Justus Babatunde Apanisile, is a Nigerian from Ekiti State who speaks at least 8 Nigerian languages fluently. Apanisile is a staff of the National Orientation Agency in Jalingo, Taraba State, who believes in the unity of Nigeria.
In this interview with THE WHISTLER, he spoke on how Nigerians can integrate better by learning languages spoken by others and through inter-ethnic marriages.
Which Of The Nigerian Languages Do You Speak?
I speak Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Fulfulde, Kona, Tarok (Lantang), Jukun and Bura.
How Did You Learn Those Languages? Did You Have To Stay Among The People To Learn Them Or It Is Just A Talent?
I learnt how to speak them because I was a barrack boy. My father is a retired soldier. Before his retirement, we stayed in the Army Barracks, and as you know, so many people live in the Barracks, mingling with them made me learn their languages.
Other places I lived also influenced my learning of these languages. I was born in Ingba Ukpala in Imo State where I learnt Igbo. I have lived in Biu (Borno state) for 4 years where I learnt the Bura language. Living in Yola (Adamawa State) for 6 years has also taught me Fulfulde and other languages there. I now live in Jalingo (Taraba) with my family.
I learnt these languages because I have interest in in speaking multiple languages.
Again, I used to stay with my mother in her shop inside the market when I was a kid, this made me learn from different people that interacted in different languages.
At What Age Did You Start Speaking These Languages?
I began speaking some of the languages at the age of 14.
Which Part Of The Country Are You From? And What Tribe Are You?
I am from Ekiti State in the Western part of the country and Yoruba by tribe.
You Mentioned Having A Family, Do You Also Teach Your Kids These Languages Or You Speak To Them In Your Mother Tongue?
I speak Yoruba and English to them, but my first son seems to be like me. He speaks other languages too.He is 10 years old and has an interest in speaking many languages just like me. He learnt how to speak 3 languages fluently (Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo). He learnt them from our co-tenants.
How Have The Languages You Learnt Conferred Any Advantage On you?
It has helped me a lot. It helped me to secure admission in FCE Yola. Speaking many languages also makes me feel welcome anytime I speak to people that speak them.
When I was seeking admission back then, my SSCE Certificate only had four credits and a pass in Mathematics, and I wanted to study Computer/Mathematics. Initially the school used to give students forms to sign undertakings to produce the results they were deficient in before graduating. So, I noticed that others were given the undertaking forms but I was denied that opportunity.
After making several attempts to get mine and failing, a friend asked me to meet the Head Of Department (HOD) of Computer Mathematics. On entering his office he greeted me in English language, but I pretended as if I didn’t hear him and I responded in Fulfulde. He then asked me some questions before telling me to go and come back next week.
That was exactly how I got admission into FCE Yola back then.
In What Other Ways Has Your Ability To Hear People’s Languages Helped You?
During my school days when I was coming from Yola Town to FCE in Jimeta, I was seated in a bus with some ladies. They were discussing a sensitive topic that was of bother to me in Fulfulde, even the driver was contributing to what they were saying. Meanwhile, the dress I wore that day did not portray me as someone living in the North, I dressed the normal way.
On reaching FCE, I asked the driver in Fulfulde how much the bus fare was. He looked shocked and surprised that I understood his language. Then for the ladies I told them ‘juppu jam’, meaning safe ride. I think I left them with confusion in their minds as they left. I know they will be disturbed, only that I don’t know their faces. It was just the bus that joined us.
I think it is wrong to assume these days that others don’t hear other people’s languages. People have mingled, some have travelled to other places, some have travelled south, some have travelled north. Gone are the days that people don’t go out of their territories. People travel nowadays to do business or work, so people should stop backbiting or talking about others thinking they don’t understand them.
In Your Opinion, How Can Nigerians Be More United?
Nigerians can be united if the aim of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is achieved and also practiced in marital issues. Tribal differences should not be a barrier to intermarry and unite. People of different cultures should marry each other. Yoruba should marry Hausa, Fulani should marry Igbo. Angas and someone from the South should marry each other instead of just North North, South South as some parents insist. Let there be peace in the country. For instance, if I marry from another part of the country and there’s conflict I will say ah, why am I fighting my in-laws? This will be able to curtail all these ethnic crises, sectionalism and tribalism the country is facing.