I’m passionate about Yoruba literature –Irantiola

Olutayo Irantiola, a young and creative PR man has found another passion in culture advocacy through his initiative, YorubaLakotun. He spoke with NGOZI EMEDOLIBE on plans to take the initiative further as it marks its first anniversary.

Could you describe in details what motivated the idea, Yoruba Lakotun?
Yoruba Lakotun is a response to societal happenings. It was not prominent neither was it fashionable to learn English before Yoruba language, about 30 years ago. However, in this age, even illiterates who can converse in Yoruba language want to imitate the educated people by training their children in English language. This caught my attention and Yoruba Lakotun is a cultural renaissance wherein we hope to remind ourselves of our culture, craft and literature. Interestingly, Yoruba literature is not as old as English literature and people rarely write in it. So, it is a holistic call to people to return to their roots.

What have been some of the specific challenges in running the programme in the past one year?
The first challenge is locating Yoruba writers. We keep scanning for Yoruba writers everywhere. The reason is not far-fetched, many of them have become very old and the young generation is not prolific in writing the language. As such, we see the programme as a way of reawakening people’s interest in reading the works of these sages, philosophers and cultural preservers.

What level of support has come your way so far especially from the corporate?
We have been doing it with the support of Ethnic Heritage Centre, Ikoyi where we host the programme every quarter. The centre gave us an opportunity to showcase our idea and we are indebted to their kindness. Also, people like Madam Iyabo Aboaba, Mr Yemi Shodimu, Shobam Palm Wine, Mr Adebare Egunjobi, Deacon Dahunsi Akinyemi, Dr Victor Alaofin, Mr. Kunle Dina and other notable people have been supporting us in different ways and we appreciate their desire in ensuring that the language does not die. We look forward to having corporate organisations on board so that they can also increase their market share through the programme.

What have been the milestones of the programme as regards getting the interest of the younger generation in Yoruba language and culture?
The first achievement of the programme is showcasing young talents who have held on to the culture and are willing to teach others who do not understand the language. It is also a networking place for culturally inclined people who have skills that can support one another. It is a place where people get answers to their age long questions because you are meeting with elderly people who can explain things to you. Lastly, it is a place of nostalgia for people who have lost touch with the culture in recent years.

What would help you in achieving the set targets about the programme?
The set target for the programme is being achieved from time to time. Aside, being a platform to showcase skills. We keep getting rave reviews from the media on how we are sustaining Yoruba literature and culture. We would keep extending the frontiers of this programme.
A programme of this nature should be targeting the youths in schools. Do we expect that you would bring it to schools in the near future?
We have it in the pipeline; we look forward to engaging students in essay competitions that will be rewarded. We cannot just encourage other cultures at the detriment of our culture; the languages should corroborate one another. We would keep evolving so that people would know that we can bring out the uniqueness in our language.

What is the state of Yoruba literature at the moment from your interactions and possibly research?
Yoruba literature is not more than 50 years old. Some of our findings include the decline in the reading and writing culture in Yoruba language. The dearth of publishers who want to publish Yoruba books except the recommended texts for pedagogical purposes. The scarcity of old Yoruba books published decades ago. The government lackadaisical policy on Nigerian languages and most importantly, Yoruba writers do not get celebrated by their people like it is done for Nigerian English writers. Having said this, I will want to say that Yoruba need to take our literature and language seriously because people from the United States of America, Germany and United Kingdom are learning our language through different forms of exchange programmes. They have all the books that is no more in our libraries in their libraries and if we lose our language and culture totally. We would wake up one day to realise that it is an era of literary and linguist colonization that we are in.

Where do you expect the programme to be in the next one year?
Hopefully, we anticipate that we would have moved further than just hosting the programme quarterly. We would have been able to bring it to live on TV and using other tools of technology to project the language further. We would also not stop our advocacy through various media to ensure that the South-Western States; the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture place an important premium on our languages.

What do you think the various governments of the south west should do to uplift the Yoruba language and culture?
The South West states have a fundamental role to play in the preservation of our language and cultures. They should promote all what is indigenous at all times ranging from our meals, clothing, drumming, our cultural sites and crafts. The Governors and other state officers are our cultural ambassadors. Also, our traditional rulers should not allow the throne to become sacrilegious in our attempt to modernize our culture.

Are there some state governments you feel are doing commendably in this direction?
I commend the effort of Lagos State Assembly for adopting Yoruba as one of the languages for plenary sessions. State of Osun also was novel in the introduction of Opon Imo. I believe that other state governments can follow suit. I implore the governments of the states to be creative in exporting our culture because it can earn a lot of foreign exchange now that there is global oil recession.

Are there some new innovations or modifications that will happen in Yoruba Lakotun after one year in operation?
Yes, we would become more innovative about it. As I mentioned earlier, we are now at the age of exporting our culture. We intend to move it export our literature through various means to other nations most especially those that have traced their roots to being Yorubas and they want to learn more.

What factors in your view are militating against African cultural practices?
African practice is a very sensitive discussion but what I believe is that we should choose all the beneficial things and also modernise it. Then, the unique traits should be upheld because that makes us who we are. The girl should still know that kneeling to greet her parents attract blessing while the boy prostrates. Our good peculiarities should be kept for posterity.