Let us teach our children History

August 13, 2013
3 mins read

I DON’T know if it is apocryphal, but I read that students in Ikenne, the Ogun state homestead of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, were asked what they knew about the nationalist and one of the greatest politicians and administrators Nigeria ever had. Most of the children answered that the Obafemi they knew was the football player, Obafemi Martins, not Chief Obafemi Awolowo!

That story conveys vividly, the tragedy of a country that has conspired against its own best interest, by dropping or relegating utterly, the teaching of history, in the school system. At which point this happened, I cannot exactly recall, but it crept upon us, against some frightening backdrops. Imperialism beginning to intervene to influence the curricular of studies in neo-colonial countries like Nigeria, by the mid-1980s, during military dictatorship.

They launched a frontal attack on subjects that reinforced anti-imperialist consciousness, and history was one of them. It should be recalled that from the 1940s, pioneering African historians like Prof. Kenneth Dike; Prof. Cheikh Anta Diop and others, had made African history very much a part of the struggle for our African identities in the struggle against colonialism.

The African Personality and his traditions, including the oral traditions; the peopling and construction of the African continent; the empires; the struggle to master nature within the settings of Africa, entered the terrain of history, much against the racist stereotypes of colonial historiography.

In the end colonialism retreated from the scene, to be replaced by neocolonialism. The imperialist countries needed to retain their hegemony in Africa and the minds of Africans has always been a contested terrain, in terms of the knowledge these minds are exposed to.

An assertive knowledge of history is not in the long-term interest of capitalist exploitation in Africa. So an offensive was launched on history and other subjects that create African personalities conscious of and proud in their history. The citizen and African patriot endanger the imperialist agenda.

They want zombies and unthinking consumers of the products of the imperialist world. They want Africans enamoured of Kentucky Fried Chickens; who enjoy holidaying at Disney world in Orland, Florida, not Africans hacking back to the grandeurs of Africa’s past to recreate them in the new, historical conditions. They introduced a disdain for history as a subject, substituting with the nebulous subject called “Social Studies”.

Today, most Departments of History in Nigerian universities survive only in combination with “International Studies”; and very few students enroll to study history.

Yet, this is a country that had a remarkable tradition of world-class, Africanist historians: Prof. Kenneth Dike; Prof. Ade Ajayi; Prof. Afigbo; Prof. Fred Omu; Prof. Alayande; Prof. Abdullahi Smith; Prof. Balogun; Dr. Yusufu Bala Usman; Prof. Ade Obayemi, to mention just a few!

Today about 75 percent of our population is under the age of 35. Please check online chat rooms to gauge the depth of ignorance about Nigeria and its peoples.

We are doing a great disservice to Nigeria’s future with an educational system that does not make history a compulsory subject right through the school system; for our children to take courses in Nigerian, West African, African and World history, right from primary schools. It doesn’t matter what course of study the student is specialising in, he/she must take these compulsory electives. When one doesn’t know where he is coming from, he cannot make a correct judgment of where he is headed.

It is the same for a country. Our children must be given a rich diet of historical knowledge to orient them into the world they are growing into. Where there is surety about history and profound knowledge and pride in its course, children will grow into their world with remarkable confidence.

I face this problem of the disappearance of history in my role in parenting my children. My forefathers were scholars who wrote history, in the Arabic language. I try to help my children to understand the historical forces that moulded and brought us to where we have arrived today. Every family faces the same problem today in our country.

In my case, I combine the oral traditions handed over to me, with trying to encourage interest in a systematic appreciation of history so that my children can at least understand and appreciate their heritage and grow up as proud citizens of Nigeria, Africa and the world of the Twenty-First Century. But the individual effort like mine can only go that far. It is the duty of the Nigerian state to provide education for our children, which reinstates the teaching and valorization of history.

I hope the consciousness will spread like veldt fire and all parents in Nigeria will demand the teaching of Nigeria, African and World history as compulsory subjects for all children in the Nigerian school system. That is the right way to go!

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