By Mahmud Jega
The great Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana probably had Nigeria in mind when he said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Education authorities in Nigeria who lightly did away with History and Geography from the basic and senior secondary school curriculum many years ago are condemned to bring them back under a new minister. Geography made a surreptitious re-entry some years ago and last week, a week after Minister of Education Malam Adamu Adamu banished the hated post-UME examination from the scene, the Nigeria Educational Research Council’s boss said History, too, is about to bounce back.
Nigeria’s education authorities literally did away with the past when they relegated the teaching of history in the school curriculum. Although many people speak about “removing” History from the curriculum, it was not actually removed, merely relegated. According to a former executive secretary of the Nigeria Educational Research Council, this was done at the time Nigeria adopted the 6-3-3-4 system, which he said necessitated the merging of many school subjects. History, Geography and Government were then merged into a new subject called Social Studies, which emphasises current issues over past ones.
When it was first announced that History and Geography had been relegated in the curriculum Dr Yusuf Bala Usman said, “Without History and Geography, you do not know who you are or where you are.” Relegation of History and Geography to the educational back benches had an immediate impact on Nigerian society as several groups cropped up that went about political agitation totally oblivious of the historical truth. I think a ready example of this is Mr. Nnamdi Kanu and his Indigenous Peoples of Biafra [IPOB] movement. They were able to rally many South Eastern kids to the cause by painting Biafra as an Eldorado. I just wondered, did Kanu read Eddie Iroh’s trilogy Forty Eight Guns for the General, Toads of War and Siren in the Night, Nelson Ottah’s Rebels Against Rebels, Dr Bernard Odogwu’s No Place to Hide: Crises and Conflicts in Biafra; Chukwuemeka Ike’s Sunset at Dawn, Elechi Amadi’s Sunset in Biafra, Chinua Achebe’s Girls at War or Cyprian Ekwensi’s Survive the Peace? If he did, he wouldn’t be thinking of Biafra as Utopia.
Not only IPOB; today’s advocates of “true federalism” paint a picture of the First Republic as a federalist Eldorado. Sure our First Republic leaders were great men and women, compared to what we came to have in later days but then, there was a lot of disenchantment at the time from political radicals, from ethnic minorities, students and even some major tribes, setting the stage for the Republic’s violent downfall.
In 2000AD when I was editor of New Nigerian, I tried to convince an elder statesman to grant me an interview on his life. He asked me why I wanted to hear about his life and I said, unwisely, that we wanted our readers to know the mistakes that were made in the past so that we will not make the same mistakes again. I must have annoyed him with that remark; maybe it sounded to him as if I said their generation made many mistakes. He immediately stood up and swore that he will not grant me an interview. He yelled, “Everyone should go and make his own mistakes and learn from them!”
Geez! Imagine a world where every generation has to repeat the same mistakes and discover everything anew for itself. Our History teacher taught us in Form 1 that the early man discovered how to make fire by accident. Initially he waited until bush fire roasted wild animals before he dined on them but one day, while he [or she] was cracking two stones to make a tool, he accidentally started a fire. It was one of the biggest leaps in human history. Imagine if every generation must wait to accidentally discover how to make fire.
Our Form 1 History teacher Mr. Awe, who had an NCE, taught history with great passion. He taught about the G