Ogbalu And The Development Of Igbo Language
Ogbalu And The Development Of Igbo Language – Chijioke Ngobili
One of the funny but interesting backgrounds to the development of the written Ìgbò language we have today was when Dr F C Ọgbalụ, for a long time, opposed the Ọnwụ orthography that we are using now which has dots under vowels (ọ, ị, ụ) and tone marks for identifying the high or low sounds (á, è, ō). He defied his opponents and went ahead to create his own orthography called “Ọgbalụ Orthography” which preferred adding “h” to vowels in order to exterminate the use of dots and tone marks, thus instead of writing “Ézè”, Ọgbalụ preferred “Ezeh” and instead of writing “Ụ́zọ̀”, Ọgbalụ preferred “Uzoh”.
Upon his insistence on his own orthography, other SPILC members such as Canon Mgbemena, Prof Nnabụenyi Ugonna and others corned him in one of their meetings after war in Ọnịcha. They asked Ọgbalụ if he’s still standing on his position and he answered yes. Then they asked him to use his orthography and spell “Ụmụahịa”. Seeing that he had been ambushed and that his orthography was going to birth a funny spelling of Ụmụahịa such as “Uhmuhahiah”, Ọgbalụ gave up his orthography at that council meeting. 🤣
Of course, Ìgbò people of those days disagreed but not with bitterness and rancour. They were all looking for the best for the Ìgbò. Ọgbalụ submitted to a superior argument, abandoned his orthography and went ahead with the committee’s orthography recommendation which we are using today. He wrote all his books afterwards in that orthography and, more than any Ìgbò person alive and dead, championed the sustained development and update of Ìgbò language writing for nearly 20 years before his death. Many do not know that Ọgbalụ was an economist who read economics up to PhD level and an entrepreneur who ran businesses including publishing outfits. A remarkable man, Chidozie Ọgbalụ marshaled the resources and earnings from his enterprises into the development of Ìgbò language. He funded annual conferences of SPILC till he died. His publishing equipments and staff were used to service the activities of SPILC wherever they were held in Ìgbòland. His generosity encouraged people to study Ìgbò language as well as Ìgbò teachers. He used his position and influences to make sure that Ìgbò language never had a low position in the WAEC and education ministries. That our generation studied Ìgbò language sufficiently from Nursery to Secondary schools was because of Ọgbalụ’s single-handed vibrancy in developing and sustaining the language amidst a people who largely have an unfortunate and self-destructive DNA of looking down on their own cultural heritage the moment they feel they’ve acquired or learned other people’s civilisation.
Since the death of Ọgbalụ till this day, no rich Ìgbò person has ever marshaled out or given his resources for the development of the Ìgbò language or has also become actively involved in it like him. Even the SPILC hardly reconvenes to update the language today like it did in his days. Ọgbalụ remains unequaled alive or dead!
©Chijioke Ngobili, 2020