Lagos State House of Assembly (LAHA) has become the first legislature in Nigeria to put to practice the provisions of the Constitution which says:
“The business of a House of Assembly shall be conducted in English, but the House may in addition to English conduct the business of the House in one or more other languages spoken in the State as the House may by resolution approve.” (See Section 97 of the Constitution).
Interestingly, even at the National Assembly, the Constitution also provides as follows: “The business of the National Assembly shall be conducted in English, and in Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba when adequate arrangements have been made therefor.” (See Section 55)
Note that unlike in the case of the National Assembly where the provision says “when adequate arrangements have been made therefor”, such “adequate arrangements” are not a prerequisite in the case of a state House of Assembly.
Let us hope it does not lead to a tyranny of the majority in some states. Although I still expect that the minority in such a situation could seek judicial protection from being excluded from governance.
What is more, what also amounts to “adequate arrangements” in the case of the National Assembly and what is it meant to achieve anyway? Could this be a constitutional attempt to reduce other languages to irrelevance?
I had followed the debates on this keenly. One of the arguments against the adoption of this resolution in LAHA was that Lagos is a “cosmopolitan” area, where many ethnic groups and languages are spoken by its residents and as such adopting Yoruba could alienate some sections of the state, including other “fringe Yorubas” and “indigenous groups” like the Eguns in Badagry.
As a matter of fact some of the Yoruba members of the House who spoke against it admitted that it was impossible for some of them to speak Yoruba in a formal setting for up to 10 minutes without breaking off into English language. This also became a plus for the proponents of the motion who said the move was meant to protect the “identity” of the state and its language from extinction.
This is really putting democracy to test.