An ex-presidential aspirant of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adamu Garba, has claimed that Arabic is Nigeria’s official language in addition to the English language.
He made the claim via his Twitter handle, @adamugarba on October 27, 2022, while expressing his support for the redesigning of the naira, saying it is long overdue.
“Redesigning the naira is long overdue. One of the giant strides of CBN Gov. Godwin Emefiele. However, wide-ranging consultation & rapid awareness needs to be created.
“For trust’s sake, the two official languages of English & Arabic need to remain, in addition to the local ones,” he tweeted.
Research shows that there are over 500 native languages spoken in Nigeria. However, the official language of Nigeria is English, the language of the former colonial masters – British.
The language is used for all formal communication in government and is also the language used in the drafting of legislations as well as in the Nigerian judicial system. English is also incorporated into the education system of Nigeria as the medium of instruction.
According to Wikipedia, Arabic and its different dialects are spoken by around 422 million (native and non-native) in the Arab world as well as in the Arab Diaspora, making it one of the five most spoken languages in the world.
It is a major language in 22 countries of the world which make up the Arab League. They are; Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, and Lebanon.
Others are Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
In Africa, Arabic is recognized as a majority language in six countries comprising Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Sudan while it is a minority language in only five countries Viz; Mali, Niger, Senegal, South Africa and South Sudan. Nigeria is not one of them.
Recall that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had on Wednesday at a press briefing in Abuja, announced its move to redesign the N200, N500 and N1,000 notes, saying the new notes would become effective from December 15, 2023.
History of Arabic Inscriptions on naira
Long before the British colonial government thought of amalgamation — or brought Western education to Nigeria — Arabic script had been introduced to Hausaland (in modern-day northern Nigeria) by traders and scholars from across the Sahara.
The proper term for this ‘Arabic sign’ is Ajami. It is an Arabic-derived African writing system. The Hausa people used the Ajami script to write in Hausa language — hence the confusion that it is ‘Arabic’.
In February 2007, the government removed Arabic script from some lower-denomination notes. It said that Ajami was no longer necessary because most Nigerians could now read and write in English.
The government also said it removed Ajami in order to conform to Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution.
In 2014, the Goodluck Jonathan administration issued a new N100 note to commemorate the 1914 amalgamation.
On the previous banknote, the words “Naira Dari” — Hausa for “N100” — appeared in Ajami. Now, the Hausa was printed, like the Yoruba and Igbo, in Latin letters (English).
This was highly controversial and was viewed in religious and political contexts.
Reacting to the divergent views in 2020, the CBN had stressed that the inscriptions on the naira notes dated back to the colonial-era “and they do not imply that Arabic is an official language in Nigeria.”
“The naira notes have retained the inscriptions with the Ajami inscriptions since 1973 when the name of the Nigerian currency was changed to naira from pounds.
“The Ajami was inscribed on the country’s currency by the colonialists to aid those without Western education in certain parts of the country, who, back then, constituted a larger part of the populace. The Ajami is not a symbol or mark of Islam but an inscription to aid the populace uneducated in Western education in ease of trade,” it said.
Currently, there is Ajami script on N1,000, N500 and N200 notes.
Although Arabic (Ajami) inscriptions are used on Nigeria’s currency, there is nowhere it is documented that it is an official language in Nigeria. The English language is the only known official language in Nigeria. Hence, Garba’s claim that Arabic is an official language in Nigeria is false.