11 January 2016

Nigeria: 'How Indigenous Language Newspapers Are Coping Despite Trying Times'

The country's poor reading culture is negatively affecting the print media industry resulting in drop in readership and circulation besides the stiff test the digital platform is providing as an alternative medium of getting news.

Along with the above-identified challenges facing the print media generally, newspapers published in Nigerian local languages have the double threat of the gradual extinction of the mother tongues in which they are published. This further leads to attendant limitation in readership and by extension market size. In spite of the difficult times, however, another Yoruba newspaper, Iroyin Owuro, was established over a year ago.

The editor of Abuja-based Hausa language newspaper, Aminiya (from the stable of Daily Trust newspapers), Mr. Belareba Ladan, said for the papers to ensure sustainability, there's a mix of stories that include entertainment, lifestyle and photographs that appeal to readers. He said a major concern of the publication is the lack of interest in the native language, adding, "Nigerians, especially the youths, shy away from speaking our indigenous languages; they see it as 'local and cursed' rather than a form of identity and pride".

To encourage the speaking of Hausa language, Ladan stated that some higher institutions have made it mandatory for students to buy Aminiya. According to him, "The Emir of Kano, for example, communicates in Hausa to encourage the speaking of the language".

To reach a wider audience, he said the paper covers a variety of interests such as women issues, with women being interviewed, health section where a doctor is assigned to write and answer questions relating to health, science and technology section, with cooking and fashion being some of the issues focused on.

Though the Internet is affecting its readership, Ladan said, "Notwithstanding, the paper is moving with the pace of technology."

A Senior Manager and Head of Administration of Alaroye, another Yoruba language newspaper, Mr. Gabriel Olaide Sopeye, said to ensure sustainability, the outfit ensures its target audience is well defined and they get the paper across to them promptly. He also said that most publications in Nigerian languages don't consider the option of taking the papers to the rural areas where it is the preferred option, adding, "The audience is there; they want to read, but they don't know how and where to get the papers".

Another challenge besetting local language papers, according to Sopeye, is lack of advert placements. He said, "Meanstream newspapers don't struggle to get adverts; they sit in their offices and people take adverts to them unlike the Yoruba papers where we have to source for adverts with so much painstaking efforts".

Though striving to survive, Sopeye said Alaroye in the recent past offered a car in a raffle draw to encourage patronage and boost its readership. As he put it, "It happened twice, but that cannot continue all the time because at the end of the day, you may discover that you have spent more than what you get. So, it is just for popularity purposes".

Newspapers business, according to him, has become highly competitive, as there are a lot of newspapers in existence. He also said the Internet has little positive effect on the publication as not many people read the Yoruba newspaper on the net.

He noted, "One of the efforts of this organisation is ensuring that the Yoruba language does not go into extinction, to ensure the people read Yoruba newspaper and that people speak the language to their children at home".

He urged the Federal Government to intensify efforts to keep Nigeria's identity intact, saying, "Sometime ago, a proposal was sent to Ogun State House of Assembly to enforce a law that on a particular day of the week, the House should communicate only in Yoruba, and they keyed into the idea. This will surely help to encourage the speaking of Yoruba language".

Sopeye said other Yoruba speaking states should adopt the idea, and pleaded that Yoruba should be spoken in schools, adding, "Sometime ago, too, we heard that someone was trying to enforce that Mathematics and English language should be taught in our indigenous languages. It may be difficult from the onset but people would get used to it".

He was, however, not happy that the policy has not been enforced. He expressed satisfaction in the profile of Alaroye as the market leader in the Yoruba newspaper business.

A historical profile of newspapers in country yields interesting reading. The development of the Nigerian press is closely linked to the print media with the establishment of Iwe Iroyin fun awon Egba ati Yoruba which literally means - A Newspaper for the Egba and Yoruba 2 Nations on December 3, 1859 when a Christian Missionary named Reverend Henry Townsend established the first newspaper in Nigeria.

Iwe Irohin's involvement in political matters led to its closure in 1867. Fortunately, it was resuscitated in 2012, 140 years after its demise on the initiative of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Ogun State Council.

Gaskiya Ta Fi Kwabo (Truth is Worthier than Money), the world's first Hausa language newspaper and one of northern Nigeria's first periodicals established in 1939 by Gaskiya Corporation also gave up the struggle for survival recently.

Thereafter, newspapers published in English language as mode of disseminating information came into being. The Nigerian Printing and Publishing Company came on stream in 1925, and started publishing Daily Times of Nigeria and African Messenger.

A year later, Herbert Macauley established the Daily News in 1926, which further raised the tempo of English newspaper publications in the country. Thereafter, there was the West African Pilot established by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1937, which was dedicated to fighting for independence from British colonial rule.

With that sequence, it seems newspapers published in English language never looked back, as they grew and probably pushed the indigenous language publications to the background. Today, the game has not changed. If the first newspaper to be published in Nigeria was done in the local language, and some others followed suit, then what has become their fate today, especially with the growing influence of English as the international language of diplomacy and commerce?

The fate of newspapers published in local languages is further compounded. With many young Nigerians and even adults who cannot read or write in their indigenous languages, unlike in the past where a few could read and write in indigenous Nigerian languages, the situation becomes dire. Thus, print media outlets communicating in indigenous languages must strive to keep the balance between the traditional media and the ever-rising demands of technology.

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