The new regulation came in characteristic military fashion, giving soldiers a window of one year to learn to speak Nigeria’s three main languages.
It did not specify whether those unable to do so by November 2018 would lose their jobs.
The languages in question – Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba – represent the three dominant communities in the country, but that still leaves out a large number of Nigerians from the country’s several hundred other ethnic groups.
Army spokesman Brigadier General Sani Usman Kukasheka has since clarified that soldiers need only learn the basics, but those with a certified level of proficiency will get bonuses.
Mannir Dan Ali:
“Most Nigerians keep their distance from soldiers, who are mostly heavy-handed and unfriendly to those they refer to derogatorily as ‘bloody civilians'”
He explained that the idea was to help soldiers to carry out their duties more effectively and earn the trust of the communities in which they were deployed.
If the initiative succeeds, Nigerians will be in for a shock when they hear greetings – such as “sannu” in Hausa, “ekason” in Yoruba or “kedu” in Igbo – from those in military fatigues.
Most Nigerians keep their distance from soldiers, who are mostly heavy-handed and unfriendly to those they refer to derogatorily as “bloody civilians”.
Nonetheless, the Nigerian military is seen as one of the most nationalistic and unifying institutions in the country – with many of its personnel in cross
-cultural marriages because of their postings.
A soldier will have served in all parts of Nigeria – Africa’s most populous country – during the course of his or her career.
For those with a gift for languages, it is an opportunity to learn in the areas they are deployed or from colleagues from other regions.
English is the formal language of the military and government – and even with the new requirement, will remain the official language.
But in the years after independence in 1960, there were more northerners at junior levels of the army, meaning that Hausa, the lingua franca of the north, was often used to aid communication between the lower ranks and officers.
Pidgin English is also commonly used among soldiers from different areas especially in the famous “mammy markets” in barracks, where the soldiers go to unwind away from the drudgery of parade grounds or operation zones.
ds or operation zones.
Language of Boko Haram?
The new language policy appears to stem from the challenges the military is currently encountering as it continues to be called upon to assist the police in handling law-and-order situations.
Soldiers are deployed in more than 30 of Nigeria’s 36 states in one internal security operation or another.
This controversy may prompt the army to mind what innovations it implements in future as tries to grapple with the challenge of supporting the police to keep everyone safe in the country.
But as it stands, the military chief is unlikely to be saying sorry for this policy – in any language.