At the office building near the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport in the capital of Abuja, Nigerian customs officers excitedly sang Chinese songs and presented a playlet showing courteous officers communicating effectively in Chinese.
These officers were the first batch from the Nigeria Customs Service who attended Chinese classes and acquired basic knowledge of Mandarin Chinese.
“The Nigeria Customs Service is in full appreciation of the Chinese embassy, and of the Chinese people for bringing us the gift of language,”
Aminu Dalhiru, area controller of customs in Abuja, said at the graduation ceremony for the officers.
“We will encourage all our officers to learn the language fully,” Dalhiru said.
Three months ago, the customs service shortlisted 40 of its officers to attend the Mandarin class aimed at breaking the communication barrier between Chinese-speaking tourists or investors and law enforcement agents in Nigeria.
With China considered as one of Nigeria’s most important trade partners, Dalhiru said the learning of Mandarin by customs officers would enhance effectiveness as the country is seeing an increasing number of Chinese investors and tourists.
Liu Wenpan, a Chinese teacher in Nigeria, has been teaching the customs officers Mandarin for two hours every Thursday.
Six more batches of officers have been shortlisted for the Mandarin course, with the next class set for inauguration.
Now widely taught in primary and secondary schools, as well as Confucius Institutes spread across the West African country, Mandarin is considered one of the most popular foreign languages in Nigeria.
For Stephen Ayodele Balogun, one of the customs officers in the capital city airport who speaks a proficient Mandarin, knowing two of the world’s most widely spoken languages — Chinese and English — offers him the opportunity of contributing effectively to his country’s security. He says learning the Chinese language very quickly was just a matter of interest.
“The Chinese language is not so difficult as people often think,” he said. “It has four basic tones. Once you master them, you can begin to communicate effectively.”