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1.1 Background to the Study

The history of English language in Nigeria is dated back to 1842 when the first set of Europeans landed at Badagary in Lagos. They were mainly the Portuguese slave traders. It was through Badagry that the slaves they were trading were transported to Europe.

This then, marked the inception of English in Nigeria because during the time of this trade, some medium of communication must have been needed. It is speculated according to history books that some form of English was then used of the ports of Badagry and it had some elements of Portuguese in it. This would explain the presence of Portuguese words in our present day Nigerian Pidgin English.

In the early part of the 1500s, these slaves were taken from West African countries; Nigeria inclusive and like we said earlier, Badagry was used as a point of transportation of these slaves to some European countries. Some reports have shown that statistically, no fewer than 550, 000 African slaves were transported from Lagos between 1776 and 1850.

Some of the European slave merchants stayed on the coastal region of Badagry and this slavery was their own source of income. It is clear that it was some form of “broken” (according to some textbooks) English that was used as a means of communication between the traders. For obvious reasons, the people had to take interest in the language because that was probably the most important feature a trader had to posses in order to trade with these merchants. (Eka, 2011)

Awonusi (2004,p.53) reported that in later years, some British Christians took interest in Nigeria and came to the awareness of slave trade in Lagos and its notorious identity as a slave depot. This, however, did not sit well with them and the British decided to put an end to the slave trading in Britain in 1772 by a movement from the then chief justice of England, Lord Mansfield.

So, slave trade around the world was declared illegal by 1807 and then in 1852, England and Badagry chiefs signed a treaty that put an end to human trafficking in that region. After this abolishment in Lagos because of its annexation by the British in the 1860s, a British Christian society called the Buxton’s society for the extinction of slave trade and for the civilisation of Africa, declared its unanimous opinion that the only complete cure of all the evils that slave trade had caused in Nigeria and then Africa, was the “introduction of Christianity”.


 This unanimous decision is what led to the coming of the missionaries to Nigeria.  It is good to note this because the pathway these missionaries used was Badagry.

So, with the introduction of the missionaries, came the introduction of the English language to Badagry. So, Badagry became the cradle of Christianity in Nigeria and the gateway to education and western civilisation, the first city to boast of the first storey building in Nigeria and the first to be urbanised.

However, Mukherjee (2007: 165) asserted that with the arrival of these British and English speaking missionaries to southern Nigeria in the late 1800s, brought up the need for a language of equal communication between the indigenous populace and the English guests and that was where the English language came in.

These Christian missionaries established their first station at Badagry and ended up settling in that coastal town. Those slaves that had been exposed to European cultures and got western civilisation returned to Nigeria as a result of the abolishment of the slave trade. Consequently, those slaves served as translators and interpreters for the Christian missionaries who had the problem of communication with the natives.

It is speculated that Christianity was first preached by a British reverend on Badagry soil in the late 1800s. The name of the reverend was reverend Thomas Birch Freeman. It is important to remember that Christianity was to rid the evils of slave trade.

Along with the western religion, came the western language known as the English language. So, if Badagry served as an important pathway for the European slave trade and the Christian missionary activities into Nigeria, it, at the same time, served as an important pathway for the introduction of English language in Nigeria. Though Christianity is the acclaimed means that facilitated the spread of English in Nigeria, education was another one.

The two major activities of the Christian missionaries were preaching the gospel of Christ and the establishment of western education. The major educational establishments were based in Badagry at that time and this facilitated the growth, advancement, spread and eventually, the use of English in Nigeria.


Because of the need to make the natives literate enough to participate in Christian activities and able to read the bible, the English language had to be learned. Being that it was the Christian missionaries who established the institutions and the English language was their language, the language would in turn be taught in the schools.

In the year 1841; the British were able to enter into the Southern and South-Western region and which raises the question of a language to adopt for communication between the indigenous people and themselves which is referred to as the guest. The year 1882, the English language was already spoken by the elites and also the children of the elites.

English language was accepted and also implanted as the official language to be used in the country. It was approved in the corporate environment, corporate organizations and others. Places like Lagos, Badagry, Bendel, Abeokuta has a lot of English speakers. English language was seen as a prestigious language, a language of success and power.

During these times people no longer paid attention anymore to native languages, children in schools are now taught English language as using your native language is termed as vernacular and also punishable in schools. That’s all about the history of English language in Nigeria.

Nigeria is a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual society with a population of about 206.14 million people. According to Egbokhare (2008), there are approximately 400 native languages in Nigeria spoken by different ethnic groups. Adegbite et al (2011) estimate that there are more than 500 indigenous languages which serve as mother tongue of speakers of diverse ethnic groups.

Apart from those languages whose speakers fall within the linguistic border lines and whose speakers inevitably have to acquire more than one particular language for survival, the three principal languages in Nigeria are Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo. But the phenomenon is not as simple as that.

There are majority-minority indigenous languages and minor -minority indigenous languages. For the non-major/minority indigenous languages, Iwara (2008) gives a rough index of their number as 396. According to him, the major minority languages are given as about 12 in number – Fulfilde (or Fulani) Kanuri, Tiv, Nupe, Jukun, Ebira, Edo, Ibibio, Idoma, Ijaw, Efik and Urhobo.

The population of the speakers of each of them is put as ranging between 2 to 8 million people. As a matter of fact, these groups of people do not only enjoy officialdom at their state levels, they also have a relatively standard orthography and a vast body of literature. The minor languages, on the other hand, number about 385 and have up to 2 million speakers.


Eka (2000) mentions some of these minor-minority languages to include Birom, Jarawa, Angas, Mada, Ankwa, Amo, Kaje, Jaba, Kataf spoken in the north, in addition to Gbagyi and Koro. While in the south, we have Ekid, Oron,Annang,Ibeno, Kana, Gokana, Eleme, Okrika, Ikwere,Itsekiri, Isoko,Bekwarra, Yala, Ejagham, Esan,etc.

However, a few of them have just around half of a million. By the current varying estimates therefore, the figure of native languages spoken in Nigeria ranges between 250 to 400.The record which supports 400 languages  is about the most acceptable going by the UNESCO estimates as given in Ouane and Glanz (2010)’s account.

Out of this number, however, it is assumed that of all the countries in Africa, Nigeria stands out as a country where three of the continent’s four major language tribes are most represented (Iwara, 2008).In their own study of multilingualism, Appel and Muyeken (1987) called this societal multilingualism.

They describe societal multilingualism as that occurring in a given society where two or more languages are spoken. Eka (2000), even made a proposal for a Progressive Trilingual Approach with the mindset that each Nigerian should be allowed to patiently learn any language other than his own within a certain period to determine which language is spoken the most and then taken to solve the problem of a lingua franca, while retaining English for specific national and international intercourse.

Although there are different varieties in usage and use that English has taken in Nigeria in terms of region and contexts, what should actually be of concern to us is the way to arrive at a somewhat near-proficiency level to the native speakers. Though there have been arguments as to allowing the ‘Nigerian English’ to maintain its status quo since it strives to make intelligibility its focus, we do not want to forget that English is an International Language (EIL).

In doing international business, for example, we know that a good understanding of the language of business (e.g. English) is necessary or the business will be extremely localized. Curiously, what we want to understand from there is that the ‘consultants’ whom Fakoya (200) claims to be deficient in the language that they use to conduct their business, are themselves able to create forms and structure of English that the linguistic environment allows.

While they may be unable to answer some questions that participants ask using the British Standard English (BrSE), they strive to work with the language in the contexts of the multilingual nuances to pragmatically send the intended message by giving information about certain aspects of the grammar of the language the participants may not grasp.


So the need to employ experts to train personnel in the use of the language for better output is still to reach a proficiency level that is acceptable and not a direct proof that our competence in the use of a language directly affects our growth in a desired direction.

However, according to Ike, (2007) English is the language of education in Nigeria. It is the language of instruction from upper primary education, through secondary and tertiary education in Nigeria. The state of English as a Second Language in Nigeria coupled with the numerous roles it plays compels every Nigerian citizen to learn and to speak it.

Equally, English language has advanced Nigerians economically. Locally, people engage in trading and other business activities to increase their economic power and improve their standard of living. This has been successful because of the use of English. Globally, people engage in international businesses facilitated by the use of English. Again, the status of English as a second language in Nigeria has attracted foreign investment.

( Njoku, 2014)  Besides these benefits, English language has conferred on Nigerians other privileges that bear on human development as well as national development, both on the home front and on the global scene. On the home front, English language is essentially regarded as a unifying factor.

It has allowed Nigerians to co-exist peacefully even in their diversity. It is this peaceful co-existence that engenders development either on individual or national basis.

Communication is only possible through language and symbols, which are graphics such as letters of the alphabets and other symbols that are base understood by a certain set of people. Communication through language is a basic and an indispensable character of man throughout the history and existence of man on earth.

While we strive to teach the acceptable form and structure of native speakers to meet international needs, we want to also strive to in paripassu create a framework for clear structural rules. Jowitt (1991) says that such Nigerian English should be internationally intelligible and acceptable and within Nigeria.

Since Bamgbose (1995) cited in Adegbite et al (2014), has mentioned three aspects of linguistic, pragmatic and creative as forms of nativization, these are possible areas where we can start the process of forming an acceptable standard variety of  Nigerian English. Many words in English have taken on new meanings depending on the context of use.

In the Nigerian multilingual contexts, many English words have been domesticated. It appears this is another area where Nigerian users of English take liberty with the language. This is permissible because the English language global geographical spread has, no doubt, affected its features, because it has to adapt to any new environment where it is used. This is part of the dynamism of any living language, as Svartvik and Leech have noted: Although we cannot predict in what way English will change, we can be certain that change it will – that’s in the nature of languages.

However, with the attainment of independence, there were series of national debate as to the suitability of English language in conducting national affairs, a foreign language in a foreign land. Opponents of English favoured either the simultaneous use of the three indigenous “major” languages or the adoption of one as using the three at the same time was considered unmanageable and it was difficult to choose which of the three to stand as a national language (Igboanusi, 2002).


In the presence of this linguistic national difficulty, , the proponents of English as the Lingua Franca argued that it is the only language that can be accepted by the generality of the Nigerian populace in a highly tensed and multi-lingual and religious environment. They argued that there was nothing wrong with using English as a Lingua Franca more so as such use also has its international advantages.

Ever since then, English has retained its place as the lingua franca of Nigeria and is being used in the education, courts, government, media, etc. (Jonah, 2014). It is on this background that this research work seeks to examine English language and the language situation in Nigeria: implication on Nigeria’s independence.

 1.2 Statement of the Problem

Over the years, the need for a national lingua franca that indexes the national identity of Nigeria is one that has been theorized and debated through different lenses under language policy with the conflicting themes being the asymmetric relationship between an exogenous language – English – and the local languages.

The gap that has not been given the needed attention is the intra-indigenous language dichotomy that exists between minority languages and the major languages – Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba – in the formulation of a more inclusive language policy for Nigeria.

This research work therefore argues for a multilingual language policy that takes into account the different tiers of languages in Nigeria, particularly, languages with lesser number of speakers than the major languages which can form a unified national language for Nigeria as an independent state.

1.3 Purpose of the Study

The primary purpose of this study is to examine English language and the language situation in Nigeria: implication on Nigeria’s independence. Specifically, the study will seek to:

  1. to examine the language situation of Nigeria
  2. to examine the effect of English language on Nigeria as a sovereign state
  3. to also examine the history and the travel of English language to Nigeria
  4. to also x-ray the problems of Nigeria toward the attainment of national language
  5. to suggest the possible solution to the language problems in Nigeria as an independent nation

1.4 Significance of the Study

The study will be significant in the following ways:

  1. to the students and researchers, it will add to the stock of literature
  2. to the government and policies makers it will enable government to formulate policies that will help to bring about a unified language for the country
  3. the study will also help to enlighten the society on the need to adopt one language as a lingua franca for Nigeria
  4. it will also help to break the barrier of communication if one language is accepted as a national language
  5. also, it is very crucial because it helps identifies the language and cultural diversity in Nigeria, and also sensitizes our mind on the need to harmoniously co-habit with other ethnic groups, knowing full well that Nigeria is a multi-lingual and multicultural nation, and so everyone should see a fellow as a relative and not a stranger, because of language differences.
  6. This knowledge will help to curtail these excesses of tribal wars in the nation Nigeria. We are one.
  7. this study will equally give suggestions that are relevant and useful, while the reports shall serve as repertoire of knowledge for other researches to consult in the nearest future.

1.5 Research Methodology

The research work is basically a library research and internet browsing. Information gathered from journals, textbooks, news publications will constitute the primary research method which will be used to carry out the research work.

1.6 Scope of the Study

This study is restricted to investigation on the English language and the language situation in Nigeria: implications on Nigeria’s independence.

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