The Withering Of Memory And History

July 24, 2008
7 mins read

A few events of recent days have brought forcefully to the front burner of my consciousness the relevance of memory and of history. At the weekend, my daughter, Innawuro, asked me when was I going to take her siblings on a visit to our ancestral home, Wurno, in Sokoto State. What king of place was it? Why did our folks leave that place all those years ago? I had to try a historical excursion with caution, endeavouring to stay within frames that a near eight –year- old  can make sense of.


Then there was also the fact that over the past two weeks, I have been part of a committee helping to adjudicate the Excellence Awards of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (Radio Nigeria), were I cut my teeth in broadcasting over thirty-one years ago. I was amazed, as other members of our team were, at the frightening dip in the levels of professionalism and application in that institution. We looked back to those good years when Radio Nigeria represented the quintessential national institution through whose portals walked some of the greatest names in Nigeria’s cultural life.


Before my time, Radio Nigeria had hosted writers like Chinua Achebe and Cyprian Ekwensi. Wole Soyinka used to write scripts  for radio drama which featured Ralph Opara, a Deputy Director-General in my own time. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti was a producer and the great composer, Fela Sowande, was of the mix before we came in.


But I was lucky to meet the classical composer, Adams Fiberesima, whose office I would have to pass every morning to enter the language laboratory where we learnt phonetics, new sreading, music presentation. Nigerian culture and all those essentials which went into becoming a radio presenter. There was the great new readers; the star announcers; the very professionally inclined producers; the news commentators of note and the highly-organised library at the Broadcasting House in Ikoyi. Nobody that went through that high level of professional training could be the same again!


It was against the backdrop of what I knew of the old standards of Radio Nigeria and its very produ tradition of fidelity to high standards, very high standards, which led to the shock we all felt. All of us went through the various entries from the stations of the Radio Nigeria family. It became clear that there is a deep experiential chasm that has growth between what used to be and what is extant today. The old professional approaches have eroded and quality has suffered. It is a problem that is replicated in almost every level of our national existence.


We have vacated the sense of history and a frightening level of befuddlement has taken over in even the most basic things: the school system; the workplace, in governance! The years between 1999 and today have seen a particularly unacceptable form of surrender, which betrays a complete disconnect between our history and traditions of doing things even when we make mistakes and a groveling surrender to the diktats of foreign bodies and governments from the IMF, World Bank to the institutions of the United States Government!


Last week, the media reported the large number of American soldiers said to have arrived to “teach” our soldiers all kinds of skills. Under Obasanjo, American soldiers who are steeped in a tradition of wars of aggression around the world were said to have come into Nigeria to teach our own army about “peacekeeping”. You can say whatever, but the Nigerian Army has a distinguished history in peacekeeping around the world and we should be teaching Americans how to convert from aggressive imperialist conquest of other lands to peacekeeping, not the other way round. But where there is no sense of history, such absurdities will reign.


It is equally significant that we are in the midst of a prolonged strike by public school teachers across the country at a time when both president and his vice are said to have been teachers. Those who know will be appalled by the situation, especially when the basis of any country’s development is a very functional public school system. Members of our elite can patronize American, British, French even Turkish schools for their children’s education. But those alien schools will never facilitate the development process in our country. The truth remains that the country’s future will remain mortgage for as long as there is no radical improvement of the public school system,.


It is the public school system which provides the platform of national catchment to harness the intellectual talents of all children in a country from the creeks of Bayelsa State to the near-desert environment of Gamboru-Ngala. Sometime during the mid-1990s, I attended a conference in Ilorin, which was addressed, amongst several others, by a Nigerian intellectual based in the United States. He was born in the last village in what used to be the Northern Region.


Of a poor peasant background, that young boy as he then was had passed out with the best result in the entire Northern Region that year. The Sadauna sent to Ilorin for the child to be brought to Kaduna as part of a delegation of Northern students to be awarded scholarship to study abroad. The professor said that his poor parents were afraid when the summons came until they were assured that he had been chosen to travel by the Sardauna because of his intellectual achievement.


It was only within the context of a functional public school system that such a child from a poor background could have found the opportunity to achieve greatness. Our rulers mouth the mantra of developing Nigeria’s economy to become one of the biggest in the world by 2020; it is very laudable sentiment. However, if there is no investment in education, of course, they’re deceiving themselves! Yet these are leaders who went through the public school system in the 1950s now presiding over the dismantling of that platform through which they climbed to the top. It is so symptomatic of the withering of both memory and history.


As if these are not frightening enough, the teaching of history has almost become extinct in the school system in our courty today. Yet, as Bala Usman used to remind whoever cared to listen, the right to write African history became one of the great achievements of the struggle against colonialism! The pioneering endeavours of historians like Sheikh Anta Diop. Kenneth Dike, Alayande, Ade Ajayi, Abdullahi Smilth and Bala Usman, helped to lay the basis for the conquest of our own African memories and the right to be part of the treasure house civilization.


But today, history has lost its luster and our children are orienting in a  globalized world without organic connection to their own realities. At the level of leadership and policy formulation, disorientation is rooted in a complete absence  of a historical sweep of understanding which can connect today’s strivings for development with the great achievemens of the past. This is despite the fact that the whiffs of that grandeur are all around us.


Anybody who wants to make a sense of values, traditions and history must try to immerse himself or herself in the great works of our forebears as encapsulated in the doctoral thesis by Dr. Mahmud Tukur, which was published a few years ago. It explored the jihadist traditions of scholarship, the great empires of Benin, Yoruba land and Borno, arguing that we can find greatness only if we connect with what came from our history in the same manner that the Africanist historian, Basil Davidson,  has consistently argued for nearly half a century!


Over three decades ago, the late Wazirin Junaidu of Sokoto was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by the Ahmadu Bello University. Zaria. He gave a lecture which I believe everybody must read today because it resonates so powerfully in the context of the realities of our times and the challenges which face our country in its search for  development. The pity is that those who rule us do not seem to inhabit the universe of concern where most of our citizenry drag out their miserable existence, suffering from the most abject miseries that we can clearly conquer if there is application and a fidelity to a sense of historical purpose.


Last week, DAILY TRUST reported the number of individuals who died attempting to get a placement of the 1, 200 immigration jobs that over 200, 000 people applied for! The entire philosop0hy of governance is failing the Nigerian people, because the delusion that the so-called private sector will create jobs can only have been sourced from a mental asylum! On July 16, THE PUNCH newspaper reported that 64 million Nigerian youths are jobless; the story went further, quoting the 2006 provisional census figure that “Nigeria has a youth population of 80 million or 60 percent of her total population… more than 80 percent is unemployed while about 10 percent are underemployed”.


There is no private sector to speak of; the jobs are not available, those that are extant in the public sector are being closed up with retrenchments and this is a country with a five percent population growth rate! I wonder how many of us go out in the morning to see the thousands of children going to resume in the badly organised public schools. Don’t you wonder just what future is in stock for those innocent kids?


The education does not prepare them for the future; there are no jobs to look ahead to, while those who rule carry on like headless chickens, most of them obsessed with the theft of resources that could have been used at least to ameliorate the Hobbesian state, which most of our citizens are living within! when a society loses the vital connect between its history and its present strivings, a whole lot can go wrong. That is the island where Nigeria has found itself shipwrecked today!


The Botmang phenomenon

Last week, the EFCC arraigned the former Deputy Governor of Plateau State, Michael Botmang, for allegedly stealing N1.9 billion within six months in power as acting governor! The “Botmang phenomenon” is a product of our political system, Deputy Governors are said to be “spare tyres”. They go through all manners of humiliation and in one of the Northern state, there is a well-known story that the governor travelled and the deputy who was in acting capacity could not authorize money to purchase diesel for the government house’ generator. So they stayed in darkness till “Oga” returned!


The “spare tyres” watches as the principal steals money left, right and centre, biding time and praying for the boss to step on a political banana peel. When he gets the opportunity to assume power, he also goes on a stealing spree to compensate for the years of salivating in silence while “Oga” enjoyed alone. Now, that is the “Botmand phenomenon”!

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