We have shortage of Bible translators in Nigeria- Ajiboye BSN CEO says demand for Bible still high despite internet downloads

Dare Ajiboye, General Secretary and CEO of Bible Society of Nigeria started off as a Confidential Secretary, he rose to become a human resources practictioner, a writer and a minister of the gospel. He holds HND Sec. Admin; MBA Management; MA in Theology; Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) specializing in Succession Planning from Swiss Management Centre University, Switzerland.  Dare is an alumnus of the Manchester Business School’s Top Executive Leadership Programme, and Lagos Business School. He is a fellow of many professional bodies among which are Institute of Strategic Management, Chartered Institute of Personnel Management, Nigeria Institute of Management and a host of others. He has served on the board of some organizations among which are PABTEN as Vice Chairman, and is currently the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Bible Guest House Research and Development Centre Ltd.

Ajiboye who has authored a number of books on management and Christian living spoke with Church Times on his experience so far as the Chief Executive Officer of Bible Society of Nigeria

With the increase in internet awareness one can safely conclude that the need for the hard copy of the Bible would have reduced considerably. What has been the experience since you took over as the CEO of Bible society of Nigeria?

I think the increase in internet awareness has not in any way affected the distribution of the hard copy of the Bible. As a matter of fact, our distribution has continued to improve by the year. If not for the economic recession we probably would have recorded more than what we have recorded. What we have experienced is that the availability of the Bible in soft copy has helped the hard copy to flourish. There are limitations as much as we have advantages to the digital copy. I have a lot of downloads on my Ipad and phone but for real and focused study of the Bible you still need the hard copy. In other countries where internet has gained more grounds than Nigeria people still go about with hard copy of the Bible. If you observe many of the people who do downloads do it for the fad and not because they really study the Bible on their phones. I do not see the digital copy taking over completely in the near future. It will not even happen. The hard copy will continue to exist side by side the soft copy.

It is even interesting that the Pope is frowning at people bringing phone for mass. He warned against the use of the phone instead of the Bible in the church. If that is coming from the Pope it shows that the hard copy of the Bible will always be on ground as against the generation impression that the hard copy is going into extinction.

But what do you think about the Bible in the phone.?

The fact is that the Bible has gone through several transitions. If started from oral tradition, then to clay then to leather which was in the form of scrolls and then to papyrus before we got to the paper form. A time will come when there will be less of paper no doubt but that does not mean paper will be wiped out completely. There is nothing wrong in reading the Bible from the phone and Ipad. But the challenge is that you cannot guarantee that you will not be distracted when reading the Bible on the phone. You will be tempted to answer calls or read test messages. There are people who take phone to church and are busy browsing. It is not advisable to take phone to the church because there is no way you will not be carried away even when it is put in silence. In terms of the sacredness of the Bible it is not the container that makes the Bible powerful it is the content. Apart from the distraction, there is really nothing wrong with the Bible on phone. I think both the hard copy and soft copy complement one another.

You have been the CEO for a while now. What would you consider as the changes that have happened to BSN since you came in as CEO?

Let me go back to the digital downloads. By God’s grace we have our own Bible apps which can be downloaded from goggle play or apple plus. That is one of the new things. We have six local languages now that can be downloaded online. In terms of translations God has helped us to do a lot. The first Bible to be published in Nigeria was the Efik Bible 1853 followed by the Yoruba 1854 and then the Igbo Bible. The first portion of the Bible to be published was the book of Romans and it was published in Yoruba. I think the missionaries that came to the South South were eager to educate the people in that area on the need to stop the killing of twins that is why translating Bible to Efik was a priority. Before the BSN we have had the British and Foreign Bible Society, Scottish Bible and American Bible societies. These organisations helped the translation of the Bible.

God has helped us to translate the Bible to four local languages since I came in as the CEO. We are working on two other languages. By this we, have increased the number of Bibles in local languages. The fastest translation before now took 37 years. But the Lord has helped us to gain speed. For instance, we are translating Bible to some languages in Bayelsa State. To the glory of God the first draft of the translation is out. From this stage it moves to the team stage and then the third stage which is the review stage where the community of the local language will come and attest to what we have done before a consultant in Bible translation who holds a Phd will come around to work on it again. All this is happening within a space of four year or thereabout as against the number of years spent in previous years.

Technology has helped and funding has helped to increase the speed of translation. We have engaged a lot of translators. In the past many of the people translating had limited education. But today we have international consultants who have really been of great help in doing the work.

Sometimes one feels why translate to local languages when the languages are dying?

You have actually given us why we need to translate. A language that is documented won’t go into extinction. We translate to preserve the local languages. Many languages that are not written down will die eventually. Culture is communicated through languages. In Nigeria today, none of the languages that have the Bible is dead. It helps in literacy campaign and it helps to preserve or cultural heritage. Literacy actually started with the use of the Bible. We have been able to dedicate more than any generation more Bible translations with speed.

Going back to some of the things that God has helped us to achieve, I must say we have been able to increase the copies of Bible distributed over the years. We have been able to distribute about three million Bibles in one year. Our warehouse has also been greatly improved on. We used to have small warehouses but in 2014 we were able to build a huge warehouse in Jos. We have also been able to build a warehouse that can house about 2 million Bibles.  Before now we were involved in producing Bibles for the blind. But now we have chronological Bible stories for the deaf and dumb.  The first language of the deaf and dumb is sign language. That is why we felt it is not right to force them to read our own kind of Bible. Except those of them who have been reading before they became deaf for those who were born like that they feel more comfortable in sign language. The Bible is in pictorial and in the video form. What we have been able to do is to put the stories of the Bible in sign language for them for easy comprehension. We have 110 Bible stories already in sign language. We have a deaf translation centre in Ibadan. It is the first of its kind in the world. The centre is able to go into proper translation of the Bible for the deaf and dumb. We have been able to train a consultant in that area. A lady goes to Kenya every year on our bill to learn translation every year by the time she is through she will become our consultant in that area.  Translating in the sign language is most expensive when it comes to sign languages. You probably spend about three times of what you spend in translating to the normal language. So far, we have 24 local language Bibles in Nigeria, ten is ongoing while two will be dedicated next year.

God has also helped us in the area human capital. By God’s grace we have started our leadership academy. The first set of graduates will be out next year. That is where we groom people for succession so that when we leave we will not have problem having people to succeed. That is a great achievement for us. But I think also we have to commend the effort of Dr. Fred Odutola whom I took over from. He laid a solid foundation which I am building on.

 

Concerning translation to local language; some are contending that the word Allah should not be employed in the Christian Bible. There was even a protest in Malaysia some years ago by Some Muslims that the name Allah should be expunged from the Christian Bible.  Some Christians have also argued that Allah is not the generic name for God in Saudi Arabia. How will you react to this?

I remember my colleague in Jos where we organized a workshop had cause to address this issue. It was so controversial. But I think we need to understand certain things. In Yoruba land for instance before we had Christianity there were all manners of name for God. When Christianity came and the Bible was being translated the translators had to rely on the concept of God among the locals. They picked one of the names of God available. Even in English countries there were smaller gods. But when the gospel came they had to distinguish between the supreme God and the local god by the use of capital letter. People have said we should use Ubangiji to represent the name of God for the Hausa Bible The point is that Allah was already used before the advent of Islam just like we had Obatala and orunmila before the missionaries brought the gospel. When they were going to translate the Bible, the only way they can translate is to use what they were used to so the locals could understand.

So why do we in the first place change the name of God. His name is Yahweh Elohim and that was what he is known as from the beginning. So why don’t we continue the use of that name?

The original languages of the Bible were Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. If you use the name Yahweh Elohim and tell people from other cultures it will be difficult  to convey the meaning to them.  I think the missionaries were more concerned about making God relevant to local cultures.  I was in Israel last month and it dawned on me that translation work can be daunting. When David said when I work through the valley of the shadow of death I thought it was just a metaphor for danger. But when I got there and they showed us a valley which was what David was talking about I began to appreciate that statement. The valley is a place of death. Those were the places where he was hiding and escaping during war and the dangers of the wild animals while tending his flock as a shepherd.

There are many things I think should not bother us. The issue of worshiping God on a particular day for instance is not worth fighting over. If you go to Saudi Arabia today Sunday is a working day. Does that mean you will not worship God? That is why those argument tend to strive and undue waste of energy. Many of the things we argue about we don’t need them. If we know what it means to believe God we will not engage in petty argument. It means everything about us is about God. If he says stop we stop. If he says eat you eat. If we take Jesus as our Lord and there are somethings that are controversial you will not stand as a stumbling block before others. That was why Paul said eating meat is not a sin but If it makes my brothers to err I will stop eating meat.

But in the case of Malaysia where Muslims themselves are saying don’t use the name of our God do you think is it justifiable to use that name still?

If it becomes an argument and the government cannot control it, then we forget it. The name can be dropped. The important thing is to make people appreciate the name of God, by then people would have known the meaning of Yahweh

So what in concrete terms would you regard as the challenges facing the BSN?

We have shortage of translators and translation consultants. We don’t have a seasoned consultant. The only one we have now comes from Zambia. We used to have but they retired and eventually we have none. Bible schools train translators but the quality they churn out are people who can only read ABC of Greek. When they are recommended to us and they are given the Hebrew Bible and they are asked to open and read a portion and translate they will be sweating. I don’t want to condemn the theological schools but their products are not fit enough to handle Bible translation. We lack competent human capital. That is a major challenge.

Funds has been a challenge. Only a few churches understand what we are doing and out of the few only not many support us. Each time we call for support it’s like we are beggars. It is the calling of God that has made many people working in the BSN to stay on.  If we are to look at the attitude of some church leaders one would be forced to abandoned the work. There are some of the new generation pastors that are not forthcoming. I approached one and tried to have a rapport with him he just proved difficult. But God has given us favour among some of the older pastors and church leaders. The younger generation of pastors are more arrogant and unreachable than the older ones. I think the church has to understand that the BSN is their baby.

But God has been raising individuals to support the work. It will surprise you that what a single person is giving to us every year is more than what all the churches in Nigeria put together are giving to us. And this  man is a child of God. He would not give a bribe in his business and would not accept a bribe. He does not want to be mentioned. The person is not a pastor. He is just a brother in a church humble to the core and supporting the work of God. We have another person who gave us money to translate the Bible to two local languages.

Unfortunately, some church leaders don’t seem to catch the vision on the need to support what we are doing. Some pastors can be so arrogant that they don’t even want to host us when we write them that we want to come and worship with them. They are so watchful over their flock that they don’t want anybody to come near them. They are afraid that we would raise funds in their church. Even when we don’t want to raise funds they don’t want to have us around. There are also pastors who are so magnanimous to us and have allowed us to use their pulpit. There was one who was believed to be difficult who was magnanimous to have us speak even when we did not want to talk upon our visit to the church. But we are not daunted because we know it is kingdom work. The churches should be the owner of BSN unfortunately they see us as competitors.

Some of them ask for free Bibles which we give to them. But they don’t know that some people are behind the subsidy. Our Bibles are so cheap and affordable. Some pastors even ask why we sell the Bible. They will not give to the work and they will still be complaining why the Bible is being sold. We are trusting that God will one day open the understanding of church leaders. There is hardly any organization that is as open like the BSN. We give update on the contributions of people. We spend a lot. For instance we spend N60 million for translation into one local language. The BSN is even helping Nigeria to preserve its heritage and culture. By translating Bible to local languages, we are preserving our local languages. We are actually doing what government should do. We wrote the federal governement last year when we were 50 yet we got no response from them. God has been faithful. This recession alone is enough to wipe out BSN but God has been faithful. We believe so much in prayers and God has been supporting the work.

Piracy is another problem. The Bible we published is being pirated and that has affected the ones we push to the market. Our roads are bad and the logistics of distribution has been enormous. Our office in Apapa is difficult to access because of the traffic situation in that place. I trek one kilometer every morning from where I park my car when going to the office because of the traffic congestion in Apapa. We want to relocate but we can’t because of funds. Many of our distribution vans are getting spoilt by the day. The state of our roads is awkward.

Are the Bibles printed in Nigeria?

Our Bibles are printed outside Nigeria. There is no standard printing press for the Bible in Nigeria. They can’t print on the kind of paper we use. There is no standard press in Africa even in south Africa. The South Africa Bible Society does not even print in South Africa. The printing is done in the US.

There is this controversy about NIV being a version where so many portions have been removed. What is your position on this?

I may not be able to say much but one of the challenges we have as human being is that we claim to know when we don’t know. Theologians who were brought together to review the Bible that gave birth to the NIV were experts. And I think they did a great job in putting some things in proper perspective. There are somethings in the Bible which are not largely errors but which convey a different meaning from the original meaning. Some years ago, we attempted tampering with the Yoruba version of The Lord is my Shepherd. When we brought the attention of some church leaders to it they were vehemently against our tampering with it.

On The Lord is my shepherd…what we have in the Yoruba Bible presently is a transliteration. In Yoruba it should be Oluwa ni oluso mi emi aguntan re. it should not be Oluwa ni Oluso aguntan mi. When we say Oluwa ni Oluso Aguntan mi; what we are saying is, God watches over my sheep. The English translation is correct but when critically examined in Yoruba, it does not sound right to say God watches over my sheep which is the meaning by our translation.

There is another one Command ye me according to the works of my hand in the book of Isaiah. If you read the whole of that chapter it means how can the work of my hand command me. The verse is isolated. It is command ye me? Perhaps there should have been a question. When you change those things, it seems you are bringing in a satanic Bible. I think such changes is the reason people say the NIV err but in the real sense they are helping us get better understanding of the Bible.

About Gbenga Osinaike

Gbenga Osinaike is a 1992 graduate of Dramatic Arts from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. He specialised in Play-writing. He also holds a Master of Arts Degree from the University of Lagos. He was Assistant Editor in Punch Newspapers from where he resigned having worked for 13 years to start Church Times Nigeria in March 2007. He is currently the Nigeria representative of US based Institute of Global Church Studies and also the Publicity Secretary of the Lagos, Nigeria Chapter of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria. He is married and blessed with two children.

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