Wednesday, December 2, 2015


Mr Ayanbode Oje, a member of the Change Movement Nigeria, recently translated the 1999 Constitution to Yoruba language. He also decided to make the document available free to empower the perceived disenfranchised, oppressed and the voiceless due to their inability to read and understand English language. According to him, reading and understanding in one’s language will encourage participatory democracy.

constitution “We are calling for volunteers to help translate the 1999 Constitution to other indigenous languages in Nigeria while we work on an audio version of the constitution,’’ he said in an interview. In spite of Oje’s initiative, observers note that it is worrisome that most Yoruba speaking Nigerians don’t make use of the translated version of the constitution. They note that some of the targeted Nigerians in the translation are not even aware of Oje’s effort, which they say can undermine the purpose of the translation.

 For instance, Mr Shola Adeboye, a teacher, said that although the motive behind the translation was to bring the constitution closer and make appealing to the targeted ethnic group, the response of the public to the initiative was not encouraging. But Mr Chinedu Okechukwu, said that he and other Nigerians from his ethnic group, would utilise the advantage of a translated constitution to his language (Igbo) to know more about human rights.

 The National Orientation Agency (NOA), therefore, said it would soon circulate indigenous language translations of the constitution to promote understanding of human rights among Nigerians. Mr Mike Omeri, Director-General of the agency, noted that the translation of the constitution was to motivate Nigerians to be conscious of their rights by reading and understanding it.

 He said the agency was working with National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to promote human rights in Nigeria, adding that the agency was training its staff in that regard. Lending credence to the decision of the agency to promote more translation of the constitution to more Nigerian languages, Mr Samuel Akanbi, a political scientist, noted that the constitution ought to be in various languages in Nigeria. According to him, since Nigeria has more than 250 ethnic groups, no effort should be spared to produce the constitution in local languages. “This will make some people that cannot read in English to have a little knowledge of knowing what the constitution of Nigeria says.

 “The constitution contains many civil, political and human rights for the citizens and there are many things that are being done wrongly on daily basis. “Due to lack of awareness of such fundamental human rights, many human rights are infringed upon. “Imagine a citizen of this country not knowing he has the right to express his opinion and walk freely.

 “That is the reason many policemen arrest the ignorant, torture and collect money to bail a suspect even when it is written that bail is free,’’ he said. He noted that many Nigerians were not aware of their political rights and that they could even recall their representatives in various state houses of assembly or National Assembly.

 He said that most Nigerians exhibited gross ignorance about their civil right, adding that “they do not know that citizens should be treated like kings by the government because they voted the government into power. “The governments are supposed to provide social amenities such as good road, electricity and water supply, among others, to the people. “Translating the constitution to various Nigerian languages will liberate the citizens from the complete ignorance.’’

However, Prof. Ben Angwe, the Executive Secretary of NHRC, noted that the commission had a target of achieving 80 per cent human rights awareness in the country by the end of 2015. He urged NOA to speed up the translation of not only the constitution but the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights to Nigerian languages.

 Angwe assured Nigerians that NOA and NHRC would spare no effort in promoting the rights of Nigerians and improving respect for their rights. Corroborating this viewpoint, observers note that every citizen ought to understand the provisions of the constitution. They insist that the understanding of the constitution will empower the citizenry to demanding for their rights within the ambit of the constitution.

 Expressing different opinion, Mr Innocent Lagi, a lawyer, said the clamour for translation of the constitution might not achieve the intended goal. “Most Nigerians do not read and the high level of illiteracy in the country will impede the objective. “NOA should rather intensify teaching of the contents of the constitution and sensitise the citizenry on their right as embedded in the constitution. “It needs to teach the people what section of the constitution is relevant to their need and the benefit that will accrue to them in knowing such sections.

 “The problem is not about the language but how to read and understand its contents and values,’’ he said. According to him, the teaching of the constitution in public places such as church, mosques and schools, will enable the citizenry to understand its importance.

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