In early September, it was with a heavy heart I signed a petition made by Omei Bongos Ikwue on change.org to ‘Keep the study of History in Nigerian schools’ . Apparently, the Nigerian government decided to remove history from school curriculum’s for reasons such as- ‘there are neither jobs for graduates of history’, nor ‘sufficient teachers for students of history ’. Furthermore of all their subjects, secondary school students rank Mathematics, English and Biology highly because these subjects are prerequisites for admission into universities and lastly, Students rate history so low because, according to them,
“Society itself does not rate history highly.”
I have always wondered how it’s possible for alleged drug barons to become senators, how convicted criminals become governors and why the Nigerian people are known to have such a short memory especially when compared to societies such as the British, where activities done by people in their teens can hunt them when they seek political office, or members of parliament retire for misappropriating 500 pounds the equivalent of NGN70,000. Ironically, Nigerians complain about their leaders, but the leaders come from the people. Some Leaders from elite backgrounds, others grew up without shoes. Some leaders without a formal education others with PHD’s. What gives?
A people that are not taught to hold their history in esteem, have a short term memory. It is this mental illness that sees disgraced public officials and private citizens blissfully active in society. Governors that destroyed their state comfortably seating in the senate.
‘our people forget’
A people without the knowledge of their past, origin and culture are like a tree without roots. Root are the primary foundation of a tree, they hold a tree when winds come against it and even if you cut a tree down, as long as its roots are unaffected, the tree can spring up again.
The study of history is one of the most powerful tools to build a national identity, it can also be used to teach lessons on past mistakes as well as nurture qualities that elevate our society. Our history as taught in schools across Nigeria is an absolute disgrace. Till tomorrow, Nigerian teachers tell their students that Mungo Park discovered river Niger, as though all the people that lived in the area for thousands of years came with him on his boat. Our curriculum as it stands is not built to nurture creative minds or critical thinkers, neither is it built to empower the average student. In a world that is becoming more and more globalized, the African child should know his story, his place, encounters and experiences in this global world. THAT’S WERE OUR-STORY COMES IN –‘HISTORY’
Our educational system needs to be overhauled no subject more so than history. Our students should know about empires that existed long before colonization, long before lord Lugard’s consort named this geographic area Nigeria.
Our children should learn about the NOK civilization the migratory pattern from the Nile valley and the indigenous black African pharaohs that built the pyramids.
“When the history of Negroland comes to be written in detail, it may be found that the kingdoms lying towards the eastern end of Sudan (classical home of Ancient Ethiopians) were the home of races who inspired, rather than of races who received, the tradition of civilization associated for us with the name of ancient Egypt. For they cover on either side of the Upper Nile between the latitudes of ten degrees and seventeen degrees, territories in which are found monuments more ancient than the oldest Egyptian monuments. If this should prove to be the case and civilized world be forced to recognize in a black people the fount of its original enlightenment, it may happen that we shall have to revise entirely our view of the black races, and regard those who now exist as the decadent representatives of an almost forgotten era, rather than as the embryonic possibility of an era yet to come.”
Lady Lugard/Flora Shaw Lugard, Asa G. Hilliard, III, A Tropical Dependency: An Outline of the Ancient History of the Western Sudan With an Account of the Modern Settlement of Northern Nigeria (1906)
When a people do not know their story, they are always forced to look outside of themselves to solve their problems a tragedy that has earned Africa the title ‘the wealthy beggar continent’.
Our students should learn about the Songhai empire, latter empires in Mali,Ghana, Kongo, Ethiopia. In doing so students start to see our similarities as opposed to our differences exacerbated by arbitrary national borders drawn to serve the interest of colonial masters aka invaders that gave you the title ‘Nigerian’.
Our students should learn about the enslavement of their people, the Kings that fought to prevent it and those that enriched themselves from it (fantastic article here by Damola Awoyokun) .With an aim to nurture citizens that are their ‘brother’s keeper’. We complain that leaders consistently sell us out, jeopardizing the interest of the people and betraying our trust, yet we do nothing to create better citizens.
Through the study of history we can program the mind of our citizens. History is the voice through which society tells its story and sets its aspiration for its citizenry.
Our students should learn about colonization, they should know it by what it really was, an invasion. They should understand invasions, enslavement and colonization interrupted African development it did not start it.
They should learn about Leopold in the Congo,the French in francophone Africa, the genocide by the Germans against the Herero people of Namibia a precursor to the genocide against the Jews.
They should learn about all our warriors that died defending our empires, people like Asoro n’Iyokuo (the Great Benin Warrior) who held the invading british army at bay for 5 days, defying blazing guns and ploughing maniacally into the enemies midst to deal out death and mutilation among them.
They should learn about Queen Nzingha, King Menelik of Ethiopia and his victory over the Italian invaders at the battle of Adwa, shaka Zulu, the politics of Jaja of Opobo, Queen Amina and Yaa Asantewa of Ghana. This thread should be taught with an aim to instill in the minds of our young ones that we were not always a defeated people- that people like them fought for freedom, were brave and were strong.
Our students should learn about the Biafran war from multiple angles, they should learn about the mistakes on BOTH sides that led to the war. Just maybe if they are aware of the evil that comes with war, people would not be so quick to call for wars in the coming generation and such a devastating tragedy will not repeat itself.
Our students should learn about the history of religion, the role the Pope and the church played in enslaving Africans as well as the Christians (the quakers) that ended it.
They should also learn about the enslavement of Africans by Arabs and the Trans-Saharan slave trade.
It should be understood that the freedoms they enjoy in that part of the world was paid for in the blood, sweat and tears of their enslaved brothers and sisters.
Our students should learn about World War 2 and the many Nigerians that fought as part of the allied forces against Hitler.
Our students mind should be opened to see the world for what it is and the part their ancestors have played. In today’s world the ancestors of people that bombed London to the ground can walk in to England without a Visa yet the descendants of those that gave their lives to preserve England queue in lines for Visa’s. This should serve to show that regardless of differences, wars and history people should /can come together for the greater good or simply to preserve their interest.
Our students need to learn the historical context of money, the evolution of money and the effects of debt and the global market place. Our students should learn about Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba and Steve biko, so the next generation might shift from the political paradigm/ aspiration of seeking power solely to accumulate wealth to one of empowering and lifting our people up.
Our students should learn that once they step out of Africa they cease to be seen as Yoruba or Hausa they are seen as black and that comes with its own challenges in the world today. They should learn the shared experiences of Africans from Haiti, Brazil to South Africa and be familiar with Nkrumah and Zik’s writings on Pan-Africanisim .
Without the study of appropriate history, we program a generation to live just for the moment , dishonoring their past and at the detriment of their future. We create infantile minds that can hardly grasp Geo-politics in effect they continuously bicker among themselves on tribal issues while being re-colonized.
Our government focuses on infrastructure without thinking much about cultivating the mind of the population or a long term view or vision for the country and the continent. Yet the wealthiest and most powerful countries are the ones who tap in to the human mind not natural resources. Numerous case studies abound that show the correlation between a societies reverence for its history and its ability to become great, the Japanese,British and the Chinese are prime examples. America revises its history books every couple of years usually tweaking it based on prevailing societal conditions.
Whoever controls the history controls the vision. Whoever controls the images controls your self esteem, self respect and self development.
Knowing all this, it is very disconcerting that the study of history is hinged on job acquisition, this more than anything shows the short shortsightedness of our leadership.
The study of history should be mandatory in schools, it should be comprised of a comprehensive syllabus that spans from primary school to the final year in senior secondary school. In fact the issuance/renewal of the Nigerian passport should be linked to the continuous study of history.To become a British citizen, applicants sit an exam that assesses the applicants knowledge of British history.
This is important because its not enough to call yourself a citizen of a nation without a knowledge of that nation.
Excerpt from President Buhari’s inauguration speech.
“Furthermore, we as Nigerians must remind ourselves that we are heirs to great civilizations: Shehu Othman Dan fodio’s caliphate, the Kanem Borno Empire, the Oyo Empire, the Benin Empire and King Jaja’s formidable domain. The blood of those great ancestors flow in our veins. What is now required is to build on these legacies, to modernize and uplift Nigeria.”
Even the president knows that to rally a people, you must remind them of who they are , where they have been and what they have overcome. Therein lies the platform from which they launch to greatness.