As history returns to the curriculum

Olusegun Obasanjo


Finally, the future of Nigeria looks a little brighter because the nation has decided to begin to look, again, into its own past.The erstwhile removal of History from the school curriculum, or its so-called integration into that of Social Studies, was a mindless and uncharitable act of disservice to the generation of Nigerian pupils/students to which it was denied, a deprivation of the human need to understand its origin and trajectory in order to chart a worthy and viable course for its continuity. Thankfully, however, History has been restored, and Nigeria is no longer doomed, like the proverbial river that forgets its origin, to dry up and crack in its bed.

As far back as 1999, in a meeting with the then newly elected President Olusegun Obasanjo who had made a reference to the problem of youth violence across the country, one of Nigeria’s historical icon J. F. Ade-Ajayi had made it clear that this problem stems from the lack of the knowledge of history in the Nigerian youth population. A host of other things, both positive and negative, happening in the country now can be better understood and engaged if they were traced back into history. The paucity of a sense of nationalism or patriotism can be directly tied to the lack of a sense of history, for it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to love a country that one does not know.

Moreover, there is a sense of identity, culture, ownership and responsibility among other things that can be taught or given only through an immersion in the history of one’s people. Once again, therefore, the re-introduction of History as a stand-alone subject in the basic and junior secondary curriculums across the country must be greeted with joy and renewed hope. The government must be commended for listening to the criticisms and pleas of its people on this particular matter and reshaping its policy to suit the reasonable stance of its citizens.

In implementing or executing this very commendable policy, however, the need for vision and responsibility must not be overlooked. History being as long and wide as human reality itself, the study of the history of Nigerian peoples and their connections with the greater world must be emphasized as the core of the new curriculum. The greater portion of school children in the country nowadays, perhaps by virtue of their exposure to the history-laden comics and sitcoms of the West, are conversant with the exploits of such figures as Benjamin Franklin and Joan of Arc while questioningly cringing their noses at the mention of Ovonramwen and Queen Amina. This is not a desirable state of affairs. History, like charity, must begin at home, and it is time for Nigeria to also begin to utilise the products of technology and innovation in teaching its children its own history.

Culture, being intertwined with history, must share in this rebirth. There is thus nothing wrong with the making of cartoons and other animations that tell the stories of Ogun, Sango, Chaka the Zulu, Amadioha and Mandela, all made colourful with toned-down representations of the personages and rites of passage without which these stories will not be complete. Since these children, as research has shown, respond better to visuals, then let them be given visuals.

The history of a people must also be taught in line with the particular vision that that people has for itself. The Executive Secretary, Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council, Prof. Ismail Junaidu, has said that one of the purposes of this policy is the promotion of Afro-Nigerian history so that the challenges of globalisation can be better understood, appreciated and negotiated. This is a goal that is worth pursuing, and the starting point must be for that which is Nigerian/African to be posited as strong and valuable on its own, able to inter-connect with the outside world on its own terms and as an equal. For this task to be achieved, the employment of history teachers (i.e. teachers who actually studied history and are trained to teach it rather than makeshift instructors from perhaps other disciplines) is imperative. If this is taken along with the use of new media, the study of history in Nigeria will know no limitation in its fruits.

In conclusion, the return of History to schools as an independent subject must be recognised also as a clarion call to parents, teachers, and guardians to first take up the responsibility to educate themselves in their own history and then teach their younglings the same. To be practical, the history of particular tribes and clans (which is also very important) is best taught at the level of the family. It is, therefore, time to bring back the culture of an oral transmission of tribal history.

In this article:
Olusegun Obasanjo
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