A fourteen year old boy living in Awka picks up a copy of his father’s newspaper and sees the screaming headline: “Biafra agitators block the Niger bridge”. Underneath the caption is a picture of angry looking Igbo youth surrounded by burning tires. In total innocence, and in an attempt to get a better understanding of what the story is all about, he asks daddy “What is ‘Biafra’? And why are these people so angry?”. The father does not know where to start but does his best to take the young boy back to the Northern Pogroms of May 1966. He wishes there was a book with the documented history of the origins of the Nigerian civil war, but there was none to hand.
In Lagos, a gentleman drives along with his ten year old daughter and slots in a CD of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s music. The particular tract being played is “Zombie” . The girl wants to know where the term came from, and who on earth is this “Fela”? But there is no history book to hand.
In Sokoto, a young boy inquires from his mum why they don’t have emirs in the cities of Southern Nigeria. But there is no history book to hand
The history of Nigeria is vastly under-documented.
And yet it is shocking that some Nigerians have concluded that the teaching of history at secondary and University level (Even primary school level) is ‘a waste of time’ because history graduates ‘cannot get jobs’. What small mindedness!
All these parents would have wished there were documents, books, films, depicting the history of “our own dear native land”. Unfortunately, Nigerian history is extremely under-documented. As a history buff, I know more about the American civil war (1861-1865) than I do about the Nigerian civil war (July 1967-January 1970). Not necessarily because that is where my interest lies, but because a lot of effort has been put into preserving the details of the American conflict. There are numerous books, films, documentaries and theme parks. I remember visiting my sister in Fairfax Virginia a couple of years ago.
I was intrigued to discover that The battle of Bullrun was fought not too far from their residence in Manassas, July 21, 1861. Incidentally there was a theme park nearby, to which I went for an immersive experience complete with re-enactments of the battle by volunteers.
How many theme parks do we have for momentous historical events in Nigeria? Is there any theme park for the Biafran war, a war that more than anything, defines us as a nation? Our penchant appears to be some kind of desperation to sweep uncomfortable history under the carpet.
My forebears hail from Igbajo, In Osun State, a town that came about really only as a result of the Kiriji wars (1877-1893). This was a civil war between two powerful Yoruba confederate armies of mainly Western Yorubas (Ibadan and its allies) and Eastern Yorubas (Ijeshas and Ekitis). It seems the remote cause of this war was the collapse of the Oyo empire, while the immediate cause was the domineering stance of the Ibadan group on Yoruba towns and cities.
The war lasted for about 16 years with heavy casualties on both sides. The cannons in questions were purchased by the Eastern Yoruba confederacy which produced the thunderous sound “Kiriiiiiiji”. The name “Kiriji” came from the earth-like vibrations that accompanied the use of the cannons and it indeed gave the Eastern Yorubas an advantage over the Ibadans. Meanwhile, it is believed that several Yoruba towns and villages were completely wiped out of history due to the scorched-earth policy of the civil war.
Two good examples of such settlements are Òsóògùn (somewhere in Oyo) and Ijaiye. The name “Igbajo” literally means “a collection or assortment (of refugees)” from various towns and settlements affected by the war. My forebears actually came from Otan Aiyegbaju. Igbajo is a hilly settlement and the geography offered protection to the refugees. My great great grandfather was given the responsibility of guarding the western approaches to the town and was equipped with a long sword, hence he was given the name Ábàdá gbooro. The name of our compound is ile Ábada. As I write this piece, the Abada compound is still the first that you would meet on approaching the town from Ila-Orangun.
What our apparently short sighted directors in the Federal ministry of education (Or whomsoever was responsible for this obnoxious directive that history should not be taught in our secondary schools and universities) do not realise is that history is a source of pride and personage. I was keen to know who I was, where I came from, how I got here. I wish I could devote more time to find out more details about the history of my town, and family. Closely tied with any historical excursion is the industry of tourism. When a tourist arrives in Nigeria, there are usually three or four main areas of interest: Historical sites and museums, natural landscapes of note, cultural activities and the sunny weather and beaches. Now that our oil has “dried up,” it is time for us to explore the riches that surround us in these activities, and put our children to work. The potential of “history” to generate economic activities is obviously lost on these leaders in Nigerian education. When a tourist goes to Egypt, he would like to see the pyramids and the Sphinx (As I did a couple of years ago). I did not have enough time to visit the valley of the Kings at Luxor. For the terrorists who specialize in blowing up historical sites, I can only say they are thereby blowing up the future of their children. My home state of Osun gets the least budgetary allocation from the Federal government, and IGR is also by definition limited in an agrarian economy. But the real riches of Osun state are not to be found in the soil or in the Federal government. It is to be found in its rich history and traditions! Yet, this whole trend of cancelling the history curriculum and sacking all the history teachers was commenced by Chief Akande, the former governor of the state!!
Yes indeed, our future is to be found in our past.
May we plead once more: Restore the history curriculum with immediate effect.
Olufemi Emmanuel Babalola
Professor of ophthalmology
Consultant ophthalmologist Rachel Eye Center
HOD Surgery, Bingham University, Jos/Karu
Vice President, MEACO.