A walk in Abuja amongst Spanish speakers, by Owei Lakemfa


UNLESS they spoke English or their speeches were translated, to me, they spoke Greek. It was an achievement for my old friend, Juan Ignacio Sell, the Spanish Ambassador who introduces me as his nephew. The setting on Thursday, April 25, 2024, was the ‘Day of Spanish Language’. It was the first time the delegations of Spanish-speaking countries in Nigeria gathered to celebrate the Day. Seated on the high table were Ambassador Sell, Special Guest and Education Minister, Professor Tahir Mamman and the Spanish-Speaking Ambassadors in Nigeria, including those of Cuba, Colombia, Equatorial Guinea, Mexico, Venezuela and Argentina.

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Language divides, it also unites. But the latter is true in this case. The organisers said their aim was to celebrate the richness, diversity and international presence of “one of the most spoken languages in the world, as well as acknowledge the role the Spanish language plays in fostering dialogue, understanding, and cooperation among communities”.

So, the assembled countries saw Spanish as a unifier. The gathering aimed to highlight the importance of the language spoken by some 500 million people and studied by almost 22 million persons. Also, with English and Chinese, Spanish is one of the three most spoken languages in the world.

In my conversations with the Mexican Ambassador Alfredo Miranda – in English language of course – he spoke on the impacts of Spain and Spanish on his country. He said: “Mexico was colonised by Spain for 300 years during which we received not just the Spanish language, but also its religion and culture. Today, Mexico which has a population of 130 million is the largest Spanish-speaking country. Spain has smaller population: 47. 78 million; so, in a sense, the sons have become the parents. Spanish is a very important language and within it, we have developed a new culture. Mexico itself has 68 local languages which we continue to keep and develop.”

In his speech at the occasion, Miranda joked that the venue, Casa Mexicana, a Mexican restaurant which collaborated in hosting the Day, is “Mexican territory” to which he welcomed everyone. The Spanish language, he said, not only provides a good opportunity for business in Latin America, but also in the United States of America, USA, which has 50 million Spanish speakers.

His Excellency Francisco Ngua Mangue, the Ambassador of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea said, on a number of occasions, he had been asked why, as a Blackman, he speaks Spanish, and his response often, is to refer such people to Goggle. He said his country which has boundaries with Cameroun to the north, Gabon to the east and south, and embraces the Atlantic, was originally colonised by the Portuguese. He explained that Portugal exchanged his country in 1778 with Spain in return for the later ceding large areas of South America to it. He said this was how his country acquired Spanish as its official language, and an official language in the African union, AU.

Argentina’s four main languages are Spanish, which is the dominant; Italian, the second most spoken; Quechua and Guarani. Nicolas Perazzo Naon, Counsellor of Argentina discussed the impact of the Spanish language thus: “Generally, Spanish is the language I live on as an Argentine and diplomat. The thing I love about this language is that it enables me to communicate with millions. The wonderful thing about the language is that although it is coming from Europe, it is very rich and impacts on us all. I am from Argentina, but when I go to Latin America, I have to learn different new words. It is a sign of how the language has developed; this level of development I have not seen in any other language.” Naon added on a jovial noted: “There is Queen’s English, but there is no King’s Spanish. We just speak Spanish.”

The spread of the Spanish language owes a lot to the four voyages of Christopher Columbus which began in 1492 and ended in 1504. He travelled mainly in the Caribbean through places like Cuba, Jamaica, Bahamas and the coasts of east Central America, and north South America. In the process, he spread Spanish.

Cuba Ambassador Miriam Morales Palmero spoke on behalf of the participating countries on what has become of the language after these voyages: “Spanish is a language very rich in expressions, synonyms, adjectives, words that have entered the language from different contributions. Specialists agree that it has more than 100,000 words, with estimates varying from 195,000 to 300,000 depending on the consideration made of the meanings, Americanisms and other variations established in the different regions and countries where it is spoken.”

In analysing the future of Spanish, she said: “Recent estimates affirm that the Spanish-speaking population will increase to 7.7 per cent in the year 2050. The date shows that the future of the Spanish language is promising in the short term and, will continue to expand throughout the planet, despite the dominance of English and the rise of Chinese.”

The Spanish Embassy Third Secretary and Head of Consular Section, Patricia Gomez Lanzaco, said the Spanish-speaking populace in Nigeria n should popularise the language and make it accessible. She informed that as part of this measure, a Spanish lecturer was brought into the country in September 2023. Lanzaco said the embassy hopes to collaborate with the Nigeria Ministry of Education, other agencies and organisations to expand the use of Spanish in the country.

The Colombia Honourary Consulate, Maricel Cantillo Romero said her country wants to expand relations with Nigeria. She informed that Nigerians who want to study in Colombia will be given an opportunity to apply. She added that successful applicants will be offered scholarships to study in Colombia, including undergoing a Spanish language training programme.

Education Minister Mamman, who greeted the audience in Spanish, said language is a major vehicle for promoting culture and that it distinguishes human beings from other beings. He commended the organisers for marking the Day despite the diversity of the countries involved. He pointed out that Nigeria is also a country known for its diversity. The Minister said the participating countries have a lot of work to do, promoting the Spanish language in Nigeria.

After the Minister declared the Day open, and went through the exhibition of the collaborating countries, a programme of students learning Spanish from various schools in Abuja took off. The organisers said the general idea of this and the follow-up programmes, including with people having a strong interest in the language, the Spanish-speaking community in Abuja, a Gastronomic Exhibition and a Salsa Night, is to “celebrate our language and we want to do it with all Nigerians who are as passionate as we are for Spanish and wish to learn it further.”

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