Today’s article was first published in December 2014, but the burning issue of Arabic inscription on the naira makes very relevant even now. Enjoy:
“O You who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah; even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor, Allah is a better protector to both (than you). So follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you may avoid justice, and if you distort your witness or refuse to give it, Verily, Allah is ever Well-acquainted with what you do.”
The divine words of instruction above will be the thrust of my piece. It is in respect to the controversy that has greeted the unveiling of the new 100-naira note to commemorate the centenary celebration of our country. Today, Friday, December 19, 2014, is the official release date of the new note, which shall be in circulation with the old 100-naira.
The main point of contention is the removal of the Arabic letters on the note. On one hand, you have some Muslims and those with a penchant for history and preservation of culture who are against the removal of the Arabic letters. On the other are Muslims who are unaffected by the removal, a large number of Christians and those without any sense of history who are glad to see the letters go.
The reasons for removing the letters, as explained by the two CBN Governors who have so far championed the removal, are the first we should analyse. Any ulterior motive is unknown to us as Muslims and we do not second-guess anybody. We also will not dwell on the fact that both times the scripts have been removed a Christian was heading the CBN. A Christian headed the CBN when Islamic non-interest banking was in process too. Let us look at Soludo’s reasons for removing the letters:
“I will like to inform you that the removal of the Arabic inscription on the notes is not targeted at any group or religion, but rather, to promote our language and cultural heritage. As you can see, Naira is the symbol of our nationalism and our pride. It is pertinent for you to understand that Arabic is not one of our national languages and it was inscribed on the notes 40 years ago because the majority of people then can read it in the Northern part of the country at the detriment of their counterparts in the South…. So we want journalists to assist in enlightening the public on the new notes and reforms going on, especially (the) removal of the Arabic letters in the currency which is done to promote national unity.” –
Thisday Newspaper, February 16 2006
Dr Shamsudeen Usman, the erstwhile Minister of National Planning, concurred with Soludo at the time. He is a devout Muslim while Soludo is a Catholic.
I have two problems with Professor’s assertions. The first one reflects how poorly our leaders are doing in history awareness, and the second is with the rather childish quality of the reasoning.
Arabic has been a part of Nigeria’s language before the English ever dreamt of getting here. When Luggard reached Northern Nigeria, there were about 25,000 schools whose lingua franca was Arabic and Hausa. They wrote both languages using Arabic alphabets. The whole of West Africa knew Arabic as a major language and its alphabets were widely used to write native languages.
Since the languages were not Arabic, people called them Ajami (writing in Arabic characters). It was one of the preponderant orthographies of the time. Lord Luggard had to engage the services of a linguist to find a way to codify Hausa language using Latin letters (what we call the English alphabets). He reasoned that learning Hausa through Ajami would entail learning Arabic first since Ajami was derived from Arabic. A more cumbersome route in his opinion.
In Nigeria, apart from the Hausa language, the Yorubas also wrote their language in Ajami at least a hundred years before the coming of the colonialists. Yorubas were in contact with Arabic speaking Muslims and Islam before Christianity. In fact, in reference to the fact that Malian traders brought Islam to the Yoruba people, Islam was nicknamed “Esin Imale”, the Malian religion. Spanish documents still exist in Ajami script. Read more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ajami_script
Arabic is one of the five most widely used languages and it has a rich history. Incidentally, Arabic letters were derived from Aramaic letters (the original language of the Hebrews). A little bit of research would have helped Professor Soludo. The resources are free.
Soludo said that removing Ajami would “promote our language and cultural heritage” and “promote national unity”. I fail to see how that would happen. On the contrary, removing Ajami looks more like obliterating a chunk of our language and cultural heritage. Soludo removed the inscriptions on the lower denomination notes but left them on the 100, 200, 500 and 1000-naira notes. If it was for the reasons he mentioned, why did he retain the rest? Puerile explanations insult our collective intelligence. And Soludo is by no means a fool.
Before the first phase of removal, I must mention that there were few objections to the presence of the Ajami script on the naira notes. The notable ones include Wole Soyinka’s reference to the script and the so-called Arewa emblem, which he claimed, was a planned, subliminal way of subjugating the rest of the country to Hausa rule. Soyinka is not a Christian; he is a pagan with much hatred for Islam and the North. His objections, like most of his interventions outside his field, are just hot air. He seems to forget what he won the Nobel Prize in Literature and fancies himself an expert in areas beyond his ken. The second notable objection was by one Comrade Akinloye Segun Oyeniyi, who claimed to be a trained linguist.
He wrote a letter to the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, which reads in part, “Mr President sir, as a trained linguist and translator, I stand to say this imposition of an alien language on one of Nigerian symbols of sovereignty is putting entire Nigerians into “language slavery” which undoubtedly is general insecurity socio-economically, socio-culturally and socio-politically and denial of cultural rights via language as citizens of the nation”. So much for his training!
Oyeniyi wrote an earlier letter in May 2005 and shortly afterwards, Ajami was removed from the lower denominations as I earlier wrote, with the not too bright explanations of the then CBN Governor. We may never know the real reasons for their objections, but it is clear that these were not objective objections. The current CBN Governor’s reasons do not differ from that of Soludo so there is no need to mention them separately.
The Ajami script is an integral part of the Hausa language, which, incidentally, is mainly adapted Arabic. The so-called linguist was unaware of this and he was unaware of the influence of Arabic in his own Yoruba language. I wonder where he schooled.
Let us examine the objections of non-Muslims to the script. One assertion is that it is Quranic language and that Nigeria is a secular state. That is as silly as saying that the Latin letters with which I have written this article are Biblical because of their usage in writing the Bible. We have been using the same letters to write our native names that did not come from English. Hausa was similarly rewritten in Latin characters to help the colonialists learn Hausa faster. Ajami was the default. By the way, those who learnt the Latin letters seem to think they are somehow superior to those who learnt the adapted Arabic orthography called Ajami. Their Latin-letter literate brethren in the South call them illiterate – an irony if you want one!
Many of them also think Muslims put the script on our currency notes. This is plain bigotry. The internet is a wonderful place to look for information; I will not digress too far on the topic. Anyone with internet access can see the pictures of British West African Government coins dating back to 1936 or even earlier having Arabic on them; not even Ajami. So why would a British, Christian government do that? They realised it was a language in which many of their subjects were literate and it would facilitate easy acceptability of the coins and notes. You can check the same thing for the one-pound note. The only difference was that the pound note used Ajami instead of actual Arabic.