Linguistics, University of Port Harcourt, spoke on the theme, “Okrika Language Development and its Challenges”.
“If we say a particular language is going to be used in formal education, we try to provide books. The challenge we have is that there is still a lot of unfinished business, not just Okrika, but also for Kalabari and Ibani,” he stated.
Dr. Jenewari said Okrika language cannot be in the same small language group level like Bukuma, Degema, Oblom or Engenni, as Okrika is spoken in three local government areas of Rivers State.
“I will revise the classification so that Okrika and Ibani will be proud and it would be made an official main language,” he stated.
He poured encomiums on prominent Okrika sons and daughters, adding that he was well-received when he lived at Okrika with Deacon Oriaku.
“One great noble man in Okrika who has done most to do something about Okrika is Chief Alfred Abam. There is no nobleman in the entire Eastern Ijaw community area who is as prolific as Chief Alfred Abam. Whether you make him King or you don’t make him king, the fact remains that he is the man I respect more than any other traditional ruler from Nembe to Opobo, Kalabari, Bonny and Okrika. Nobody is as prolific as Chief Alfred Abam,” he pointed out.
He enjoined every politician from Okrika to play a role to develop the Okrika dialect and recommended that local government areas have very important role to play in the development and promotion of the Okrika language.
He said the local government areas are expected in the following areas: To run workshops for the training of teachers for the local language, give financial support to individuals who write texts in Okrika and encourage secondary school students who have flair for languages to study Linguistics, English and French in tertiary institutions.
The local government areas also have the role of giving financial support to church organizations and secular non-governmental organizations; encourage language implementation of the national policy on education in the schools.
Also, retired principals, all teachers and other retired professionals of the academic system should demonstrate interest by getting involved in writing books in Okrika, and also develop the alphabets.
“If for no other reason, for ethnic pride, for cultural pride, we must develop and promote Okrika language,” he concluded.
Geoffrey A. Somiari, Chairman of Wakirike Language Committee, in his speech, said language is a vehicle and a driver that conveys our tradition and culture for an expected result.
He said language has too long been neglected or made something of less importance and that members of Wakirike Language Committee has taken up the challenge and have been fighting against it for about three years.
He said in 2010, “we presented an autography that is internationally accepted. We have achieved the development of a curriculum to teach Kirike language in our local schools and may be churches, to be able to retain or sustain Kirike language.”
Deploring the poor reading culture of many, Somiari said, “If you have a secret to hide, hide it in a book and it would hardly be found because of poor reading habit.”
Trophies were given to the winners of the language competition.
The schools that participated were, G.G.S.S Okumgba Ama, led by Emerue Hyacinth, Enitonia High School, Borikiri, led by Mrs. Benibo Ngoba, Government Comprehensive Secondary School, Borikiri, led by Mr. Tamunoene Victor and G. S.S Ogu, led by Sir P. K. Fiabema.
G. G. S.S, Okumgba, won the first prize, while G.S.S, Ogu and OGS Okrika, took second and third, respectively.
The trophies were donated by Dr. Mrs. Oledinma Nwanna-Nzewunwa.
She said she was not pleased with the inability of the young ones to speak their native tongue and so she had to do something when she was approached for help.
Dignitaries at the event include, Professor A. A. Derefaka, Director, Institute of Niger Delta Studies, UNIPORT, Chief A. I. R. Oyo Isaka, Professor T. G. Sokari, Hon. Nancy Stephens, Deputy Mayor, PHALGA, Mrs. Iselema Wakama, Mrs. Roselyn Gabriel, and Mr. Anthony Oghani, representative of the Rivers State Readers Project.
Others were, Mr. Vincent Ako, RSTV, Warisenibo Abiye Ogolo, A. L. C. Ngeri, Pastor Dawari Braide, Anthony Ibifuro, and members of the Wakirike Language Committee, Mrs. Esther Tobin and Mrs. Elizabeth Agaga.

By Kenneth Amabipi

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