Wednesday, 4 October 2017


Presented by



The Conference Hall of Katsina State Secretariat Complex, Katsina


4th October 2017

1.0 Abstract

I am pleased to appear before this humble delegation in this historic city of our slaves, I mean the Katsinawas, as a Nupe man to speak to you on the contribution of our languages to the development of literature in our region, Northern Nigeria. The first summit was hosted by Niger Chapter of the Association of Nigeria Authors at Minna, May 4th -6th, 2008, and Kano Chapter was to host the second summit in 2010, but it could not host until Kebbi chapter took the challenge and hosted a two-day summit between 17th - 18th, June 2013, five years after the first was hosted. If I could remember very well, a paragraph of the communiqué of the first summit will be a biennial event, that is, it will be hosted every two years by a state chapter until it moves round the nineteen state chapters of this Association in the North. But, from the experience of the second summit, and the ongoing one here in Katsina, I do not think we have complied with the submission of the communiqué. and I do not know who to blame as it took another four years for us to be assembled here in Katsina for the 3rd Northern Nigeria Writers Summit.

So, I want to personally use this opportunity to thank those chapters that have hosted, and most especially Katsina for saving us the shame of possibly moving to another fifth year without hosting the third. I will like to appreciate what you have done so far, particularly for giving us this wonderful theme of this summit, “Literature and National Integration: The Role of Writers as Bridge Builders.” We all know the challenge this country is in for the past 57years or so. There are different agitations of secession, sectionalism, tribalism, nepotism, etc. and as people of the pen & wisdom; we have more responsibility to dissipate all these canker worms in our polity for the overall good of our region and the nation at large.

2.0 Introduction
Nigeria is made up of two broad regions: Northern and Southern Nigeria. Northern Nigeria is a region with a diverse social cultural make up. It is a multi-ethnic and religious region consist of three sub-regions popularly known as geopolitical zones: North Central, North East, and North West zones that has nineteen states and Federal capital territory (FCT) all together today.

Language is a means of communicating between two or more people in a particular area or medium. It could be oral or written. Virtually, one finds two or more speakers of a Nigerian language in almost all the regions of the country because of our integrated demography overtime. Mutual struggle to make ends meet led to migration of southerners to the North, and vice versa. So, today, there are Igbos, Yoruba, Hausas, Fulfulde, Nupes in also every state of the federation. When one visits Sabongari in Kano, you will think one is in Aba, Abia State, likewise if you are in Sabo in Ibadan, Oyo state, you will think you are in the centre of Katsina town or Zaria city.  Likewise, within the north, one witnesses integration of other tribes within the region accepted by their host communities. For instance, there is Anguwar Nufawa in Zaria, Bauchi, and Kano; Tudun Nufawa in Kaduna. Therefore, most of these languages’ speakers are currently living in different communities across Nigeria, their ancestors settled there for centuries which led to their full integration thereby divorcing host communities of their languages’ homogeneity in all the regions.

The sad thing here is we have allowed external forces such as politics and tribalism to overwhelm our thinking, and our resolve to leave together in a genial multi-lingual society. How does a Berom and the Hausas see themselves in Plateau today?  How an Agatu person from Benue or Nasarawa State sees a Fulfulde person/herdsperson; or a Fulfulde sees a Nupe farmer? How did we degenerate to this level of distrust and discontentment among ourselves as northerners, let alone people from the other side? This is the reason why I earlier thanked ANA Katsina with this most important theme for the summit.

Then, as writers, how can we integrate ourselves and solve these problems? Will it not be wonderful to have Magana Jari Ce translated into Agatu or Berom? Do you know that Berom in Plateau does not have its Bible until July 31st, 2010, but comfortably used Hausa Bible for worship and prayers for decades, but when there is fracas, you see both in battle ground against each other? Hence, language is a powerful tool for integration or disintegration, it depends on the motives of the actors who will either choose to use it towards good or evil.

Therefore, the evolution of Nupe literary development in Northern Nigeria and the current efforts to position it among the most literate languages in the country is what this paper is going to elaborate.

3.0 Indigenous Languages of Northern Nigeria
There are over three hundred and fifty distinctive tribes or languages in Northern Nigeria out of over 520 in the country. Majority of them exist today in their oral forms or unwritten in the diverse communities of the entire north.  Below are some of languages in Northern Nigeria:

3.1 North-Central
·        Benue (14) Tiv, Idoma, Igede, Agatu, Akpa, Etulo, Abakwa, Akweya and Nyifon
·        FCT (7) Gade, Gbagyi, Nupe, Gbari, Koro, Igbira-koto,
·        Kogi (15) Igala, Ebira, Nupe, Okun, Kaba, Bassa, Oworo, Yagba, Igbira-koto,
·        Kwara (7) Yoruba, Nupe, Baruba, Fulfulde and Hausa
·        Nasarawa (29) Agatu, Bassa, Eggon, Gbagyi, Gade, Goemai, Gwandara, Ham, Kofyar, and Lijili.
·        Niger (38) Nupe, Gbagyi, Hausa, Gbari, Kadara, Gade, Bauchi, Ayadi, Busa, Gwandara, Fulfulde, Kamuku, Kambari, Pangu, Koro
·        Plateau (40) Berom, Bassa, Hausa, Fulfulde, Afizere, Amo, Anaguta, Aten, Bogghom, Buji, Chip, Fier, Gashish, Goemai, Irigwe, Jarawa, Jukun, Kofyar (comprising Doemak, Kwalla, and Mernyang), Montol, Mushere, Mupun, Mwaghavul, Ngas, Piapung, Pyem, Ron-Kulere, Bache, Talet, Tarok, and Youm.

3.2 North-East
·        Adamawa (58) Bura phabir, Fultfulde, Huba (Kilba), Bacama/Bata (Bwatiye), Longuda, Mumuye, and Samba Daka.
·        Bauchi (60) Bole, Fulfulde, and Hausa, Ajawa, Gamo-Ningi, Kubi, Mawa, Lere, Shau and Ziriya 
·        Borno (28) Hausa, Babur, Bura, Shuwa Arabic, Kanuri, and Marghi
·        Gombe (21) Tangale, Hausa, Fulfulde, Awak, Bole, Hone, Jara, Kamo, Kwaami, Loo etc.
·        Taraba (14 )Jenjo, Jibawa, Kuteb Chamba, Yandang, Mumuyes, Mambila, Wurkums, fulfulde, Jukun, Ichen, Tiv, Kaka, Hausa and Ndola
·        Yobe (10 ) Kanuri, Ngizim, Karai-Karai, Bolewa, Bade, Hausa, Ngamo, Shuwa, Bura, and Maga.

3.3 North-West
·        Jigawa (5) Bade, Fulfulde, Hausa, Kanuri, Warji
·        Kaduna (57) Gbagyi, Gbari, Hausa, Fulfulde, Mala, Jere, Gwandara,
·        Kebbi (15) Hausa, fulfulde, Kaba, Dakarkari, Kambari,Gunga, Danda, Zabarma, Duka, Fakka, Sakaba Wasagu, and Banga
·        Kano (2) - Fulfulde and Hausa
·        Katsina (2) - Fulfulde and Hausa
·        Sokoto (2) – Hausa, and Fulfulde
·        Zamfara (2) Hausa and Fulfulde

Aside Hausa, no any language in the north has done much in written documentation, majority of them remain undocumented. Only few are making marginal efforts toward achieving such objective like the Nupe, Tiv, Berom, etc in the region.

4.0 Nupe Language Literatures
Nupe is one of the major languages in Nigeria. The word Nupe means a language, a person, a former country of its speakers. There is no tentative figure on the number of its speakers, but they are predominantly found in Niger, Kwara, Kogi States, and the Federal Capital Territories (FCT) but their population could be estimated between 6-8million across the country. They are also found in big cities and towns across Nigeria as settlers.

However, let us try to define or know what constitutes Nupe literature. There are different analogical explanations or definitions of what constitutes a Nupe literature. First, it could mean books written about the Nupe people in whatever form or format. Secondly, they are books written by the Nupencizhi on the tradition and culture of the Nupe in whatever language. The third school of thought strictly defines it as the literature written in Nupe language by whosoever about others, the speakers or any topic of interest for the consumption of humanity. So the key word there in the last school of thought is just the language that matter not the culture or the people, but the written language. For instance, Magana Jari Ce originally written in Hausa could become Nupe literature once translated by any person that learnt how to write Nupe language, not necessarily a Nupe person. He could also write other books about Nupe culture using Nupe language even if he is not from Nupe. That is the school of thought that I belong, a Northern Literature should be a book written in any of the indigenous language from any of the nineteen states and FCT by any person.

For the purpose of this paper, I will explain the efforts made in the three schools of thoughts on the development of Nupe Literature, and how far it has gone in developing the language to date.

5.0 Development of Nupe Language Literature
There are two phases to Nupe language literary development which span over a century ago. It was first led by the missionary activities in the Niger territories, and then followed by the current efforts by students, scholars, anthropologist and historians etc.

1.      Missionary Phase
This can be traced back to the early missionaries of both Islam and Christianity. The early Islamic scholars used the Qur’an and Hadiths to translate/interpret in Nupe language their messages to Muslims from the oral to the written Nupe Ajami. Though very unpopular now but Nupe Ajami was widely used by the businesspersons, emirates and the aristocrats in the ancient Nupe Kingdom from about seventeenth to the mid twentieth century through the use of translators or interpreters orally or written. This trend continued until the coming of the Christian Missionaries whose activities heightened in the mid-nineteenth century in the kingdom. This is a submission on the importance of indigenous language to the early missionary activities in the north:

“At the dawn of the twenty-first century a new interest in vernacular translations has arisen among Nigerians. It is fueled by the popularity of the Jesus film, which is being dubbed into the tribal languages. Most of this work is being done by Nigerians themselves, many of whom have been prepared in United Missionary Church schools such as the United Missionary Church of Africa Theological College and the Tungan Magajiya Bible College. Often this has been followed by linguistic training from the Nigerian Translation Trust, an heir of Wycliffe Bible Translators.” 1

The use of the indigenous languages became a catch for effective evangelization of the Nupe Kingdom in the nineteenth century which called for translations of the scriptures in the native languages. So this was pioneered by the Church missionaries in the 1840s. The activities in the 19th century made tremendous impact in the literary activity and development of the Nupe language as it was among the first target when mission stations were stationed in different parts of Niger River territories.

The Anglican Bishop, Herbert Tugwell suggested that the missions interested in the Nupe come together in a conference to decide on matters related to translation questions. These missions were the Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS), Sudan Interior Missions (S.I.M.) and the Brethren Mission (UMS). Their first meeting was held at Pategi in 1906 where they settled on the orthography to be used . They also planned to translate the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. A.W. Banfield, one of the early missioners in Nupe territories was asked to be the secretary. The second meeting in 1907 was at Shonga, and later meetings were at Pategi in 1908 and 1909. At the first conference J. L. McIntyre (CMS) was asked to write a Nupe grammar. Banfield was to revise his translation of the Gospels. After the committee decided his translation of the Gospels was good quality it went to the Bible Society and they were printed in 1908. The Banfields were on furlough and were able to be in London when the Gospels were being printed.

The Nupe Literature Conference’s work was not the first attempt at Bible translation into Nupe language. Samuel Ajayi Crowther had a translation of the Gospel of John printed by CMS in London, fruit of his many contacts with the Nupe land and his attempts to open the kingdom to Christian missionaries in 1860s. In 1886-87, BFBS published four Gospels translated by Archdeacon Henry Johnson and later revision by J. L. McIntyre and T. W. Bako in 1889. This same Thomas Bako also had a translation of the Psalms, with revisions by Obadiah Thomas and J. J. Williams, published in 1903 after Bako was killed in Lokoja. The 1909 Literature Conference urged Banfield to continue translating.2

Pioneer Nupe Language Literature
The interesting part of the earlier Nupe translators was that their source language was not Nupe. They worked through oral interpreter or translators to get their messages across to their target group or their work published. 

Reverend Samuel Ajayi Crowther (c. 1809 -1891)
i.           Primer for the Nupe language in 1860
ii.        A grammar and vocabulary of Nupe in 1864
iii.      Translated Gospel of John into Nupe in 1877 

Rev. Henry Johnson (1834 – 1908) was an eminent Anglican Bishop
i.        Nupe reading book and a translation of the Catechism of the Church of England, 1883. 12 pages
ii.     He translated the Gospels into Nupe and popularly known as the African Pastor between1886-1887
iii.   Adua Lazhin be Lozun, Be Litani, Be Gigo Lilici, Be Baptismi Lilici, To Katekismi. Be Konfirmesoni, nimi ezhi Nupenci. (Portions of the Book of Commmon Prayer in the Nupé language.), 1899

T. W. Bako died 1902, an Oworo Yoruba slave bought in Lagos, he worked together With A. W. Banfield in Lokoja briefly before he was killed during his mission activities at the area
i.        Gospels translation to Nupe earlier by Henry Johnson (revised) by J. L. Macintyre, CMS, and T. W. Bako in 1899
ii.     Psalms into Nupe. It was revised before printing by O. Thomas and J. J. Williams

Alexandra Banfield Wood (1878-1949)
A.W. Banfield was an evangelist who stayed in Tsonga (Shonga) for over two decades in the current Kwara State of Nigeria. He started the work of translating the Bible into Nupe in 1900s; by 1908 he has translated the four Gospels into Nupe language from English Bible. In 1914 Banfield completed the entire translation of the New Testament Nupe language and later the whole Old Testament. He is considered as giant in Bible translation.

However, R. V. Bingham, the co-founder of SIM said: “Mr Banfield applied himself wholeheartedly to mastering this difficult tongue. Into it he began to translate the precious Word of God. He compiled his own dictionary and when he returned from his first furlough he had ready the manuscript which the British and Foreign Bible Society printed, so that he was able to take back to the field these portions of the New Testament (the four Gospels) to the two or three million people who spoke the Nupe language.” Bingham later said: “A.W. Banfield set the standard and tone for SIM’s translation programme.”3

He used the Niger Press and translated & published his works in Nupe language as listed below:
i.        Gospels (Matthew, Luke, John & Mark), 1908 
ii.      Completed the translation draft of the whole New Testament in 1914 using the Reverse Standard Version of 1881.
iii.    Romans - Revelation (Portion of the Bible), 1910-1915 
iv.    A Grammar of the Nupe Language together with a Vocabulary by A. W. Banfield &  J. L. Macintyre in 1915
v.      A Nupe Dictionary in two volumes of over 13,000 words; volume 1 in 1914 and volume 2 in 1916.
vi.    Gamaga - Nupe Proverb and translated in English, a collection of 623 Nupe proverbs, 1916.
vii.  Zabura tò Gạ̀cìṇẓì. (Psalms and Proverbs – Part of the Old Testament into Nupe) in 1920 and revised by a committee in 1950, the committee included: A. W. Banfield, I. W. Sherk, F. Merryweather, A. E. Ball, and C. H. Daintree.
viii. Nupe Language Bible in 1953 by same committee.

Rev J. L. Macintyre, a CMS missionary
With Banfield, A. W. in 1915 published -  A grammar of the Nupe language together with a vocabulary (London)

Isaac Madugu
Sharp Sayings: Aphorisms of Jesus in the Gospels 1994

Sheikh Saidu Muhammad Enagi (1952 – 2011)4
Translated the Holy Qur’an into Nupe Language in 2002

2.       Current Efforts
This can be explained as any other development of the language that is none religious that are purely academic and literary.

i.        The Writers’ efforts - Since year 2005, new nerve of creative art brew into Northern Nigeria, specifically in Niger State thereby repositioning itself as the literary hub of the country. Book activities were energized and momentum increased. In a bid to responds to this hype, I wrote, collaborated, translated and published the following books in an effort to further promote development Nupe language literature:
a.      Eganmaganzhi Nupe (Nupe Proverbs – over a thousand proverbs with English translation and explanations), 2009.
b.      Prof. Mohammad Kuta Yahaya’s play – Ignorance is a Disease was also translated and acted into Nupe Language book (Rakpebo Batán Wun Yi ò) and film respectively in 2012, it was collaboration between me and lat  Sadisu Mohammad, a Nupe Filmmaker.
c.      Translated into Nupe language BM Dzukogi’s Sex is Beautiful titled Cìn Sà, 2017.

ii.     Prof. Roger Blench, Roger Marsh Blench is a British linguist, ethnomusicologist and development anthropologist. He has an M.A. and a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge.
Nupe Dictionary (Nupe-English) August 5, 2009 (Unpublished)

iii.   Ambassador Solomon Adama Yisa
Eganyekpe Nupe (Nupe Heritage Dictionary), 2013

iv.   Etsu of Patigi, Alhaji Ibrahim Chatta-Umar
Kpin Nupe Gba 1 & 2 (Learn how to read Nupe)

6.0 Government Efforts and Policies on Indigenous languages
The impact of language development could be felt more when government creates the enabling environment for it to strive. This is by establishing policies that encourage development of the languages. The former National Language Center transformed into the current Language Development Center (LDC) and under the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) in 1976 suggested that in addition to the three major languages, viz: Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba; the following nine of the remaining 387 or so indigenous languages in the country should be allowed to feature in the country's formal school system: Edo, Fulfulde, Nupe, Ibibio, Idoma, Igala, Ijaw, Kanuri, and Tiv. 
Thereafter, the federal government through National Policy on Education (NPE) mentioned in an official document first published in 1977, revised in 1981, it for the first time laid down a policy for the whole country that: 
a.      in primary School, which lasts six years, each child must study two languages, namely: 
(i)     his mother-tongue (if available for study) or an indigenous language of wider communication in his area of domicile, and
(ii)             English language; 
b.      in Junior Secondary School (JSS), which is of three years' duration, the child must study three languages, viz: 
(i)                his mother-tongue (if available for study) or an indigenous language of wider communication in his area of domicile, 
(ii)             English language, and 
(iii)           just any one of the three major indigenous language in the country, namely, Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba, provided the Language chosen is distinct from the child's mother-tongue;
c.      in Senior Secondary School (SSS), which also lasts three years, the child must study two languages, viz: (i) an indigenous language, and (ii) English language.5 

In 1978, the Niger State government inaugurated the Nupe Language Project Committee to look into the possibility of teaching the language in public schools especially at the primary and secondary school levels, the state drew its inspiration from the conclusion of the National Language Centre that included Nupe among major languages to be taught at that stage. Sadly, this effort was never realized.

Furthermore, in the portion of the 1989 Nigeria constitution dealing with the educational objectives of the policy. Section 19 sub-sections (4), says simply that "Government shall encourage the learning of indigenous languages."6

In addition, government established media7 organizations both print and electronic in northern Nigeria to reach out to its people with educative and informative local programmes in different languages. At the beginning, indigenous languages programmes that involves news gathering, interpretation and translations was part of the core programmes of these organizations, which was a good language development tool that has the ability to transform the society, suddenly stopped broadcasting in some, with only a skeletal transmission in the Hausa. For instance:
i.        In the 1950s and 1960s, the weekly Nupe Newspaper, Nnanyitsu published by the Gaskiya Corporation, Zaria with over 2500 copies weekly circulation had stopped long ago.
ii.      The Nupe half-hour programme aired on the Radio Nigeria Kaduna in the 1960s had also stopped.

However, despites all the efforts by government in promoting indigenous languages in the country through policies, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba got the dismal result, the rest, total neglect. So, in the face of official neglect, the responsibility of Nupe speakers is obvious. The onus is on them to keep their language alive by communicating with it all the time and to also get involved in language re-engineering with the aim of making Nupe acquire relevance in today’s rapidly changing world.

7.0 Traditional Institutions’ Efforts

Inaugurating Nupe Language Committee
Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abuakar, CFR on 11th November 2013 inaugurated the 28-Man Nupe Language Committee which comprises the writer, and other scholars & writers from religious and academic institutions with the sole aim of promoting and developing the language. He stated that Nupe people and the language has a long history which led world researchers from within and outside the Kingdom to write so many things about the language and its people, and that most of these people were not necessarily Nupes. But, they were able to tell the world the greatness of the Kingdom and the Nupe people. He added that most of our traditions and customs are facing the threat of extinction. He urged the committee to go deep and bring them back to life again and lots more. He then read the goals/objectives of the Committee as follows:
i.        to promote Nupe language and culture;
ii.     to develop curriculum for teaching Nupe language and history in schools from primary to tertiary education;
iii.   to produce instructional materials and literature in Nupe;
iv.   to promote Nupe History and heritage; and
v.      to encourage research & scholarship in Nupe language and history

7.0 Conclusion
In Niger State, writers are not resting on their oars in a bid to re-energize the almost forgotten Nupe Language Project Committee set up by the then Military Administrator of the State, Colonel Ola Oni.  For that reason, we have to devise means of furthering the development of the indigenous languages’ literature in the state most especially, the Nupe language in the following ways:
-          the stare government should institutionalized the teaching indigenous languages in accordance with the education policies on the subject in the language centres across the state
-          Opening of a translation bureau in collaboration with the Niger State Book Development Agency to published translated works of writers in the areas of Prose, Poetry, even sciences and humanities.
-          NGOs with same motto should be encouraged to teach these languages in states, i.e. Hill-Top Creative Arts Foundation has centres teaching Nupe language since 2011, the effort led to discovery of Gloria Zhiri who has written a Novella in Nupe language.
-          There is also a commendable effort ongoing by Eduko Nupe Language Foundation of teaching the language among youths at Minna and Bida towns in Niger State. 
-          Proposing to host a Nupe Language Conference to further promote the teaching of the language in schools in the states.

The impediment here would be the absence of a strategic plan by government, and the inactivity of the languages concerned to consolidate on the past efforts and devising new approaches for producing their works and popularizing the development our indigenous languages.

Endnotes & References:  
1Erdel, Dr Paul, Vernacular Language Translators and the Missionary Church

2Mason, Jim (2009). Literature Outreach in Nigeria: A History of SIM Literature Work 1901 – 1980. Waterloo

3R. V. Bingham, Seven Sevens of Years and a Jubilee, Evangelical Publishers, Toronto, Canada, 1943.
4Ndagi, M. U. Sheikh Saeedu Muhammad Enagi (1952-2011). Weekly Trust newspaper. Abuja: 12 November 2011

5Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1981. National Policy on Education. Revised. Lagos, Nigeria: NERDC Press. 
6Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1989. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Ilorin, Nigeria: Woye Printers & Publishers. 
7See a Report of the Use of Mother Tongue for Literacy Part III: Nigeria by UNESCO / University of Ibadan.  Ibadan: 13-23 December, 1964, p 62-64.

8Ibrahim, I. B. (2009) ‘Eganmaganzhi Nupe (Nupe Proverbs)’, over a thousand (1000) proverbs. Minna: Gandzo Enterprises.


Presented by ISYAKU BALA IBRAHIM At The Conference Hall of Katsina State Secretariat Complex, Katsina On ...