Exploring Limitless Opportunity As Language Expert (allAfrica.com)

THE dateline was Sunday, October 19, 2014 at the Badr Hall in the heart of the holy city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. The occasion was the Merit Award Night in appreciation of the contributions of African non-Arab countries to the success of 2014 Hajj operation. Pilgrims, over two millions from 37 countries of the world including Nigeria had just been through with the spiritual exercise. And the Saudi Arabia Authority under the auspices of the Ministry of Hajj felt that exceptional performance by some pilgrims and officials should be acknowledged and rewarded.
Organised by the Establishment of Mutawifis for Pilgrims from African Non-Arab Countries, an agency under the Ministry of Hajj, the award ceremony lifted Nigeria as a country with immense blessing especially in human capital resources.
Apart from the institutional medal bagged by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) for good conduct displayed generally by pilgrims from Nigeria throughout the 2014 edition of the spiritual exercise; as well as two states – Kano and Sokoto – that were recognized for efficient management of pilgrims with emphasis on observing the rules and regulations guiding Taraduddiyah system which involves orderly movement of pilgrims within the holy sites in Muna, Arafat and Muzdalifah, the only individual award that night also went to a Nigerian.
The awardee, Dr. Saheed Ahmad Rufai, then a lecturer in the Department of Language, Arts and Social Sciences (Education), Lagos State University, was recognized for his services in enhancing better understanding between the Hajj agency and the pilgrims as well as officials from the African Non-Arab countries. Throughout the spiritual exercise, the university don, who has, since, transferred his services to Sokoto State University (SSU) as senior lecturer, served the Saudi Arabian agency as accredited translator and interpreter.
On the award night, Dr. Saheed demonstrated erudition in and grasp of Arabic Language as he recited poems (he personally composed) celebrating the uniqueness of Hajj as a fundamental pillar of Islam to the delight of native speakers and glory of Nigerians in the audience.
Indeed, the seed of the career movement from LASU to SSU as soon as he returned to Nigeria late October, last year must have been sown at the Makkah occasion as Sokoto State government officials including academics from the University who were members of the Sokoto State Pilgrims Welfare Board were in attendance and charmed by the depth of knowledge and skill with which he rendered the services.
Commenting on the award, the highly elated Saheed had thanked the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; the Director of Hajj in the Ministry, Dr. Ameer Qattani; and the Chairman of the African Establishment, Dr. Abdul Wahid Saifuddin “for giving me the opportunity to serve the guests of Allah through official translation and interpretation services and also for according me the honour to address the dignitaries.”
To him, “the award which is not only prestigious, but also ennobling and dignifying, is a call to more dedicated services to Islam and humanity.”
And his desire to ensure that more Nigerians explore the limitless opportunities inherent in the area of translation and interpreting services has given birth to City Translators and Interpreters, an outfit incorporated in 2009. Today, Dr. Saheed combines his academic activities with serving as Director and Chief Operating Officer of the firm.
According to him, the founding of the translation/interpretation outfit, during a post-Hajj chat with The Guardian, “is a product of my wander-lust for the contribution of my modest effort to the promotion of Arabic as a global and functional language whose potentialities transcend religious boundaries.
“I was not oblivious of the fact that the area was virgin and the path yet un-trodden, especially in the Nigerian context. Yet, I ventured thereinto probably encouraged by my academic background in Curriculum and Pedagogy where I hold a doctorate and which I have taught for several years in various universities including the University of Lagos and Lagos State University, before Sokoto State University.
“This academic territory is all about how to develop training programmes and how to transmit their contents to learners. I rationalized that my doctoral experience had prepared me for such a task and applying the technicalities to which I was exposed in such academic preparation should not be an issue. I therefore took up the challenge of systematically equipping a group of intellectually competent and not necessarily academically qualified scholars in Lagos and its environs, with requisite knowledge and skills that are capable of empowering them to prepare an Arabic version of any English piece and vice versa.
“The motivation was also a product of the dire need to correct the hitherto growing perception that the learning of Arabic is a worthless endeavour. I also decisively ventured into the virgin area of producing professional manpower for English-Arabic translation/interpretation services, motivated by the perceived meritorious nature of applying my doctoral training in Curriculum and Pedagogy to the Language of the Qur’an, having applied it to the designing of professional training programmes in various areas.”
In its operation in the last six years of existence, Dr. Saheed is delighted that progress is being made for language outlet to accomplish its set objectives. “The training programme and services were intended to produce scholars who can function as translators and interpreters at various levels. The idea was actually to ‘clone’ or replicate myself in the area of operation. I, for instance, had provided translation services to various organizations and establishments which include the Libyan Embassy in Lagos, the Syrian Embassies in Lagos where I worked as a translator/interpreter in the 1990s. They also include the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) whose Faith-based conference I covered in the capacity of a contract translator. There also is the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa where I am a freelance interpreter. The same applies to the Establishment for the Coordination of African Pilgrims under the Saudi Arabian Hajj Ministry. There also are numerous others constituting a part of my clientele.
“However, given that my job as a full-time university lecturer and researcher cannot always accommodate translation job demands from these various quarters, I felt the need to set the feet of some of my trainees on the highly saleable path of professional engagement with translation/interpreting.
I have had course to have one or two of them accompany me on few of such professional assignments but cannot really say they are now fully ripe to do the job at the highest level even though they, to an appreciable extent, are comfortable in the art and act of translation/interpreting. In other words, what I am saying is that we are making progress but are not accomplished as yet.”
As a clinic for language users, one major challenge as regards recruitment of students for the outfit is the realisation that “most of those who have academic qualifications in Arabic from universities in Southwestern Nigeria, which is our immediate environment, are not competent to do the job.”
He however singled out “some impressive elements among such graduates,” adding, “paradoxically, most of the candidates who passed our selection examinations are graduates from other disciplines. Our meeting point was at the University of Lagos when we started early 2009. It was obvious that many individuals were interested in the programme but only few of them fulfilled the entry requirements.
“Some of those who came with higher degrees in Arabic wondered why they were not selected while fresh non-Arabic graduates were successful. I did not equivocate in declaring that our translation/interpretation training programmes are not wholly interested in applicants’ certificates but in their abilities and capabilities, their knowledge and skills at the entry level, their potentialities and trainability, levels of which can be easily determined by us. We chose not to compromise these standards owing to our knowledge of the trends and dimensions in acquisition of certificates in today’s world.
“So, when I claim that most Ph.Ds Arabic in Southwestern Nigeria neither speak nor write Arabic, it is not an unfounded claim but a product of a systematic observation that culminated in a scientific investigation. Neither the English Language nor French is befallen by the same fate in the geographical zone in question although there are sub-standard elements in every discipline. So, we chose not to be part of the brazen “underdevelopment” of Arabic Language in Southwestern Nigeria and therefore emphasize knowledge and skills instead of certificates that are mostly bereft of the two.
“There also is the challenge of speaking bitter truth in connection with the sub-standard nature of lecturers of Arabic who are instrumental to the production of deficient graduates of Arabic in this part of the country although one has always had to pay some prices which paradoxically culminate in elevations after persecutions. There also is the challenge of training equipment or dearth of modern facilities, a challenge that is not yet surmounted but is currently being looked into for solutions.”
But why the focus on Arabic Language alone? Why not incorporating for instance, French more so when Nigeria is mostly surrounded by French-speaking countries? He responded: “It is because the Arabic-English-Arabic cluster is where lies my own strength but I partner with other individuals and organizations in delivering services in other language areas especially those experienced ones with whom I once or twice shared simultaneous translation booths in Addis Ababa, New York or elsewhere.
“They include Dr. Funmilayo Adesanya in Abuja for French; Dr. Tayo Ajayi in Lagos for Portuguese; and Prof. Amidu Sanni also in Lagos for Arabic. I handle the Arabic bit for the duo of Adesanya and Ajayi and they, too, respectively handle the French and Portuguese contents of my job. The same arrangement applies for German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and other languages as there are professional colleagues to collaborate with across the globe.
“There is Dr. Ahmad Shatib in Algeria; Dr. Mahmud Bayumi in Egypt; Kelvin Moore in Australia; Muhammad Tourage in Canada; Harry Jones in New York and there are other Arabic-oriented translator partners in other parts of the world. It may however interest you to learn that by the end of 2015, I may no longer need such support or collaboration to handle a French-oriented translation as the completion of my training in that language is far advanced in the pipeline. I hope to thereafter go for Portuguese, by God’s grace. In other words, my current focus on Arabic-English-Arabic was informed by my linguistic strengths or restrictions.”
In this era of unemployment globally, the prospects for language experts are limitless. The target clientele, he enumerated, comprises embassies, multi-national organizations, United Nations organs, federal ministries, Hajj commissions, state ministries, Pilgrims Welfare Boards, advertising agencies, broadcasting organizations, research institutes, tourism boards, Chambers of Commerce and Industries, the Banking Sector, the Oil Sector among others.
He acknowledged appreciable patronage of the services of City Translator and Interpreters by some of these clients. “However, there is need for aggressive promotion and sensitization concerning Arabic translation services and where such services are offered in view of the dominant thinking that there is no more to than the Qur’an and madrasah system. People need to be enlightened that Arabic is a functional language that, in addition to its religious role as the Language of the Qur’an and Islamic practices, serves various economic, political, academic, diplomatic, and professional purposes.”
The requirements for admission, he said, are simple. “The first requirement is being a graduate of any discipline. The second requirement is inter-mediate proficiency in Arabic and English. The third requirement is versatility, which we, for the purpose of the training programme, have defined as knowledge of something about virtually everything.”
Concerning job prospects, he said, there are more Arabic translation jobs than competent translators and there is always an Arabic translation assignment for every competent translator. “So Arabic-English-Arabic translation job is highly lucrative, the knowledge and skills for it, immensely salable, and their remuneration enormously attractive and rewarding.”
As Director/CEO with vast connection worldwide, especially in the Arab world, Dr. Saheed remains the motivating force and morale booster for the trainees of the outfit. “When I was awarded a postdoctoral research fellowship to work on Citizenship and Cosmopolitan Education at Stellenbosch University in South Africa in 2011, I presented all the award documents before them all and said, here I am emerging successful in rigorous academic competition in a discipline that is different from Curriculum and Pedagogy where I hold a doctorate!
“I also have them motivated by the fact that I do not hold any degree in Arabic and yet employs the language with some degree of modesty. I also share with them correspondences from various university-based international refereed journals across the world some of which I serve as editor, associate editor, book reviewer, member of editorial board or international advisory board, with a view to stimulating their intellectual curiosity and assuring them that they can achieve all that and even more.
“And each time I returned from Addis Ababa, I brought them together to update their translation knowledge and skills. I consistently state to them that to be a successful translator/interpreter, one must develop an insatiable appetite for multi-disciplinary learning.”
Besides, he has mapped out strategies ensuring that his international connection rubs off on the outfit in terms of affiliation and empowerment for its students and products. “Yes, I’m glad your media organization was in attendance the day I received the Saudi Arabian Award for translation services in Makkah in October, 2014. It was there and then that I initiated discussion with appropriate authorities concerning the possibility of involving some of the translators trained by me, in their operations.
“The UNFPA and the African Union assignments I cited earlier, I did not go alone but asked one of them to join me to experience what simultaneous translation settings are in reality. Such decisions by me are intended to provide them preliminary exposures, promising job contacts and useful opportunities especially now that I have greater academic and administrative demands as a Senior Lecturer with an eye on a professorial chair.
“I am currently coordinating about five book projects involving distinguished academics across the country and beyond, in the areas of curriculum, pedagogy, religion and other branches of teacher education. Such books are meant to be resource materials for universities and colleges of education.
“So, as a teacher educator and researcher, I am collaborating with other scholars to reconstruct knowledge and the process of its acquisition and transmission, in a competency-based fashion that is characteristic of the Sokoto State University and I wonder whether my active academic engagement with such highly demanding and rigorous endeavours, will not be marred by continued attention to translation and interpreting services.
“My current university, SSU is an ideologically independent institution of higher learning and is committed to outcome-based education which is an enviable academic identity that I love to associate myself with, as an innovative curricularist and a creative pedagogue. I want to be a part of an unprecedented and unique university educational experience that SSU is, in the country, and that is a source of joy. So, I think any involvement in professional translation, is just an avoidable distraction for now.”SAHEED Ahmad Rufai holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Lagos, Akoka and a doctorate in Curriculum and Pedagogy from the International Islamic University, Malaysia (IIUM). His other post-graduate qualifications cover such diverse areas as Journalism, Public Relations and Advertising (PRAD), History, Television Production and Presentation, Teaching Arabic to Non-Native Speakers, and Information Processing and Computer Technology. He won a post-doctoral research fellowship to develop a curriculum for Citizenship and Cosmopolitan Education, at the Department of Education Policy Studies, Stellenbosch University, South Africa in 2011. He is strongly committed to human capital development through transmission of innovative knowledge and salable skills to the youth and has made some impact in this regard through the instrumentality of the twin discipline of Curriculum and Pedagogy which he employs in the facilitation of his training services in the areas of education, translation, communication, public relations, as well as event management and coordination. He taught courses in Curriculum, Pedagogy and Religion at various levels as a full-time Lecturer at the University of Lagos and Lagos State University and currently teaches such courses as a Senior Lecturer at the Sokoto State University, Nigeria.
He has handled several translation/interpreting assignments at various levels in Nigeria and overseas. His clientele is constituted by notable individuals and reputable corporate bodies such as Libyan Embassy, Lagos (1994 -1997); Syrian Embassy, Lagos (1997 -1999); United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), Nigeria Office (March, 2005); Zecomayo Conference Services, Abuja (March, 2005); African Union Commission, Addis Ababa (March 19, 2007); Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC) in June, 2011; Saudi Arabian Ministry of Hajj (Establishment for the Coordinators of Non-Arab African Pilgrims), Makkah, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (September/October, 2015) among others.