I happen to be an ardent student of history. It has been a favourite subject of mine since primary school. This has continued till date. In my first university, I obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Politics. But paradoxically, my studies centered primarily on the history and politics of European and America countries, rather than that of Nigeria.
Today, I am ashamed to say, you are more likely to see me wearing a t-shirt with New York emblazoned on it than Ibadan, my hometown. I would rather watch American Hollywood than Nigerian Nollywood. I am more interested in watching Britain’s SKY news and America’s CNN that in watching Nigeria’s NTA or Channels. I am more interested in watching Britain’s Arsenal or Chelsea play football than Nigeria’s Enugu Rangers or Kano Pillars. I would rather watch Brazil play its Samba football, than waste my emotions on Nigeria’s Super Eagles.
Importance of history
No nation without a history has ever become a great nation. No great nation has ever existed without the history of its greatness. Geographically little Britain is called Great Britain because of its illustrious history. No kingdom has ever endured without educating its future through the study of its history. A country without history is a country without prospects. A country without a history is one without a compass. It is a country without a plan. The future of a country begins in its history. Our tomorrow begins today.
Knowledge of the history of the First and Second World Wars has largely prevented a Third World War. It led to the establishment of the League of Nations and then the United Nations. It led to the creation of the European Economic Community whereby erstwhile enemy-nations like Germany and France became lifelong allies. It led to the decision to create the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) whereby the Americans gave security guarantees to countries like Japan, ensuring that they relinquished their age-old martial proclivities.
Juxtapose this with Nigerian ignorance of the history of the 1967-1970 civil war and you will see a textbook of Nigerian failure. Like the Bourbons of 18th century France, we have learnt nothing from that costly war and retain the scars. So ignorant have we been of the causes of the Nigerian-Biafran war that there is growing groundswell yet again for another round of Biafran secession. So determined are we at the refusal to learn from the history of that civil war that, after over 50 years, we have still not allowed an Igbo man to become the head-of-state of Nigeria.
Once upon a time, there was a country called Nigeria and a people known as Nigerians. But not anymore.
Taboo of Nigeria’s history
Till date, Nigerian history is taboo for Nigerians. It is not taught in our schools. If the history of Nigeria finally gets to be written, it is more likely to be written by a non-Nigerian than by a Nigerian. If Nigerian history were to be written by a Nigerian, it is unlikely to be acceptable to Nigerians.
This is because Nigerian history, such as there is, is the subject of considerable contention. Our history is highly disputed. We don’t seem to know what it is. We don’t want to remember exactly what happened. There is no authoritative or generally-accepted position as to precisely what our past entailed. Nigeria’s history written by two different Nigerians is likely to be the history of two seemingly different countries.
For instance, we don’t know or agree as to why we ended up in a three-year civil war. We don’t know why we still hardly have electricity in spite of the billions of dollars we have earned from oil. We don’t know why the freest and fairest election ever held in the country on June 12, 1993 was annulled by a Northern cabal.
History is not taught in our schools because we are ashamed of our history. History is not taught because truth has fallen in our streets and even the names on our streets are those of the discredited thieves and robbers who raided our national treasuries and brought us to penury. History is not taught because ours is not a history of achievements but of failures. Our history is about killings and coups and doctored censuses and rigged elections and bad government. Our history is about our duplicity, pogroms, ethnic-cleansing and civil war.
History is not taught because we have no heroes and our so-called founding fathers left us with no tangible legacies. The powers-that-be in Nigeria don’t want our children and grandchildren to come to the knowledge of their past misdeeds, the better to continue to replicate them in the present. Since power hardly ever changes hands in Nigeria as we continue to be saddled with the same generation of failed leaders that have been an albatross around our necks since independence, these leaders have a vested interest in obfuscating the truth about our past.
As a result, we have decided through an unwritten agreement among ourselves to be a nation without history. We have decided that it would be better to forget, rather than confront, our past. We do not like the truth about us that Nigeria’s history is bound to reveal. Therefore, we prefer to keep our history under lock and key.
Denying the past
A country determined to bury its past is a country destined to leave its future in the graveyard. A country without a past is a country without a future. A country without a history is a country without direction and without agenda. It is tragic that Nigeria has no agreed vision or destination. We have no common goals as a nation. We have not yet decided to be good at anything. We have not decided to excel at anything or to be renown for anything. But we are prepared to remain complacent in our mediocrity.
Because we insist on having no history, we remain victims of our past instead of learning from our past. Because we have no history, we fail to redeem our past. Because we have no history, we have been grossly unable to educate our future. Because we have no history, we have allowed even the worst aspects and features of our past to become the template for our future.
As a result, we persist in bringing back repeat offenders to take charge of our affairs when we are not short of people. 19 years ago, in 1999, we went back to the same tried and failed leadership we had 20 years before then in 1979. Today, we are back to the same leadership we had over 30 years ago in 1984. That same old discredited leadership of yesteryear is now asking us for four more years of the same-old same-old; in spite of our dismal experience at their hands in the last three years.
In 2007, we elected a sick and ailing man as president who unfortunately died on the job. Five years later, we elected another sick and ailing man as president who nearly died on the job. That same man is seeking our mandate yet again.
Because we have no history, we are readily fed lies. We are told, for example, that Abiola was a democrat when all his life he was the hand-maiden of the military and also the sponsor of coups that overthrew democratic governments at home and abroad. We are inclined to accept an apology for the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election by a man who had nothing to do with the annulment; while the same man refuses to apologise for the election he annulled in 1984.
History is not taught in our schools because once upon a time, there was a country called Nigeria and a people known as Nigerians. But not anymore. Nigerian history is not taught because Nigeria died at the onset of the civil war and since then Nigerians have become a dying breed.
Even though our population is one of the fastest growing in the world, there are fewer and fewer Nigerians by the day. Children born in Nigeria today are everything but Nigerian because our role-models are not Nigerian. The hope of our youth is to leave Nigeria for far-off coastlands abroad. In 60 years of ethnic and tribal co-existence, there has been no Nigerian melting pot. The only time we have what appears to be a common cause is when the Super Eagles are playing and, as usual, losing a match.
What needs to be done? We have to start all over again. We have to re-engineer Nigeria. We have to reinvent Nigeria. We have to go back to the national drawing board and create a brand-new Nigeria. This is not a case of selectively seeking historical redemption by proclaiming the date of our misstep a public holiday or giving a dead man an inconsequential national honour.
It means sitting down as a people through our representatives and deciding what exactly we want to achieve as a nation and how to go about achieving this. It means taking a decision as to whether we want to be known as Nigerians or as Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa or any of the other ethnic appellation. It means deciding once and for all whether we want to go forward together as a nation or go our separate ways. One thing is for certain, we cannot continue like this.
It means opting for a new generation of leadership in the 2019 elections. It means affirming a national contract that a Nigerian is entitled to live, work and own property in any part of the country as of right without harassment or intimidation. It means insisting that an Igbo man can run and be elected as governor of Lagos, and a Kanuri man can become the governor of Anambra.
It means our preoccupation with federal character has outlived its usefulness. Federal character is now what some people insist on when they are out of power but flagrantly violate when they are in power. Federal character has impeded our growth and development. Instead, competence, ability, and integrity should become our new watchwords. Only those values conducive to our social, economic and political progress must henceforth be on our masthead.
Femi Aribisala is an iconoclastic church pastor in Lagos. He is also a syndicated essayist for a handful publications in Nigeria. Connect with him on Twitter at @FemiAribisala and at his website, www.femiaribisala.com.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.