Tongues wag – in mother tongue – at Amb. Tinubu’s investiture

This piece was first published in The Nation, Lagos, on Wednesday, March 5, 2008 

  

Yoruba language on parade

 At the formal investiture of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the National Ambassador for the World Festival of Yoruba Arts and Culture (WOFEYAC), prominent Yoruba leaders came out displaying different communication skills in their mother tongue as reports Group Arts and Culture Editor SOLOMON TAI ADETOYE 

My speech was prepared in Yoruba considering the nature of this gathering. But the earlier speaker spoke in English. So I have just begun translating the speech into English. I hope you will help me.”

As the audience shouted their disapproval of such a move encouraging the speaker to deliver his address in Yoruba, the atmosphere was filled with gaiety one hardly expects from boardroom players.

The speaker was Chief Molade Okoya-Thomas who was the chairman at the occasion of the investiture of former Lagos State Governor and AC chieftain Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as the National Ambassador for the forthcoming World Festival of Yoruba Arts and Culture (WOFEYAC). It held at the MUSON Centre last Sunday.

At an event put together for the promotion of Yoruba culture and language, it was just appropriate that people spoke in Yoruba. That was it. These were men we hardly ever saw speaking the language.

Professionals, business tycoons, academics, politicians, traditional rulers, entertainers… from all walks of life Yoruba leaders gathered to honour Tinubu. Even the part of the tribe in Benin Republic sent the Alajase of Ajase-Ile, Porto Novo to represent them.

Well the chairman finally gave his speech in Yoruba. But such expressions as describing Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) as an “excellent student” the Asiwaju as an “excellent professor” just did not come out in the mother tongue. Ditto his description of Tinubu as governor emeritus.

It was quite refreshing to see the topmost industrialist communicate effectively in the native tongue. The image of westernised corporate player might be a myth after all.

Just wait. Next in line was a “young man.”

Iwure, all who know will agree, is no business for the young in Yoruba land. It is special prayer that is more or less divine pronouncement. So, when former governor of Western Region retired General Adeyinka Adebayo was picked to perform the duty, organisers of WOFEYAC, Alaroye publishers led by Alao Adedayo, must have assumed they made the right choice.

The general who turns 80 next Sunday did not agree with them.

Iwure, is for elders not young ones like me,” he said drawing roaring laughter.

Anyway he prayed and no doubt the ancestors were listening.

Now away from one of our elders speaking the language laced with proverbs and other forms of expressions that are the jewelleries of Yoruba language. The next person to pick the microphone was one of the ivory tower. I mean a professor can speak Yoruba but it is usually laced with sprinklings of English language. Not the Director of Centre for Black and African Arts and Culture Professor Tunde Babawale.

If there was a competition in the use of Yoruba last Sunday, Prof. Babawale would probably win the prize. He spoke in sonorous Yoruba that makes one wonder when to expect his music album in the marked. The simple task of introducing Governor Fashola to unveil the WOFEYAC calendar turned into an exceptional display of Yoruba language skill with him. Whoever recommended him for his present position had good counsel.

If the prof. was qualify for lifting the trophy of use of language, Governor Fashola would not just him still the show. Far from the Latin-studded bamboozlement of the court room, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria came out smoking hot a Senior Advocate of Yoruba Language Usage. His smooth Yoruba flew effortlessly without his needing to retrieve English words that had found their ways into his short speech.

But there was a problem. The Governor had been called upon to unveil the calendar.

“I was just asking my egbon the honourable a question,” Fashola said addressing the audience. “The question is, how do you say ‘calendar’ in Yoruba language?”

Beyond the laughter he drew not a few left with the poser in mind. Maybe a word will be invented to cater for the need.

Meanwhile party stalwarts decked in the green T-shirts of the AC kept interrupting the governor by singing his praises.

“They are already spoiling for another election,” the governor joked. “Of course if one is coming up tonight we are ready.”

Recalling that Chief Okoya-Thomas had earlier said that Fashola’s term is an eight-year term, if Alausa is anybody’s target, he might have to wait till 2015!

You can bet the mood of the gathering changed when Asiwaju Tinubu stepped out to be decorated. From his sure gait, whoever calls him ato-fi’se-ogun-ran, he who can be sent to the battle front, did not make any mistake. Okanlomo of the Universe – a most outstanding son – was among the unofficial titles with which people hailed him.

When the time came for him to give his acceptance speech, the good old sing song Tinubu captivating oration came to the fore. While remembering to appeal to the Ndigbo and the Hausa community present to pardon his speaking in Yoruba the Ambassador reeled out Yoruba expression in impressive intonation.

Before it was over however, he reverted to English. There are some things that one would rather express in English. After all, what is the Yoruba word for “calendar”?

It was a fun-filled evening during which the glory and beauty of Yoruba language and culture took the centre stage. At the main WOFEYAC event in April, one wonders what it would be like.

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