Challenges facing Yoruba language newspapers and possible solutions

There is a plethora of challenges confronting indigenous language newspapers in Africa generally and Yoruba newspapers specifically. These issues are highlighted in this section.

Poor attitudes toward indigenous languages is one critical challenge that is threatening the sustenance of Yoruba language newspapers. It is disheartening that many people across Africa are highly disenchanted with anything indigenous. Such qualities are regarded as inferior, repulsive, primitive and backward. With this unfortunate impression, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, for anything indigenous to penetrate the market. Therefore, local languages, culture, traditions, education, healthcare, engineeringjurisprudence, arts and crafts, economics and occupations have been disregarded in favour of their foreign counterparts. With an entrenched bias of this magnitude, Yoruba newspapers will continue to receive poor attention from Yoruba people unless there is a change of orientation.

Perhaps at the very base of the superstructure is the language itself. As corroborated by Richard West, Jr in his foreword to Native Language Preservation: A Reference Guide for Establishing Archives and Repositories (2006),

Cultural identity has many sources and aspects. Music, dance, literature, art, craftsmanship, clothing, religion and even food, are all ways through which groups of people define who they are. But perhaps no element of cultural identity is as fundamental as language. Our languages and our cultures are inextricably linked; survival of language means survival of culture.

(iii)

For any hope of a meaningful and sustainable future for African language newspapers, there must be a serious positive disposition towards African languages and culture. There must be a ‘back to the roots’ campaign by which members of society will be persuaded to exhibit regard for what is indigenous. We must prefer our own music, dance, art, crafts, culinary, clothing, names, religion and, of course, our language over foreign alternatives. The government must take the lead in this crusade. It is when we have first adopted a change of attitude that we can be hopeful of sustaining the Yoruba language newspapers.

All citizens of the nation should have rejuvenated interest in the use of indigenous languages. Society must encourage children and young adults to speak indigenous languages. A number of the Yoruba people, particularly youths and elites, regard the language as primitive and, as such, find it unfashionable in communication. In most homes, particularly those of the educated, more than 80% speak English. This supports the submission of Littlebear (1999) in Akangbe and Igudia (2013) that,

Right now we have children who are mute in our languages, who are migrants to our languages, who are like extra-terrestrials to our cultures. We have youths who are aliens to us because they do not have the vital linguistic link that identifies them as Cheyenne or whatever tribal group they belong to.

(96)

How then can the language be adopted by the upcoming generation? It is disheartening that the culture of speaking Yoruba, using proverbs and idioms, greetings, wearing Yoruba dresses, etc. is fading away, particularly among the younger generation. There is no denying that culture is a living and dynamic body of knowledge of a people and it needs to be carefully tended to and nurtured, otherwise it will degenerate and die. There must, therefore, be a concerted change of practice towards the use of indigenous languages in informal settings.

Illiteracy in the Yoruba language is another major challenge. The level of literacy in the Yoruba language is on the decline. Apart from a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the learners, there is a dearth of teachers of Yoruba in schools and

Sustaining African language newspapers 17 7 colleges. There is also a policy crisis on the part of the government in terms of teaching and learning indigenous languages in Nigeria. As Akangbe and Igudia (2013) opined,

Nigeria does not have a clear-cut language policy which would have accorded a pride of place for her indigenous languages; nonetheless, certain epileptic provisions are made in the National Policy on Education [Federal Republic of Nigeria 2004]. These provisions are epileptic because they are not backed up with implementation.

(92-93)

The policy, among others, provides for:

i. Teaching Mother-Tongue (MT) and/or language of the immediate community (LIC) as the language of initial literacy at the pre-primary and junior primary levels, and of adult and non-formal education.

ii. Identifying the three major (national) languages - Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba -at L2 as the languages of national culture and integration.

iii. Treating Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba as potential national languages that are to be developed and used as LO and L2 throughout the formal educational system.

iv. Accepting all Nigerian languages as meaningful media of instruction in initial literacy, and in life-long and informal education.

Akangbe and Igudia (2013) observed that, in spite of these provisions, little or no attention is paid to the implementation by the successive governments: Apart from the non-committal attitude of the governments, the provisions themselves are fraught with inexplicitness and vagueness that underscore seriousness on the part of the government’ (92-93). In fact, as of today, the Nigeria Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) has relegated the indigenous languages to elective status in secondary schools. This retrogressive policy has the potential to further deplete the number of students offering Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa at West African Senior Certificate Examinations (WASCE) and Senior Schools Certificate Examinations (SSCE).

The obvious consequence of this damaging and unpatriotic decision portends doom for these languages in Nigeria. Apart from this, a number of researchers have shown that the performance of students in the Yoruba language is dwindling. One such study is that of Ojetola (2014), who noted that the performance of students in external examinations, particularly Yoruba Language exams, still falls below expectations despite the increase in the quantity and quality of teachers in the schools. Kolawole and Olabode (in press) remarked that the West African Senior Certificate Examinations (WASCE SSCE) Chief Examiner’s Reports corroborated this, with statements such as:

Generally, candidates’ performance is poor (2006), candidates’ performance is fair (2007), candidates’ performance fell below expectation (2008),

Table 10.2 Students’ enrolment and performance in WAEC May/June SSCE in the Yoruba language

liar

Total entries

Total candidates

Total credits and distinctions

Ordinary passes (P7 and P8), and outright failures (F9)

2006

301,511

277,026(91.87%)

76,314(27.54%)

200,712(72.45%)

2007

352,009

345,304 (94.05%)

69,343 (23.4%)

275,961 (79.73%)

2008

370,401

341,805(92.28%)

72,954 (21.34%)

266,643 (78%)

2009

364,042

336,220 (92.35%)

105,503 (31.37%)

225,626(67.1%)

2010

377,104

351,127 (93.11%)

141,134(40.19%)

206,802 (58.89%)

2011

388,043

365,118 (94.09%)

122,945 (33.67%)

242,026 (66.29%)

2012

376,240

354,122 (94.12%)

133,431 (37.67%)

217,511 (61.41%)

2013

379,341

362,615(95.59%)

166,032 (45.78%)

192,822 (53.17%)

2014

316,704

305,640(96.51%)

105,087 (34.38%)

198,454 (64.93%)

Source: Language, Literature and Culture (2006-2014); Statistics Section, West African Examinations Council (WAEC) National Office, Onipaanu, Lagos.

candidates’ performance was just fair (2009), noticeable improvement was observed (2010), no appreciable improvement (2011), performance was fair (2012), and slight improvement (2013).

(28, 25, 43, 44, 48 and 46)

The enormity of this problem is captured in the analysis of SSCE results (2006-2014), as shown in Table 10.2.

From the table above, it is clear that, between 2006 and 2014, the percentage of candidates who passed the subject at credit and distinction grades was less than 40%. The implication of this is that only the candidates who passed at credit and distinction grades are eligible to seek admission to university. Over the nine years, an average of 32.8% earned a qualifying pass mark (QPM). The obvious consequence of this consistent failure rate is likely a paucity of qualified students for university admission.

There is an urgent need to reverse this trend, and all hands must be on deck. The following are some plausible measures that can be employed to combat these challenges:

i. Government must establish a functional language policy to moderate and drive language matters in Nigeria. A language policy is an official act of government, enacted through legislation or court decisions. It determines the way languages are used and cultivates language skills that are needed to meet national priorities. With a language policy in Nigeria, the place of language in education as well as individuals’ language rights will be clearly defined. It will give clear-cut directions on language matters for the benefit of society.

ii. The federal government of Nigeria, through the NERDC, should reverse the status of indigenous languages in the secondary school curriculum from elective to compulsory. This will give more credibility to the languagesand improve on the dearth of students studying these subjects at the tertiary level.

iii. The federal government of Nigeria should mandate its ministries and agencies to fully implement the provision of the National Policy on Education as regards indigenous languages (Federal Republic of Nigeria 2004). With this, Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, and others will not only be taught effectively in schools, but also be the languages of instruction for all subjects at the lower basic education level and be used extensively for teaching at the middle basic education level. This measure, if adequately implemented, will be a compound guarantee for the sustenance of Yoruba language newspapers.

iv. Government should employ adequate Yoruba teachers in quantity and quality to drive effective teaching and learning of the language.

v. Students should demonstrate seriousness and a willingness to learn so that they can pass well in the Yoruba language.

vi. Parents and guardians should also give adequate moral support to their children and wards by paying attention to their educational performance.

Poor patronage and low readership is a dual hallmark of indigenous newspapers across Africa. Due to poor acceptance, patronage is poor and readership is very' low. As submitted earlier, many people are not lettered in writing and reading Yoruba, while many' who are capable, especially the elites, find it unfashionable to purchase and read Yoruba newspapers. Alabi (2011) reported that university students hardly' read indigenous language newspapers and remarked that it would not be an overgeneralisation to assume that elites have a poor attitude towards anything indigenous in Nigeria. This authenticates the observation of Salawu (2004) that Nigerian elites demonstrate poor attitudes towards the patronage of indigenous language newspapers in terms of readership and advertisement subscriptions. Omoloso and Abdulrauf-Salau (2014) also testified that,

with the arrival of the mainstream press and of course with more Nigerians getting more educated, the mainstream press seemed to take over from the indigenous press. And over the years, sales and consequently production and circulation of the indigenous press started to dwindle.

(9)

It is unarguable that poor patronage and low readership result in the short life span of Yoruba newspapers.

It must be stated, however, that Yoruba newspapers did not suffer this ill fortune at inception. As a matter of fact, at their beginnings, patronage was high, readership was good and acceptance was impressive, particularly in the days of colonialism until Nigeria obtained independence from Britain. Attesting to this, Omu (1978, 258) reported that Iwe Irohin, in 1889, had an annual circulation of 6,650, while its Lagos Observer counterpart had 7,200. The subsequent Yoruba newspapers that emerged, particularly' Akede Eko, competed favourably with their English counterparts, particularly' in the 1920s. The trend nosedived, however, as more English papers evolved and were published daily, unlike Yoruba newspapers that were few and were published mostly weekly. Of course, many scholars could not read the indigenous language newspapers, so they did not reckon with their existence. To change this ill trend of poor patronage and low readership, a deliberate attitudinal change is required from all citizens, particularly the elites.

Apart from this, a credit pass in Yoruba should be a requirement for admission into any higher education institution in South-West Nigeria, irrespective of the candidate’s course of study. Lagos State of Nigeria, under the regime of the former state governor, Akinwumi Ambode, has taken the lead in this direction by doing exactly that. There is high optimism that, if this is done across Nigeria, youths and teenagers will be compelled to develop a renewed interest in Yoruba language and culture. With this, editors, writers, publishers and, of course, readers are guaranteed access to Yoruba newspapers for the foreseeable future.

The lean and. weak capital base also accounts for the poor state of Yoruba newspapers. Many publications have a very' weak financial base, as they are run by individuals who self-finance them. This is unlike many' of the English newspapers, which are sustained by private companies. This financial incapacity is compounded by poor advertisement subscriptions. Normally', many' newspapers derive their financial strength from advert placements by subscribers, but many' do not consider Yoruba newspapers for this purpose. This is, perhaps, understandable when one considers the limited readership and circulation, whereas this was not the case during the colonial era, when a high level of enthusiasm and patronage existed. As Akangbe (2018) stated about loruba News,

So many products, sendees and organisations were advertised in the newspaper. In Volume II Number 4 of February 8, 1925, when the newspaper was still barely 13 months old, there were 15 different advertisements. These included those of SB Agbaje & Co. general merchants; S. Abinusawa Motor Mechanic; LL Ricketts Agriculturist; The Hare Press (itself, the printers of Yoruba News'); DW Okusote Tailor and Draper; Oibo Alagbon; Hudson Cole Builder and Contractor; Ibadan Billiard Saloon; Mustafa Adeniran: Onisona Atata ni Opopo Bode Ona Ido; Ise Olodumare Dispensary; ET Solola General Merchant; and Anglo-Colonial Trading Corporation Limited. Advertisements were placed by clients in English and Yoruba languages.

(13-19)

With independence and deeper entrenchment of civilisation into our society, detestation for Yoruba newspapers was on the rise. To encourage Yoruba language newspaper business, it is strongly recommended that governments of each state offer financial support to the proprietors of Yoruba newspapers. Yoruba-speaking states should also float their own Yoruba language newspapers, which should be owned and fully sponsored by government. In terms of advertisements, corporate organisations and individuals are enjoined to patronise Yoruba language newspapers to boost the firms’ financial bases.

The rising cost of paper and. printing consumables is another strong force limiting the fortunes of Yoruba newspapers. The cost of production is ever increasing. Paper alone constitutes about 60% of all production costs, apart from ink, chemicals, blankets and other consumables. The rising cost of printing materials became prominent in the 1980s, when the economy of Nigeria nosedived. This was compounded by importation costs. It is pitiable that none of the papermaking companies at Jebba, Iwopin or Oku-Iboku in Nigeria are functional. The economy was in crisis and the financial power of the buyers had dropped considerably. Conversely, the costs of production had risen tremendously, leaving the Yoruba newspaper business to be emasculated from both ends: the production end and the consumption end. There are several options to stem the tide of this challenge:

i. The government can relieve the burden of publishers and printers by reducing considerably, or removing entirely, the tax and importation tariffs on paper, cardboard and printing consumables.

ii. The newspaper mills in Nigeria should also be resuscitated, as this will bring the cost of paper down considerably. It will also generate income for government and provide employment for job seekers.

iii. The government should provide financial support to publishers of Yoruba language newspapers. Banks should also grant loans to indigenous language newspaper proprietors at a reduced interest rate. This will improve the indigenous language newspapers’ financial base for better performance.

iv. Advertisers are also enjoined to patronise Yoruba newspapers. Those who advertise their business in Alaroye titles, for instance, do not regret it, as they get value for their money.

Newspaper review programmes presented on the radio are usually beneficial to listeners as they bring intriguing news to their doorstep. It is, however, a disadvantage and a disservice to newspaper companies. This is because, rather than giving the highlights by reading the headlines, broadcasters read the news in full by going into detail. Having listened to Eleti Ofe, Kalekako, Gbankogbii, Tifuntedo, Gbelegbo, Nje-e-ti-gbo, etc. on the various FM Stations in Oyo State, for instance, nobody will care to buy even an English newspaper, let alone one printed in Yoruba. It is essential that only highlights of topical news items in the dailies should be read on radio and television so that listeners can be motivated to purchase the dailies to access details of the news.

Technological innovations in printing and consumers’ technological incapacities also have negative effects on the fortune of Yoruba newspapers. With the Internet, most English newspapers have online versions. In fact, some companies have reduced their print run significantly, while others only publish online. Yoruba newspapers will perform better if they are published online, but this cannot occur because many of the primary readers do not possess the knowledge to surf the Internet. This is obviously a major challenge. All are enjoined to develop interest in reading and writing Yoruba as a matter of patriotism. If this is cultivated, there will be a surge in the growth and development of Yoruba, generally, and in Yoruba newspapers, specifically. Parents, in particular, are strongly advised to instruct their children and wards using the Yoruba language because change begins at home.

Social media has also made the dissemination of information easier and prompt. The ubiquitous nature of social media and its easy-to-use setup have also made the service of printed Yoruba newspapers less desired. In fact, electronic media generally is putting print media into relegation. Many people prefer to read news online on their smart phones, tablets, or other devices. In his study on Yoruba photoplay magazines with Atoka as a case study, Akangbe (2014) submitted that ‘perhaps the very last straw that broke the camel’s back was the home video that became a rave at the turn of the decade of the ‘90s. It was a novel medium which removed the stress of reading and finally nailed the coffin of Atoka photoplay magazine which ceased production in 1991’. The home video media suffocated not only Yoruba photoplay magazines, but all the Yoruba print media, including Yoruba newspapers and books.

As part of the quest for growth, Yoruba language newspapers should also employ social media channels for reaching readers. This is essential because electronic media is exceptionally popular for information dissemination. For continued relevance, Yoruba language newspapers must flow with the technological tide. Apart from this, the newspapers should also adopt online versions. This will enable willing readers to access their choice publications via electronic devices. For old Yoruba newspapers, such as Iwe Irohin, Yoruba News, and Eleti Ofe, digitisation will preserve them and make them available for consultation by students, scholars, researchers, libraries and other interested individuals. Digitisation involves the conversion of printed documents to electronic files, thus sustaining and preserving them.

For effective performance and productivity, training and retraining of staff and the workforce are essential. Regular training is a tonic for organisational growth, performance and productivity. It is highly recommended that Yoruba newspaper houses should emphasise the training of their editors, writers, graphic artists, photographers, compositors and other staff. It is also strongly recommended that state governments, through ministries of education, publishers and professional associations - like the Yoruba Studies Association of Nigeria, the Association of the Teachers of Yoruba Language and Culture of Nigeria, the Association of Yoruba Lecturers in Colleges of Education in Nigeria, the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), and the Linguistics Association of Nigeria (LAN) -organise a series of creative and writing competitions for students in secondary schools. Through such competitions, new talents will be discovered, budding writers will be raised and new writings will spring up. Such talents so discovered will lead students to become publishers, editors, authors, artists and designers in the near future. Some of these professionals will be of tremendous benefit to the Yoruba language newspaper industry.

 
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