Post misleadingly claims Arabic is an official language in Nigeria

A member of Nigeria's ruling party has claimed in a tweet that Arabic is one of Nigeria’s two official languages with English. However, AFP Fact Check found this to be misleading: while English is indeed Nigeria’s official language, Arabic does not enjoy such recognition.

The tweet was published by Adamu Garba of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Garba was an aspirant for Nigeria's presidential election in February 2023 but pulled out of the race before the party nominated its candidate.

“Redesigning the Naira is long overdue,” he tweeted on October 27, 2022, before adding that “for trust's sake, the two official languages of English & Arabic need to remain, in addition to the local ones.”

A screenshot of the misleading tweet, taken on October 31, 2022

Garba made his claims days after the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) announced that it would start issuing three redesigned bank notes on December 15, 2022.

His post has been retweeted more than 150 times and liked more than 550 times.

Garba published the same claim on his Facebook account.

But although Arabic is commonly spoken in northern Nigeria, where Koranic education is widespread, his assertion is false.

Arabic script replaced

The central bank said the 200, 500 and 1,000 naira notes would be redesigned this year. Smaller denominations had already been redesigned in 2007. The 100-naira note, meanwhile, was changed in 2014 to commemorate 100 years of Nigeria’s existence.

When the smaller denominations were reissued, they retained the English words that featured on the old notes, but text in Ajami – an Arabic script used to write African languages – was replaced with three of Nigeria’s major languages: Igbo, Yoruba, and Hausa.

The Arabic text was previously used to render the Hausa pronunciation of the value of the notes on which they appear.

The central bank said the Arabic text was introduced before Nigeria’s independence to help people understand the value of the notes in certain parts of the country.

Red arrows point to the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba words on the redesigned 100 naira note (left) and to the Arabic text on the old 100 naira note (right)

Although the bank explained that the old and new “commemorative” versions of the 100-naira notes would co-exist, it removed the Arabic script from the redesigned notes “to stay ahead of counterfeiters.”

The design of the new notes slated for release in December has not yet been unveiled.

Not in constitution

English is Nigeria’s official language.

Section 55 of the constitution mandates that the business of the National Assembly be conducted in English.

It notes that Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa can also be used “when adequate arrangements have been made therefore.”

Section 97 permits states’ houses of assembly to use, in addition to English, “one or more other languages spoken in the State as the House may by resolution approve”.

There is no mention of Arabic in the constitution.

Colonial remnant

In 2020, Nigerian lawyer Malcolm Omirhobo asked a court in Lagos to compel the central bank to remove Arabic inscriptions from naira notes, claiming they violated sections 10 and 55 of the country’s constitution.

Section 10 emphasises the country’s secularity while Section 55 lists English, Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa as the only languages to be used in the National Assembly.

Nigerian media reported that the central bank insisted that the Arabic text on naira notes “do not imply that Arabic is an official language in Nigeria,” noting that the inscriptions “do not connote any religious statements or Arabian alignment.”

“The Ajami was inscribed on the country’s currency by the colonialists to aid those without Western education in certain parts of the country, who, back then, constituted a larger part of the populace,” the bank said, as reported by Nigerian newspaper Punch.

In a statement released in 2007 after it redesigned smaller denominations, the central bank said replacing Arabic with Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa was in conformity with Section 55 of the constitution and in the “national interest”.