My formative years were between 1985 and 2005. This coincides with some of the most remarkable periods in the recent Nigeria political history. Bloody military rule; the era when institutionalized corruption became endemic; the end of the military rule and the start of democracy in 1999.
The yearning of so many Nigerians tired of the failures of the old guard is that leadership in all facets be taken over by “young” inspired Nigerians armed with quality education to transvers the jet speed challenges of the 21st century. In short, people in my age bracket. However, are we truly equipped to lead? Do we have the 360 degree view of a country as complicated as Nigeria to make meaningful, unbiased leadership decisions? I think very few are. You see, everything I know about the country pre 1990; I learnt on my own from reading articles and recently searching the web.
The fact that History as a subject was pulled from the syllabus in the 90s means that I and my peers interested in knowing what happened in Nigeria before our time had to self-educate. Unlike the western countries we emulate, history or civics is taught to children at a very early age. In America, at 10 years, a child already knows almost all the past presidents of the United States and by the time the child is 14, he would have been taught the legacies of each president. Children in the States learn about key historical events such as the struggle of the American independence, slavery and the civil right movements, world wars and the holocaust. By this, the American government is able to mold the minds of the next generation of leader and inspire them. Whether the history taught in these schools is true or not is another debate. Nonetheless, the society has through this means set its standards and push the narrative it desires years to come.
“A generation that ignores history has no past and no future” – Robert Heinlein. Nigerians do not have a unifying truth about how we got to where we are now and what we want our nation to be years to come. Neither do we have an agreement on the past events we don’t want repeated. The Biafra War was undoubtedly the bloodiest event in our history, yet to get to know about it, someone like me had to read books and search online. With the internet filled with false conspiracies, miscommunication and downright ridiculous views, the dangers of self-education especially for subject like history is lethal to the minds of young people. Maybe if the horrors of the Biafra War were taught in schools those now violently agitating for a separate states will realize that taking up arms is not an option and dialogue is their best resort.
Some years ago during the last presidential election, I saw a campaign poster of the henchman of one of the most dreaded and blood thirsty dictators Nigeria has ever seen. It was disheartening that on social media he got support from some young people. If these people had been exposed to the tyranny of this dictator in their studies surely they would never support anybody that was associated with him. The wife and children of the cocaine boss, Pablo Escobar had to change their names even when they went on exile because history will not forget nor forgive the sins of their father. Perhaps if the stories of crime and corruption are well documented and taught in our schools, it will serve as deterrent to these crimes.
Our society is fast becoming one that celebrates notoriety because of myopic reasoning fuelled by lack of chronicled past events. Apart from Nigeria’s history pre-colonialism and at independence up to the 70’s, its time our kids start to learn about of the likes of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Gani Fawehinmi, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, NADECO leaders, Radio Kudirat, MKO Abiola and the part they played in the history of Nigeria especially as it translated to democracy. Teaching history is not only useful in politics, if well defined, learning about past icons in sports, science and technology, music, women that broke through the glass ceiling will inspire the future generation.
What needs to be done is simple – The government should agree on our past truths reflect it on the principles and values it wants to build in the next generation, put it all into a very big book and teach it in schools mandatorily.
By Tomi Ola