By Sylvester Asoya
Before now, history was pejoratively defined in our schools as the study of past events. But history also deals with the present in a unique way and even the future. A person who looks dispassionately at his or her past is already prepared for a promising future. The same goes for a country. Therefore, those who view history through the narrow prism of past events only, deny it of its undeniable status as a living subject connected to politics, development, research and documentation. This is the reason George Santayana, the renowned Spanish-American philosopher, poet and humanist who is easily remembered for his contribution to aesthetics and literary criticism, once declared that: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it”.
Whether as individuals or nations, history teaches us great lessons and also lights our path. Without history, perhaps we would have remained in the dark about so many things, including our genealogy and existence.
History also brings to a touching distance, important stories like the ones about the great empires of Western Sudan and their enormous wealth, power, remarkable organization, administrative wizardry and pervasive influence. It teaches us about Timbuktu, that famous city in ancient Mali which was for many centuries, a center of commerce and scholarship. This West African city which attracted thinkers and scholars from as far as Egypt and other parts of the world, remained a reference point for many centuries. For instance, during the Middle Ages, Timbuktu was a place of rich and great written tradition that produced millions of manuscripts. Though gold was Timbuktu’s major export, its most important imports were books and related materials. History revealed all these.
Then suddenly in 2007, history was banished from schools in Nigeria for no cogent reason. The federal government had launched a new curriculum that killed and buried history in one fell swoop in Nigeria’s Junior and Secondary Schools. The action, a major policy flip-flop, was perceived by many as diabolic and an ill-wind.
We must therefore commend the current administration for the re-introduction of history to our schools.
But the question is: who is afraid of history? Why are those in power resolute in their commitment to the obliteration of historical facts and figures from this land?
Many people have also argued that shutting out history in the first place, was a ploy by the ruling elite to keep a good number of Nigerians eternally oblivious and indifferent about some important national and even personal issues.
Thank goodness we can now learn some basic and important facts about our country and her history. For instance, RUGA, the suspended toxic expansionist agenda and other obnoxious policies have historical evidence and it dates back to over two centuries. Therefore a little history and knowledge of our country could, in the final analysis, permanently cure ignorance, forgetfulness, bigotry and other forms of decadent views trending in our country today.
As a matter of fact, I believe history will do Nigeria a great service. It will definitely not blur our vision or drive towards a present and a future, designed and driven by science and technology. Rather, it would give greater insight. For example, history tells us how a part of this country made extraordinary technological advancement during the Civil War, how that part of our country also refined ‘almighty’ crude oil even in the worst of circumstances. There is also evidence of that region’s creativity and progress in weapons engineering and how the people advanced technological frontier with their innovation through research and development during the war.
But the strong and the powerful among us despise history because their irresponsibility, failure and crass opportunism would become public knowledge.
History documents our struggle for independence and the roles of our patriotic founding fathers, trade unionists, artistes, professionals, artisans and ordinary Nigerians who contributed to our independence. It also records the flaming but purposeful and ideological politics of the First Republic; the genesis of the drabness among citizens which still remains and the military interventions that reversed all pre and post-independence gains. Without history, the politics of coups, the suspension of our constitution, the mismanagement and looting, the lost opportunities, the Civil War and the genocide in Asaba and environs, the official policy of exclusion and more, would have remained a top secret or subjects of speculation at best.
But young Nigerians must learn the horrible tales of our existence and how an enormously blessed nation became a second-rate country. They must read the circumstances under which the Second Republic fell, the policy summersaults of the military afterwards and the endless transition that almost destroyed Nigeria. So, history teachers today must be courageous, firm and ready to tell these stories without fear or favor.
For public good, we should resurrect forgotten and bizarre tales of how Nigeria, a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country was smuggled into the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, OIC, by a dictator and the complicity of a Christian president who became our country’s first head of government to attend OIC meeting, a gathering of Arabs and Islamic countries.
Historians must also tell our children the horrifying tales of those who stumbled on power and changed the optimistic course of our nation’s history.
I am of the view that this generation should learn a few lessons about the pacesetting public schools of old that pioneered education, the vibrant students’ union movement of the 1970s and 1980s, the war against academics at our centers of learning by so-called soldiers of fortune and the deliberate destruction of education by the military,
Historians should also document the lies and absurdities of today. They ought to regularly remind all of us about extraordinary Nigerians like Chief Gani Fawehinmi, the fiery lawyer; Chima Ubani, the respected students’ union leader and activist; James Bagauda Kaltho, the journalist who was murdered during the struggle and other great men and women who died so we could live. They should remind arrogant power brokers today who were either too young or mere on-lookers during the last struggle, about the sacrifices and contributions of generous and courageous Nigerians who gave their all.
Now that history is back, chroniclers must make available, well-researched and accurate literatures on our true heroes and those who changed our country for good. They must also remember the contributions of unsung Nigerians at home and in the diaspora. As we struggle to set the records straight by changing false notions and narratives, historians must avoid ‘latter day saints’ who claim unmerited importance at every opportunity, including self-appointed leaders and others who depend on peddlers of falsehood for relevance. If we fail to take a position as citizens, history, definitely, will be harsh, not only on historians but on the rest of us.