NB: Foreign language in this context is taken to mean any non-English language as English itself is a foreign language in Nigeria but later adopted as the nation’s lingua franca. Thanks.
The use of Arabic inscriptions by Nigerian government institutions and establishments is a reflection of history and specifically the effect of the administration of Lord Frederick Lugard, Nigeria’s Governor-General.
Arabic inscriptions have appeared in the following:
-Currency: From the very first time that paper money was used in the country, either by the colonialists or local traders, Arabic inscriptions have always been used until the inscriptions were removed later on from the naira notes. The Nigerian pound was replaced in 1973 by naira and kobo but before then, the currency in use was the old West African Board (WACB) Pound which was also called the West African Pound (WAP).
Arabic inscriptions on the naira notes before they were removed. Credits: Emeagwali.com
The WAP also had Arabic inscriptions on it and it was from it that the West African countries of Ghana, the Gambia, Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone derived their currencies after independence.
-Nigerian Army Crest
What is written on the crest of the Nigerian Army means: VICTORY IS FROM GOD ALONE. The transliteration is ‘nasrimindillah’.
SO WHY WERE ARABIC INSCRIPTIONS USED IN THE FIRST PLACE INSTEAD OF ENGLISH?
At different times, Lugard was in charge of administration in Nigeria (he was the first Commander of the Royal West African Frontier Force from 1897-1899, the first High Commissioner of Northern Nigeria from 1899-1906, the Governor of the British Protectorates of Northern & Southern Nigeria from 1912 – 1914, before ultimately becoming the first Governor-General of Nigeria after amalgamation from 1914 – 1919) and he was of the opinion that Arabic inscriptions should be used as symbols, as it was the only written ‘indigenous’ language anywhere in Nigeria or in the West African subregion, particularly among the Hausa merchants found all over the region.
Lugard did not limit the use of the Arabic inscriptions to the currencies alone. He also used it on the official badges of the Royal West African Frontier Force which later became the Nigerian Army, thus explaining the continued presence of the Arabic inscriptions on the crest and badges of the Nigerian military.
The colonial masters decided to make use of Arabic as it was of great administrative use for them and assisting in domesticating the locals, many of whom were drafted for military service. Therefore, these inscriptions are in effect, a reflection of Nigeria’s colonial history. Please note that after independence, some other West African nations like Ghana & Sierra Leone did away with the colonial inscriptions but the Gambia and Nigeria persisted in its use.
After Nigeria’s independence, various federal establishments continued using foreign language inscriptions on their prominent symbols. These include:
-Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna, the nation’s largest university.
-University of Ilorin
Nigerians from various spheres have argued on both sides that the Arabic inscriptions be removed or left to be there. There are numerous reasons given by both parties but the controversy rears its head from time to time. So what is your opinion? Should it be removed or not? What are your reasons? Let Nigeria hear from you.
Apart from Arabic, another foreign language that is used widely in federal government establishments is Latin. An illustration of this is the motto of the unity colleges (federal government colleges) which goes thus:
Pro unitate (meaning ‘for unity’).
-KING’S COLLEGE, LAGOS
Floreat collegium is the motto of the King’s College, Lagos. Long standing traditions of the school include greeting fellow alumni with the words “Floreat”, meaning ‘Let it flourish” in English, always adding “yes please” as an addendum to a statement when addressing your seniors, referring to sixth form students (SSS 3) as citizens of the school and fondly referring to the school principal as PKC (short for Principal, Kings College). “Floreat Collegium” literally means flourishing in youth. Credits: ZeitgeistAfrica
Credits & References
1. Nowa Omoigui, Reflections on Arabic Inscriptions on Nigeria’s Currency.