Whither Nigeria’s history?

October 26, 2015

With the composition of the Federal Executive Council becoming clearer, it’s time to set national agenda priorities.  There will be competing interests, but none should supersede education.  This piece addresses a flawed component of our education policy, outside its parlous funding. Last week, at the grand finale marking the 50th anniversary (1965-2015) of Chukwuemeka Ike’s trajectory as a novelist, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the event’s chair,joined those calling for the reintroduction of history into the curriculum of our secondary schools.  History in our schools was ended out of convenience and lack of political will, by those concerned that Nigeria’s history remains divisive. They  got it wrong. It is the lack of Nigeria’s history and lessons drawn therefrom that will eventually prove to be our national ruination. What is history? “The study of past events, particularly in human affairs”; “a continuous, systemic narrative of past event as relating to a particular people, country, period, person, etc., usually written as a chronological account.”  Nowhere is history adjectivally qualified as “good”, “palatable” or“suitable”in order to be acceptable.Hence, those public policymakers who gutted and sanitized history out of our schools merely postponed the inevitable.
When the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Programme was introduced September, 1988, the goal was to positively streamline and adapt our educational curriculum to be uniformed, manpower needs-based and to basically prepare our students for service and leadership positions.   Fine tuning the curriculum in 2008ledto the  9-Year Basic Education Curriculum (a successor to the 6-3-3-4 system), thus realigning Primary and Junior Secondary School Curricula within the target orbit of the UBE programme. In 2014, the Nigerian Education Research and Development Council, (NERDC), proceeded to revise the nine-year Basic Education Curriculum, reducing the curriculum from over twenty to ten core subjects plus several electives. It was at that juncture that history was redacted from the national curriculum. The real reasons for expunging history from our schools are bizarre; convenience and politics.  Both serve the revisionist’s interest. But sweeping our national challenges under the carpet will not solve our problems. It will only compound them.

There’s no nation without history.  Germans live with the historical scourge of the Holocaust; and they can’t obliterate the history of the Berlin Wall. Armenians and Rwandans live with gruesomeness of genocide. Bosnians will grapple endlessly with the blight of ethnic cleansing.  Portugal can’t deny its era of Fascism. Neither can democratic Russia claim that it was never communist. Will Iraq, Libya and Egypt redact Saddam Hussein, Maummar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak from their national history?  There is even military history.  Epic movie accounts of the battles of Normandy, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the Arab-Israeli 1967 War and the Falkland War were based on historical accounts.  Yes, Nigeria fought a civil war in which we did horrible things to ourselves.  Are we then to deny that we did not lose 3 million Nigerians on both sides of the war?  Must we also deny the pogrom; the abandoned properties and the unprecedented “no victor, no vanquished” policy?  Are we to deny that we did not have military regimes and military coups in January 1966, July 1966, 1975, 1976, 1983, 1984, 1990, and 1993?  Will Nigerians deny their long history of military rule with dire consequences? Or for that matter, that Nigeria has a history of corruption and impunity?  Yes, Nigeria has a national history; it may not be unblemished, but we cannot wish it away.  These are realities Nigerians must grapple with.
Let’s be frank, even villains, discredited leaders and rouge nations have their dubious history. Striving to be politically correct by obliterating our history is like trying to destroy a crime scene and pretending that the crime never happened.  Yet, the present challenge is for the Nigeria intelligentsia on every sides of the divide –east, west, north and south – to stand up and along with every serious policymaker; consider the long-term negative implications of the “no history” policy.Let us consider this matter purely from an academic standpoint. How can we improve on our national development plans and budgeting, if we do not have the historical perspective and narratives of past national development plans and previous budgets? How do we begin to grapple with insurgencies, if we can’t reflect on similar past internecine conflicts?  How do we not repeat past mistakes and appreciate the accomplishments of past governments -military and civilian- if we are averse to studying their historical records? How indeed, would we as a nation have been able to continue appreciating the probity and integrity of President Muhammadu Buhari, absent the historical account of his past positive conduct as a person, soldier and leader?

Perhaps, we should rationalize our stance comparatively.  How is it that we redacted history from our curriculum, when Britain is doing the exact opposite?The most recent national curriculum review in Britain called for history lessons to be rewritten to include 200 key personalities,and events that shaped Britain, with a view to giving British children a deeper understanding of their history. Britain’s goal is geared at focusing the attention of the young and its posterity on its monarchy, parliamentary democracy and institutional doctrines of ordered liberties and guaranteed rights. Broadly, the British history students would be expected to study historical narratives and the nexus between their nation and noteworthy international developments, the basis of the creation of the United Kingdom, as well as Britain’s epochal rise and decline as a global power.It’s improbable that Britain will redact its history on account of the Northern Ireland conflict or the Scottish referendum.History remains essentially the roots for nation states; be they progressive or failed states.As Marcus Garvey said, “a people without the knowledge of their past history… are like a tree without roots.” It’s only from history that we can glean the essence of great nations, including their rise and fall.
The exclusion. The exclusion of history from our national curriculum offers no added value. The logic that students are not interested in history is vacuous and fallacious.  The choice ought not to be that of the students, but what is in our best national interest. Hence, the negativity of this policy cannot be contemplated in isolation. We risk the same mistake of not making the study of French mandatory, considering that all our neighbours are French speaking. Besides, whilst there will always be dangers and opportunities of history for policymakers, the ability to grasp pertinent historical opportunities must be inculcated in our youths early.  Only those imbued with a full appreciation of history will be prepared as leaders to “avoid misperceptions and decision blunders in moments of crisis.”

Nigerian history has never been more at risk. Thus, every well-meaning Nigerian, policymaker, advocate for our national unity and indeed, President Buhari,must rally to the cause of reintroducing history back into our schools. As the Vanguard of 12 March, 2014 rightly editorialized, “The roles of history in governance, conflict resolutions, diplomacy and international relations, science and medical studies, technological developments, advancement of civilisations and human relations are vital.”  Can Nigeria do without history? The answer is NO! Whomsoever President Buharia signs the portfolio for education, must hasten to revisit this flawed “no history” policy and pursue single-mindedly, the restoration of the study of history into our national curriculum. If the concern is the perceived lopsided presentation of historical events as they happened during the civil war, we can demythologize such events by having a non-partisan commission that will in a debate format, script historical study textbook of events from January 1966 to January 1970, so that our history students can on balance read accounts from both sides. It’s said that “history is to the nations as memory is to the individual.” We can’t mortgage or foreclose on our national history on account of a few blighted years. Meanwhile, retaining the status quo is analogous to throwing the baby away with the bathe water.  Maintaining status quo means the teleological end of our history. Without our history, Nigeria itself may be history.

"Obaze is a public policy adviser and the immediate-past Secretary to the Anambra State Government, Nigeria"


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