What is today known as the Nigerian Institute of Translators and Interpreters (NITI) is in truth an offshoot of the Nigerian Association of Translators and Interpreters (NATI).
NATI (not NITI) was founded in 1978 in the premises of the University of Lagos, Akoka Conference Centre and Guest Houses.
At a time when Nigeria was still basking in the euphoria of the famous oil boom and the rest of Africa, if not the world, flocked to the country in search of the benefits of the oil Eldorado, a group of fresh professionals, budding professionals and linguistically inclined academics met at the University of Lagos Guest Houses to fashion out the future of NATI, and lay the foundation for the evolvement of NITI, the Institute, which came about two decades after the Association, NATI. There were pioneering members from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who had been sent to the centres of excellence around the globe for the best training the available institutions of then could offer. Some had been sent to Cairo for Arabic, China for Chinese, Geneva, ESIT in France and the PCL (now University of Westminster) in London, for European languages. A few more, like some of the Ambassadors and diplomats still in service today, had been sent to the University of Montreal, Canada, and had returned bubbling with enthusiasm.
The first NATI President, Mr. Eviano Achakobe, was trained at the University of Montreal School of Translation. He was trained alongside Ambassador (Mrs) Nike Ukonga and Ambassador (Mrs) Oyesola, both today Directors of key departments in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after serving important ambassadorial postings around the world. It is true that the Ministry that had given many of these professionals the best that the world, and money, could offer in terms of training did not eventually appear to know how to use their expertise and optimize their training. The reason could be the lack of knowledge and awareness of the strategic role of language background professionals trained and working as translators and interpreters. The Ministry relegated its trained translators and interpreters to mere routine protocol assignments. Protocol may be important but it is hardly the best and only area that trained translators and interpreters should be confined to. Our type of professionals are more than mere bilinguals, no matter the languages they work in, be they Nigerian, African, European or Foreign languages.
Any well groomed bilingual would readily and easily carry out protocol assignments; but protocol officers would not translate or interpret adequately if they do not have the required aptitude and are not well trained so to do. No wonder many of these trained personnel opted out of the profession and sought seemingly greener pastures in mainstream diplomatic career. Hence, they sooner or later became Minister-Counsellors, Charges d'Affaires and then Ambassadors and High Commissioners, but without the key matter of professional translation and interpretation being of any significance in the career profiles of these former and pioneering members of NATI. Some clever trained personnel opted out to become freelance translators and especially interpreters. It is the case of Prince Eviano Achakobe, who today has nothing to envy his former course/training mates who had opted to be career diplomats. As a member of the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC), the first President of NATI has stuck to his professional guns and laid the foundation for professional excellence in translation and interpreting as valid, respectable careers not only in Nigeria but also in the West African sub-region.
While a few persons developed the career that created NATI and then NITI in the freelance field, a few others did their own bidding from within the walls of the ivory tower. One such person had also trained in Canada, in Quebec City, at the ancient University of Laval. There, good fortune had placed him under the tutelage of JeanDarbelnet easily the number one consultant and teacher of translation of his time. After receiving his doctorate, Docteur dès Lettres with his thesis supervised by Darbelnet in 1972, Prof. Ekundayo Simpson joined the University of Lagos and, little by little, made the profession and study of translation attain new heights. As the convener of the meetings that led to the founding of NATI and then the inaugural congress and workshop in 1978, Simpson attracted the attention of his academic colleagues and the rest of the country and the West African sub-region to what appeared then a virgin field. With the many conferences, workshops and events organized or sponsored by NATI, more and more Nigerians took interest in the study and profession of translation, and the country is now the better for it.
As Achakobe and Simpson continued to pay their dues in their respective areas of endeavour, another man, a scholar, did his own with masterly translations from his native Yoruba into the language of General de Gaule, Mitterrand and Molière. Prof. OlaoyeAbioye also translated famous French writings into Yoruba. He translated among others, Samuel Beckett’s En attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot) into the Yoruba Eni ma risun akan.SembèneOusmane’sLe Mandat became Sowedowo thanks to Abioye. No wonder he was awarded the highest French doctorate, Doctorat d'Etat, equivalent to D. Litt. by the University of Grenoble.
The government of Nigeria did not fail to take cognisance of all these efforts. Hence, NATI was placed on the list of learned societies and associations that enjoyed federal subsidy, under the aegis of the Ministry of Education. Even if some clever civil servant woke up one day, may be after the first oil boom (we give in another) and thought that NATI was more a trade union than a learned society and so de-listed us, the fact remains that honour had once been done to whom it was due.
We believe the Government should kindly consider bringing us back to the list of those who should receive some form of annual subsidy in view of our contributions to areas that are more academic, cultural and non-lucrative, even when we stand up for the rights of translators and interpreters. A case in point: Our Nigerian language translators, especially those in the media, constantly expand the areas of possibility of our languages in the news translation on radio and television. It is thanks to them that government communicates with the grassroots. In the course of their work, our translators and interpreters contribute to national integration and national development.
The outside world has not failed to recognize our efforts:
1979: Babel, the official organ of the International Federation of Translators (FIT) published major articles presented at the first workshop of NATI.
1981: NATI was admitted into FIT at the Warsaw World Congress of Translators and Prof. Ekundayo Simpson co-opted into the FIT council. Prof. Simpson has since been elected member of the FIT Council at successive FIT Congresses, using those of 1984, 1983 and 1996. He was many times the Chairman of the FIT Committee for Translation in the Developing Countries and member of the FIT Committee for Languages of Limited Diffusion.
1996: Creation of the Nigerian Institute of Translators & Interpreters (NITI)
2001: Submission of the NITI Statutes / Bill to the National Assembly for processing with a view to enactment. (The Assembly is evidently a busy place and we obviously have to take our turn).
On Thursday, 8th May 2008, the NITI Bill passed the Second Reading at the National Assembly and we successfully defended our Bill at the subsequent Public Hearing, hoping the Assembly would pass it, but it did not. We have had patience and have started afresh with every National Assembly since 1999.
The NITI Bill for the second time passed the Second Reading and we also successfully defended our Bill at the subsequent Public Hearing in 2021. We are waiting for this 9th Assembly to pass it into Law.
When the bill is passed and it becomes Law it will make the practice of translation and interpretation managed in such a way that all language practitioners in the country would be adequately trained, inducted, certified (sworn), regulated and protected, to the greater benefit of the professionals, discouraging any untrained and unprofessional elements who might try to tarnish the professional image of translation and interpretation in Nigeria, exactly like it is in other professions: Accountancy, Law, Medicine, Engineering, etc..