Statistical conspiracy against Arabic - By: M.U. NDAGI | Dailytrust

Statistical conspiracy against Arabic

The Guest Speaker at the occasion was Emeritus Professor Munzali Jibril, former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC) and the current Pro-Chancellor of Federal University, Lafia. The event was the 2021 United Nations Day for Arabic Language, also known as the World Arabic Language Day (WALD). It was organized by the Nigeria Arabic Language Village (NALV), Ngala, Borno State. The Day is marked on December 18 every year. For the first time, the WALD was observed in a formal and well-structured manner with the full participation of Borno State Government. About one million of the population in Borno state speaks a dialect of Arabic language. 

It was a 2-day celebration that began on Saturday December 18, 2021 at Government House, Maiduguri and thereafter continued in the afternoon at the office complex of the NALV, also in Maiduguri. The event ended on Sunday December 19, 2021 at the University of Maiduguri, the third venue for the 2021 WALD. The choice of the auditorium of the Government House, Maiduguri, as the foremost venue of the event was not by chance because the government of Borno State had been a major care-giver to the NALV since it became an ‘Internally Displaced Agency’ in Maiduguri after its operational headquarters at Ngala was destroyed by insurgents. 

Although this page was, last week, dedicated to the cause of WALD, this writer felt inspired, or rather compelled, to revisit the same subject matter this week again to share with readers some eye-opening revelations from the Guest Speaker at the event, Professor Munzali Jibril. While the audience was expecting the arrival of the Executive Governor of Borno State, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum who was represented by his deputy Alhaji Umar Kadafur Usman, the multi-lingual master of ceremony, Dr. Taufeeq of the Bayero University, Kano (BUK) invited one of the Special Guests at the occasion and former Deputy Vice Chancellor of the Umaru Musa Yar’adua University, Katsina Professor Khalid Hassan Abdullah to carry listeners through some beautiful lines of poem he (Professor Khalid) had composed in honour of the WALD. This was followed by a short treatise on the origin of the WALD by Professor Attahir Muhammad Dawood of BUK. 

The programmme, which began soon after the arrival of the deputy governor commenced with the national anthem, opening payer and a welcome address by the Executive Director of the NALV, Professor Ibrahim Muhammad whose eloquence in both Arabic and English later prompted Professor Munzali to say he was finding it difficult to know whether Prof Ibrahim is the CEO of Arabic Village or English Village. Prof Ibrahim told the audience that the NALV could have decided to celebrate the WALD in any part of the country other than Maiduguri but chose to do so in its natural environment to demonstrate that Borno state, not just Maiduguri, is the home of peace. 

Professor Munzali kick-started his lecture with some useful statistics when he said ‘there are over 7,000 languages in the world spoken by the 7.9 billion that inhabit the earth”; adding that only “the top 100 languages account for 95 per cent of the speakers while most of the languages (about 6,900 of them) share the remaining 5 per cent of the population.” Sourcing from Ethnologue 2019, the Guest Speaker produced a list of top 91 languages with an estimated population of at least 10 million native speakers. Unfortunately, this source refused to recognize Arabic as a major world language but listed it fragmentally as national varieties. While the first variety designated as Egyptian Arabic, ranked 23rd on the list, others were Sudanese Arabic, Algerian Arabic, and Moroccan Arabic which respectively ranked 42nd, 43rd and 44th. 

According to Professor Munzali, if all the 12 varieties of Arabic language mentioned on the list of top 91 languages were to have simply been listed as one major language, Arabic, and the estimated population of its native speakers also put together as done for English and French; Arabic could have been listed as one of the first three or five most widely-spoken native language in the world. Recall that the same source had in 2005 estimated the total number of native speakers of Arabic to be 230 million; placing it as the fifth most widely-spoken language in the world; coming after Mandarin, Hindi, Spanish, and English. Similarly, Wikipedia currently puts the population of native speakers of Arabic at 422 million, which should comfortably place Arabic as the third most widely-spoken native language, coming after Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. The question is, why are the statistics provided for Arabic by Ethnologue fragmented?

Further in his argument, Professor Munzali said if only 10 per cent of the world’s 1.9 Muslims speak Arabic as a second language, the total population of speakers of Arabic as a native and second language would be over 600 million, placing it as the second most widely-used language, behind only Mandarin. Professor Munzali referred to the fragmentation of statistics of Arabic speakers as a conspiracy to downplay the ranking of Arabic among other most-widely used languages. Readers should also remember the conspiracy in the Anglicized names of Ibn Rushdi, Ibn Sina, Ibn Jabir and Alkhawarizmi.

At this venue, awards were presented to Nigeria’s Grand Mufti Shaykh Sheriff Ibrahim Saleh, Professor S. A. S. Galadanci, Professor Isaac Ogunbiyi, and Professor Munzali Jibril for their scholarly contributions to Arabic in Nigeria. When it was time for the chairman of the occasion, Professor Abubakar Mustapha, to speak; he said others have said all he wanted to say. While Professor Munzali responded on behalf of the awardees, vote of thanks was given by the Chairman of the Governing Council of the NALV, Professor Jidda Hassan Jumu’a. The gathering closed with an address by Governor Babagana Zulum, which was followed by a closing prayer and the national anthem.

At the NALV venue, a 500-seater hall was commissioned by Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State. After a break for lunch and prayer, the session at this venue continued with the presentation of two papers by Professor Aliyu Muhammad Al-Ahmar of the University of Maiduguri and Professor Rabiu Saad of BUK. While the first paper was chaired by this writer, the second was by Professor Hamza Abdurraheem of KWASU, Malelete, Ilorin. Professor Dawood and Professor Khalid discussed the two papers respectively. The session at this venue closed with presentation of awards to some individuals and corporate bodies including Professor Hamza Abdurraheem, this writer, the Vice Chancellor of Uni-Maid, former CEO of the NALV, Daily Trust newspaper, and NTA Maiduguri among others. In arrears, we say: Happy Arabic Day!

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