Musa Adedayo and Alaroye: The Future of Yoruba Language
By Toyin Falola
Different cultural traditions are threatened as stronger states of the world compete for supremacy. The struggle caused each civilization to exert influence in all ways possible to remain substantially important to the world’s affairs. This agenda brought the aggressive expansionist ambition that led to the colonization of technologically weaker places and economically shaky states to succumb to the pressure of globalization, which mops the influence of vulnerable people. Generally, certain things make a culture vulnerable: their epistemic understanding and ontological foundations, both of which serve as the structure on which every human civilization is built.
However, as much as they are cardinal to a people’s development, their significance can only be expressed through the agency of their language, for example, since their language would be used to drive their cultural traditions and legacies and make them a viable contestant in the society of civilizations. Meanwhile, every human society has language, for they naturally conduct their spiritual and cultural businesses in a particular language. Sadly, however, not all these civilizations with a language have attained a level of intellectual progress where they can reduce their language into signs and codes that can be read and understood even by non-members of their culture. In essence, many people that did not have written language found it hard to withstand the pressure mounted by those who came as predators.
As a result, massive declination of cultural power surged, and different cultures became very helpless, leading to the immediate extermination of some, the mindless struggling of others, and the perpetual disappearance of others. However, the foresighted ones among the West African nation-states in the nineteenth century, for example, Bishop Ajayi Crowther, who saw the possibility of devaluing cultures without written languages, dedicated his intellectual services to the codification of some Nigerian languages, particularly Yoruba and Igbo. Naturally, such generational achievement is meant to be masked if there is no commitment to enhancing its sustenance by others through different means. Meanwhile, the most potent way to preserve these cultures would have been to mandate its younger speakers to use it as their language of communication and instruction, especially in academic studies or research engagement. But this was far from forthcoming because the colonial system was not ready to allow any competition that such development would bring.
Understanding the potential consequences necessitated the promotion of the English language, as in the case of Nigeria, so that others may bow out. Luckily though, this would not happen because other important individuals became more creative with the situation and devised the appropriate ways by which they could stop the imperial agenda in its track of universalization. This is where the founder of Alaroye, Alao Adedayo, comes in. He understood that the newspaper industry in the country was already culturally predatory as many of them, if not all as at the time of Alaroye newspaper’s emergence, were already conducting their communication business in English. This ultimately reduced the participation of people in collective debates because not only were many of them unsuited for the communication of their thoughts in English, but they were also not appropriately and intellectually empowered to do so. This means they were shut out from important nationalist debates.
Many of them naturally wanted to be involved in national politics, but because they were being sidelined systematically, they either kept their ideas in perpetual suppression or expressed their frustrations in other ways possible. Alao Adedayo disclosed that the motive behind the establishment of the Alaroye is to ensure that the preservation of the Yoruba culture and customs can be achieved. He said, among other things, that the colonized people, having suffered from the bitter experience of their political system, also risked the challenge of losing their cultural traditions and identity because they did not have anything concrete that could preserve their culture for them. But since the Yoruba language is already codified, it makes sense that they created an avenue for its preservation; hence the creation of the Alaroye newspaper.
For the record, Henry Townsend began the pioneering campaign for the proliferation of the newspaper industry in Nigeria, in 1859, with Ara Egba and Yoruba series, but this did not attract something of magnitude compared to what we have in the contemporary time, and the reason was apparent. Essentially, it was a foreseeable challenge for the founder of Alaroye when he introduced the idea in 1985 and was overwhelmed by negative comments meant to distract him. He ultimately knew that the price needed to be paid to establish his dream was to remain insistent, for the environment would not accommodate his ambition without putting up resistance. But the content of his character propelled his determination, and this deserves our examination here. Adedayo talked about how his association with great Yoruba icons motivated his indigenous journalism engagement. He revealed that the constant exchanges of ideas and the extensive learning he gained from observing their activities showed him the beauty of the Yoruba language and its potential if given the right opportunity or platforms. He became immediately determined to ensure that he was focused on the actualization of his dream.
Yoruba language is rich in substance, great in values, and has numerous advantages if allowed to expand. As adults, our association could define who we are and the directions that we would take in life; however, our formative education and exposure significantly impact the trajectory that we would follow in life. Our interviewee emphasizes this when he reflects on his childhood development shaped by the conscious efforts of his parents. He mentioned how his father’s purchase of D. O. Fagunwa’s works helped build his intellectual capacity, as he was introduced to the epistemic perception of the Yoruba people through the books. He got to understand the people’s sociological structure and the philosophy they use in the development of society. He accessed the spiritual world of the Yoruba people, knowing how they conceive the metaphysical world and how they have created several ideological mappings from this thought system. He reckoned that the people are culturally outstanding and marvelous in their ontological engagement, but they will not understand the gravity of this cultural heritage unless they have access to it in all ways made available to them. This is one of the reasons he believed that the creation of the Alaroye was timely and important for advancing the Yoruba cultural identity and preserving their legacies. In short, all these factors worked excellently well for him, and his newspaper received a wide readership and was well-loved by the people.
Beyond the accident of history that led Adedayo to journalism and made him steadfast in promoting the Yoruba language, there is something that should interest us in our quest to understand the success of Alaroye. He committed to the preservation of culture, which was the driving force for establishing his forum. Indirectly but intentionally, he educated us about the need for conscious decisions when making efforts for revolutionary action. Of course, the Alaroye was and still is revolutionary for different purposes. First, it is the journalism avenue that broke the jinx of colonial domination in the country’s news reportage market, although it builds on the efforts of past pioneers. Second, it served as the rallying point for others and restored their confidence to air news in the language the people are culturally and historically affiliated with. So, these achievements combine to revalidate his position about determination. As a result of his commitment, he has made exponential success in the industry, for, without that daunting confidence, he would have bowed down to others who were already making beautiful strides.
The preservation of the Yoruba language and culture introduces the new generation to their literary heritage. This is usually because people’s literature works more deeply and effectively in telling their stories than their manuals or verbal speeches can do. As exemplified by Adedayo’s father, who introduced him to D. O. Fagunwa’s books in his formative years, modern-day parents should, as a matter of principle, speak their language to their wards and always encourage that domestic communication with them is in their language. This is informed by the knowledge that once the younger ones are drawn away from speaking their native language, they would also be disinterested in the cultural values and traditions that come with such an identity. One of the reasons for the continuation of cultural servitude that the present generation suffers egregiously is that contemporary Yoruba parents do not take pride in speaking their language with their wards. People who are not introduced to their indigenous language would not be fully integrated into their cultural traditions, substantially affecting many things in their lives. Therefore, preserving their language and culture begins with employing the language to conduct their domestic engagements.
It was also necessary to preserve their language by consciously separating their religious identity from their cultural activities. But because contemporary Christian and Islamic identities do not delineate between cultures of a people and their religious beliefs, they try to dissociate themselves from anything that bears the mark of so-called paganistic beliefs or values. The speakers at the interview continued by saying that the Yoruba and their ancestors followed their indigenous culture in the past, which helped them stand their ground when they were invaded by different predators who wanted to make them their vassal city-states or proxy government. They employed their cultural knowledge and technology to contain the invaders and saved themselves from the dishonor of being overtaken. But because all these have been condemned as either “fetish” or “pagan” by people who do not understand the culture, they are considered harmful. However, the identity of a people is inextricably linked to the things they do and how they make efforts to keep themselves afloat in a world that torments them and their customs. Their knowledge about these things is a product of constant research and scientific efforts of thousands of years, and they should not be discarded under the impression that they are evil, even when there is no clear evidence that they are.
Challenges are confronting indigenous creativities in the postcolonial environment, and anyone who does anything that animates their ancestral lifestyle, especially in something like the publication of a newspaper, would face its consequences. Undoubtedly, the various criticisms that Adedayo has faced are proofs of that condition, and then comes the question of profitability, commercial advantages, and the economic benefits of staging such ideological protest in a postcolonial environment. To be candid, going into indigenous journalism publishing is unprofitable for reasons that are not unknown to the general public. People who go into it are energized by the assurance of establishing a solid and long-lasting name for themselves and making an impact that would outlive them. The business mindset does not come with the creativity involved in establishing a Yoruba or any other indigenous communication platform like the Alaroye because the ground is already biased against such development.
In the case of the ex-colonies, the solid foundation of the English language (and other languages of colonialism) has made it somewhat difficult for them to make the deserved progress in a positive direction, and their possibility of making many economic gains is very slim. Even if the financial gains are not coming, the front-liners understand that they are making an impact and not because of money. The soul-lifting realization that the successful implementation of their agenda would promote the thinking that inferiorizing indigenous legacies will create bigger problems.
On many occasions, Adedayo has been frustrated openly by people from whom one would expect a positive mindset towards indigenous journalism. He was discouraged by their assumption that his newspaper would struggle in vain against other available platforms that have gained strength because they are done in the English language. Apparent discouragement notwithstanding, determined people always foresee such conditions and would instead spring up with their desires and continue to pursue excellence even when it comes with some financial commitment. All these are ways to showcase their readiness to develop their indigenous structures and preserve their legacies. Adedayo continues in his fearless engagement of local and international news in his Yoruba Alaroye medium, and his fame persists.
The stigma was evident from the beginning and even choking because several political efforts of past Yoruba icons such as Chief Obafemi Awolowo to rejuvenate the language and make an instrument of social and economic regeneration went down the drain because of some factors beyond their control. It continued to reflect in other areas, and they inherited these challenges decades after initial attempts. But then, they continued to keep the faith. They defied all odds to ensure that they give the Yoruba language and traditions the befitting honor they deserve. Regardless of the skewed and jaundiced market space for the proliferation of the newspaper platform, the fact that the Alaroye has four titles makes people wonder if the desire to promote Yoruba interest and ideology was really more than the desire to make money from the business.
It is reassuring to know that the idea of having four titles on the commercial landscape of the newspapers business is targeted to ensure that there are competing sub-news that would give the people a particular taste per that desire. Although these said platforms appear to be beneficial to the capitalist community where they would compete with existing newspaper platforms for obvious economic reasons, the fact remains that it was an effort to spice newspaper journalism in Nigeria up that motivated the kind of creativity that led to the emergence of these said titles, not any other.
When considered keenly, these different Alaroye titles are necessarily created because they have different but unique things to address. One needs to conduct research about the past activities so that people would find something beneficial from them and see the possibility of drawing ideas that would bring about collaborative development for them. This is hinged on the fact that numerous things could help people when they consider them intelligently and carefully. So, when the company decided to have different headings or titles, it was a well-calculated attempt. For instance, there was no way that the stories of iconic characters like Efunsetan Aniwura, Madam Tinubu, Ogunmola, and Moremi would not teach something important about Yoruba tradition. Where they are not learning the act of courage, they would be learning the importance of hard work, diligence, and dedication from these historical characters. In some beautiful instances, they would be educated about how communal togetherness is necessary and a viable tool in challenging situations that are consuming or can potentially destroy their civilization. It is because of the possibility of getting something tangible out for them that these titles exist.
In general, there is more to the idea of developing language and sustaining it than what mere verbal commitment could do. Beyond the fact of paying lip service to the protection and preservation of cultural identity in a world where colonial pressure is combined with postcolonial politics, some people must take bold steps; otherwise, their collective identity would be endangered, and their cultural traditions would be made the sacrificial lambs. Such revolutionary actions that would salvage the people’s culture do not always come from individuals with the political wherewithal in the society. In fact, the contrary is always the case.
Today, efforts are being made to ensure that the Yoruba language does not go down on the wrong side of history. One of the ways this is being achieved is by preserving the Yoruba language and culture with the Alaroye Newspaper. Mr. Alao Adedayo undertook the duty and carried the mantle with such a level of confidence that he was able to face and overcome all the obstacles that arose. The phenomenal results from his publications make him an icon to be forever celebrated.