Arabic was the official language in Yorubaland, Hausaland, Western and Northern Africa before the advent of colonial imperialism and missionary in 1841. This was not a mere coincidence as Islam had come to the ancient Yoruba Kingdom of Oyo in the 14th century through trans-Saharan trade (Akinjogbin, 1971).
In explaining this historical facts, pioneer Nigerian historian, Kenneth Dike (1965) stated thus ‘As a historian myself, I have taken the keenest interest in this development, for it is through the aid of these Arabic documents and those written in African languages in Arabic scripts that the scholar will be aided. It had been a revelation to the whole world of scholarship to realize for the first time that Africa before the European penetration far from being a “dark continent” was in fact a continent where the light of scholarship shone brightly as the Arabic works now being discovered bear testimony….’. Obviously, Arabic language has played a prominent role in preserving and documenting the history, culture and civilization of Yoruba, Hausa, Western and Northern Africans before the European missioners.
Again, a recent study by Hundwick (2006) asserted that Arabic is the Latin of Africa in view of the role it has played in West Africa and some parts of Africa over the past millennium as Latin did in Europe in the medieval era. This argument was corroborated by Kenneth Dike (1965) stating the obvious that ‘Arabic is in many respects the classical language of West Africa’.
While contributing to this historical study of Education in Yorubaland within linguistic evolution and its cultural adoption, foremost Nigerian Historian, Emeritus Prof. Ade Ajayi argued that the first and the only literacy in Yorubaland before the arrival of Christianity in the nineteenth century was in Arabic (see J.F. Ade-Ajayi, 1960: How Yoruba was reduce to writing, Odu 8). This literacy influenced Yoruba linguistic evolution (e.g Olohun, Alaafia, Asiri, Arisiki, Woli, Wakati, Adua among several others are Arabic loan words) and transformed Yorubas from storytellers to readers and writers of events.
I. A. Akinjogbin, “The Expansion of Oyo and the Rise of Dahomey 1600-1800,” in History of West Africa, 2 vols., ed. J. F. Ade-Ajayi and M. Crowder (London: Longman, 1971),
J.F. Ade-Ajayi: How Yoruba was reduce to writing, Odu 8
K. Dike: Opening Remarks in Hunwick J. O. Report of a Seminar on the Teaching of Arabic in Nigeria, Ibadan and Kano, 1965.
J. Hundwick: West Africa, Islam and the Arab World Studies in Honour of Basil Davidson. Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2006.