I. Political economy of African language media

The political economy of indigenous language media in Nigeria and the challenge of survival in the Digital Age


The politics of language and power are somehow controversial and, in most cases, are volatile, especially in most African countries. This explains why there have been battles for supremacy among ethnic groups, languages and culture as to which is superior and which is inferior in multi-ethnic and multilingual settings. Since the advent of colonial government in Nigeria, for example, three languages - Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo - have been involved in the struggle, having gained prominence over other languages. The consistent government patronage the three languages have enjoyed not only placed them at an advantage but also guaranteed the standardisation of their orthography and their status as functional languages of education and instruction in schools, and languages of communication in politics, economics and the media. It is noteworthy that, in 1859, the pioneer newspaper in Nigeria, Iwe irohin (the newspaper for the Egbas and the Yorubas and founded by Reverend Henry Townsend) was first published in Yoruba and later in English. Later, other indigenous titles followed. It is, however, shocking that the history' of indigenous languages and the related press has been characterised by a high mortality rate, largely due to little awareness and patronage, as well as what Salawu (2017) refers to as the onslaught of globalization, which has rendered many languages across the world unpopular.

Although, it came much later, the history' of private ownership of electronic media followed a similar pattern. In 1936, the colonial government in Lagos started the radio distribution service (re-diffusion) to relay programs from Daventry to Nigeria. Subsequently, in 1951, the Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) was established by the national government with headquarters in Lagos and three regional stations in the three regions into which the nation was divided (Kalejaye, Atofojomo, and Odunlami 2006). The need to break the monopoly' of the national government’s use of television and radio broadcasting prompted the western regional government to establish its stations (Western Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation) in 1959 and 1960, respectively.

Between 1960 and the late 1970s, each of the nineteen states in Nigeria had its own radio and television stations. By 1993, licenses were also issued to private individuals to own and operate private radio and television stations and this singular event marked the end of the government’s monopoly of the broadcast media. As of today, there are 265 radio stations and 149 television stations in Nigeria (Nwulu et al. 2010). Out of this, there are thirty-two licensed radio stations in South-West Nigeria; federal and state governments own nine stations each, while fourteen stations are privately owned. It is only Radio Lagos 107.5 FM (Tiwan-n-tiwa) that broadcasts all its programmes in indigenous languages. Others broadcast in only English or English with a little content in the local language (Oyero 2010). This is why there has been apprehension concerning the survival of over 400 Nigerian indigenous languages due to foreign language dominance, especially English (Ajepe and Ademowo 2016). There is also the probable tragedy of more Nigerian youths losing their mother tongue (Sunday et al. 2018). This, according to Ohiri-Aniche (2014), is being fuelled by parents’ disinterestedness in communicating with their children in the native languages.

It was Onukaogu (2002, 13) who gave the graphic picture of the degree of apathy towards indigenous language learning among Nigerian youths when he disclosed that nobody has studied Elik (a language in the southern part of Nigeria) in the senior secondary schools in the past fourteen years. Similarly, it was discovered that, while all the students (123,300) that sat for the Senior Secondary' School Examination in May/June 2018 in the southwest of Nigeria registered for English, only 1,560 students (0.8%) enrolled for Yoruba.

The same affliction of indigenous languages has also affected the indigenous language media. It is not an exaggeration to say that the media industry, especially the indigenous languages in various parts of the world, has distinguished itself in its unique role of shaping and transforming society by inducing socio-political and economic changes. For instance, Iwe Irohin was reported to have stimulated political awakening among the native Egbas and the Yorubas of South-West, Nigeria. Similarly, there is Isolezwe, a prominent indigenous language newspaper among the Zulus in South Africa. It has become a household name among its readers for its role in creating an identity for the Zulu community'. Isolezwe is reported to have lured readers away from English language media (Salawu 2019, 89), thus creating cultural distinctiveness while also engendering political assertiveness in relation to power and resource allocation for the isiZulu people.

Increasingly, more Nigerians who are supposed to be reading the indigenous language newspapers and listening to indigenous language radio and television broadcasts tend to abandon indigenous language media for English. Despite a series of attempts to change the drift and to encourage patronage through price reductions of indigenous publications, there appears to be no significant improvement. For example, while the English daily newspapers are sold for N250, indigenous language papers carry' a N100 cover price. The more (Western) education a person acquires, the less competence they are likely to have in indigenous languages and, of course, the more their interest in local language and culture diminishes. Evidence abounds that, of the twenty-seven indigenous newspapers established between 1859 and 1960, a period of 101 years, only Irohin Ibruba and Gaskiya Taft Kwabo existed after Nigeria’s independence (Omu 1978; Duyile 1989; Salawu 2006). From 1960 to the present, a period of 59 years, forty-three

Indigenous language media in Nigeria 17 indigenous language newspapers were established, but only Iroyin Yoruba, Alaroye, Akede Agbaye, Ajoro, Kayemo, Akede Afirika and Al-Mizan still circulate today (Owolabi 2014; Sunday et al. 2018). The competing influence of the digital revolution and the harsh reality of the distressed economy vividly illustrated by the high cost of production, soaring debt, downsizing, retrenchment, declining advertising revenue and steady cutbacks in circulation rates, among others, have equally signalled a gloomy future for the industry.

It is against this backdrop that this chapter examines the interface of political and economic elements and their effects on indigenous language media performance and sustainability. Also of concern is our understanding of the relationships of the state, the open market and the digital revolution, and how their collaboration has affected the development of the indigenous language press. Finally, the chapter presents feasible strategies for indigenous language media to cope in the present environment of economic and political uncertainty.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >