The inspiring story of this young Nigerian who remained resilient against all odds to pursue his dream of studying Igbo language over all the mainstream courses in the University demonstrates how Africa needs more of his kind to sustain the local languages in our schools amidst threats of their extinction.
The young man identified as Ogbonnaya Mark, stated that he was aware of the scorn with which his decision to study Igbo language in the tertiary will be treated but he was well prepared to take-up that challenge. “I wanted to read Igbo language in university. I knew I was going to be discouraged by family and friends who thought I should be studying law, I hid the plans to myself.” he said.
Mark revealed that, due to financial limitations, he intended to seek support from people to register for his Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) entrance examination which is mandatory for prospective undergraduates into Nigerian universities but he predicted such people would definitely demand to know the course he wanted to study, which will still narrow down to the same drama he was preventing so he decided to save and do it on his own.
“The idea was, asking for money from anyone for the JAMB form would result in the question of the course I was going to study in the university. In that case, I must do it myself. My age was 17. The passion I had for Igbo language was burning like fire. I had written over 15 manuscripts then in Igbo. I must read Igbo in university.” Mark narrated, adding that, “I had to do some work for people, get paid and saved up.”
According to the young man, in order to prevent his people from knowing the course he wanted to study, he had to travel to another Local Government Area where no one knew him just to register for the JAMB. He narrated further that, “when the computer operator saw what I filled in the form: Igbo Language first and second choice. He looked at me (and asked), “Boy, what are you doing? Do your people know you are going to study Igbo in the university?…You are too bold. Do you have advisers at all?”
He dealt with that by telling him he knew what he was doing; he stated how he was equally mocked for being the only candidate who sat for Igbo subject in his center. “People were laughing at me. Seeing me like a fool.” He said.
After passing his JAMB and getting admitted, he notified his parents later but they demanded he change the course or they won’t fund his education; an outcome he earlier predicted so he moved on. “I was left in my own world of conviction… I started making journeys for my Igbo books. Meeting every publishing company. I got rejected many times. Many believed I was too young to write something people would read. I had to borrow money and self-published my first novel: “Nwata Tichaa Akị Tụfuo Nkume”. I started going from schools to schools to sell the books but met rejection from school principals and owners of schools who would laugh at me and tell me to go find my life. Some flung my books at me warning me never to step into their schools again.”
Through all these hurdles, his book got recognized by some professors. “Professor Inno Nwadike after reading the book recommended it to the second year students of the department, I was in my first year. Getting to second year, I published another book entitled: “Nwata Kpata Ego Okenye Ejegbuo Onwe Ya n’Ozi; the book was approved for the third year and second year students. Meaning I was reading my book to pass my semester exam including everyone in my class.” He narrated.
According to him, the two books were recommended for Igbo elective courses in the Linguistics, Arts Education, English & Literary Studies, Music, Theatre Arts departments. “First year and second year students. Federal College of Education, Eha-Amufu started using my book for exams.” He added.
Whilst studying for his undergraduate certificate in final year, one of his books themed: “Ụwa Na-amịgharị Amịgharị” was approved for Master’s and PhD students offering Igbo Literature while some of his lecturers undergoing postgraduate program also used the book for their exams.
“I released many books in Igbo which are approved by the Enugu State Ministry of Education, Ebọnyị State, Anambra State, Imo State, Abịa State and Delta State for Junior WAEC exams and other secondary school classes. My Igbo books were used for GS in different colleges of education, even Anambra State University.” Mark said.
He stated in his narration that he currently has 25 published books in Igbo and a total of 58 published and unpublished manuscripts in Igbo Language.
In terms of other achievements, Mark added that, he also “translated the BBC guidelines in Igbo before the launching of BBC Igbo Service; translated Igbo for the UNESCO; obtained more certification from the Newcastle University UK and the University of the West of Scotland where I used Igbo for my project in translation and movie Subtitle.”
Mr. Ogbonnaya Mark who sounds very proud of his achievement finally stated that, “this story comes as a push to tell us that no matter what people look down on, determination and consistency bring more opportunity. I keep saying, I don’t and will never regret ever going to the university to read Igbo Language. It’s the best decision I made for myself.”
His resilience is worth emulating, especially in an era where the various local languages are facing risks of extinction due to the undue priorities given to English and French languages in our various schools. Young people must be encouraged to venture more into these areas to sustain the culture.