The Nigerian army has ordered that all its officers and men should learn the three major languages – Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba – by the end of 2018.
The order came in a statement from military spokesman Brigadier-General Sani Usman:
1. The Nigerian Army has introduced a new Language Policy. The study of foreign and local languages is world-wide practice among armies, in which officers and soldiers are encouraged to be multi-lingual. The Policy will foster espirit-de-corps and better communication with the populace to enhance information gathering, civil-military relations, increase understanding between militaries when operating abroad and assist officers and soldiers to perform their duties professionally.
2. It is to be noted that English remains the official language in the Nigerian Army. Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa languages could be used during Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC) activities or interrogation. Therefore all Nigerian Army personnel have been given one year to learn the three major Nigerian languages. Invariably, by December 2018, all Nigerian Army personnel are expected to learn the three major Nigerian languages. The standard of proficiency to be attained is the basic level. Certificated proficiency level will attract Language Allowance.
3. The ability to speak the 3 major Nigerian languages will be an added advantage to those applying for recruitment or commissioning into the Nigerian Army. Therefore, prospective candidates are encouraged to learn Nigerian languages other than their mother tongues.
4. Before now, the Nigerian Army officially encouraged the learning of French, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese and Swahili. French language is an assessed subject in some career courses and examinations for Nigerian Army personnel.
The policy intent here is laudable, but it is unwittingly discriminatory against army personnel that are neither Hausa, Igbo nor Yoruba. The policy dictates that soldiers should learn all three languages, but there are over 500 other ethnic groups in the country with their own languages. Someone from those “minority” ethnic groups would have to learn three new languages, while an Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba soldier would only have to learn two new languages.
Putting this order in practice would therefore discriminate against minority ethnic groups. The Nigerian constitution is explicit about all Nigerians being free from discrimination. Chapter 4, section 42 (1) states: A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:
(a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or
(b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions.
An order that a Nigerian soldier from a minority ethnic group should learn three new languages, while another from a majority ethnic group only has to learn two new ones, is a discriminatory restriction.
The Nigerian army should withdraw that order or make it optional rather than compulsory.