Soyinka and murderers of memory

Prof. Wole Soyinka

By Festus Adebayo

Two seemingly unconnected events occurred in the last two weeks, with very serious social implications for the polity. One was the Muhammadu Buhari government’s return of the teaching of history as a standalone subject in all basic and secondary schools across the country. The second was the ostensibly gossipy, “very minor” revelation of an incident that occurred on a flight between Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka and an unidentified youth, where the latter literally ordered Soyinka out of his allotted seat which Soyinka was said to have occupied mistakenly. Unrelated as the events may seem, they both tug at the heart of a social disconnect between what is and what ought to be. They mirror a very sad, barren harvest of values that this robotic generation is making due to its de-linkage from history.

In a release signed by Sonny Echono, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, the Federal Government commendably directed all basic and secondary schools in Nigeria to immediately implement this policy from the next academic calendar. The reversal provoked a gale of questions, chief of which was, at what juncture did Nigeria get things wrong this abysmally, to the point that a government would peremptorily spike off a subject that is the superstructure of a country’s social existence, from her school curriculum? What was the cost to us over the years? We must not rest on our oars until we find out what, borrowing from the Yoruba proverbial world, the government that decreed history out of our school curriculum menu saw inside this pot of soup that made it recoil its fingers that atrociously? In other words, what was playing atop that government’s heart when it embarked on this route?

The odyssey sounds like a script from the Hammer House of Horror. In 2007, citing the need to implement a New Basic Education Curriculum for primary and junior secondary schools, effective from the 2009/2010 academic session and citing abnormalities in previous curricula allegedly hostile to human capacity development, eradication of poverty and Nigeria’s drive for total emancipation, history was spiked off schools’ curricula. Some jejune reasons were proffered for this decision, chief of which was that history graduates were becoming jobless and teachers of the subject were far between. Expectedly, diverse criticisms greeted this badly-thought-out decision. Public antagonism of the policy eventually smoked the Goodluck Jonathan government out of its cocoon to pronounce a return of History. But, returning History tostatus quo ante was still effete, until two weeks ago when the Buhari government effectively pronounced its return.

At the highest echelon of decision making in Nigeria, a lot of ignorance and rank naivety are daily hawked as governmental policy, borne out of warped mindset, personal constraints, tenuous depth or its deficit simplicita. Similar naivety was demonstrated by the government of then Governor Bisi Akande of Osun State. Akande had magisterially announced the removal of subjects like History, Social Studies, Government and the like from the curriculum of schools, basing this decision on what he called their barrenness as tools for societal growth and the fact that graduates of these courses had hiked the army of unemployed in society. It is the cusp of naivety to assume that medicine, sciences in general and engineering are the only requirements of a highly changing modern world like ours where inventions, scientific ingenuities are ruling the waves. Without the arts in general, philosophy, history, literature and co, society will become too regimented, robotic and engine-minded, without a touch of the humanity, rigour of depth and critical analyses that are peculiar only to the humanities. It is the Akande government hue of governmental naivety that ostensibly persuaded Jonathan to tow this highly disparaged route.

So many issues have been made of the fact that a people without the knowledge of their history, as propounded by Jamaican-born Back to Africa movement advocate, Marcus Garvey, are like a tree without roots. As a corollary to this, growing up children, it was reasoned, shouldn’t be made rootless from their infancy. But, the fatality wrought by whoever decreed History out of Nigeria’s curriculum is graver than the rootlessness theory Garvey adumbrated. Whoever was at the driver’s seat of that decision should be charged for treason. He is responsible for the surge in criminal activities, soaring absence of nationalistic spirit among young Nigerians, worsening social vices and complete flight of values that has gripped Nigeria in the last decade or so.

There is a dearth of values in Nigeria today because our people have lost every sense of history. The lessons history teaches are on social cohesion, moral values, cultural and national integration, as well as politics. Go and find out those who still lay store by the eternal values of society: good neighbourliness, respect for the other person, ephemerality of material wealth, vanity of human pursuit, respect for heroes, patriotism, prevalence  of  good over evil, among many others, you will find out that they are the same folks who can connect with recent or ancient history. Once a young man is speeding on the lane of wealth acquisition, those who have a sense of history will cite an ancient or recent example, or an evergreen anecdote of someone who trod same ruinous route and met their waterloo. The one who scampers after the ephemeral lust for wine, women, weed and power is dissuaded, through the narrative of the life of a similar character in time of yore who was escorted to his early grave by his penchant to satisfy and deify the gluttony of flesh.

Today, no thanks to the Jonathan era’s deliberate attempt to murder memory, we sire zombies, children who are not aware of the lives of men and women who similarly trod this route a while ago. They are also ignorant of the political and cultural history of their fatherland. Ancient African history is rich with copious examples of men and women whose lives are either landmines or landmarks for upcoming youth, modernity notwithstanding. Today, money rules the world of our youth; they worship the god of fashion and pleasure while the pursuit of knowledge is secondary on the ladder of their ecstasies.  If you periodically journey on the social media, you would realize how precarious your tomorrow is as a Nigerian parent. Our youth are so uneducated and seemingly uneducable. What excites them are the fleeting accoutrements of life. They are not deep, are extremely superficial and have very scant space in their mentality for discourse and study.

The youth who refused to vacate his seat for Soyinka apparently belongs to this commune of a de-historicized Nigeria. They hold culture with disdain, cannot connect with proverbs while the mores of their society sound like alien vibes in their ears. These  youth don’t have heroes or historical mentors and have become captives of the unenduring preachments of modernity. I remember sometime in 2006 when I met Chief Ebenezer Babatope at the front of the Lion Building, Government House, Enugu. I went on all fours, to the cultural consternation of all Igbo people gathered. I could connect with prostration as a totem of my Yoruba culture and I gladly venerated it in that strange land. Today’s youth are bereft of even a scintilla of such demonstration.

This is why we must erect the crucifix for the government that invited nocturnes upon us at dawn and give kudos to the one that is seeking to return sunlight to our dark grooves. We must however warn of the danger of government reneging on this path or a haphazard implementation of the policy. This policy must not be killed by the artillery fire of politics and political party-ism. It is a Nigerian project, the success or failure of which will ripple on our tomorrow, individually and collectively, including the tomorrow of those who thought they had carved a hidden sacristy for their own children in Harvard, Hopkins or Cambridge. The calamity ahead, with this crop of a-historical children, can be best illustrated by the narratives of an oral poetry which tells the story of a man who left for Ede, leaving his abode (eede) in chaos; when he returns from his trip to Ede, he will surely return to the filthy embrace and shambles of his abode.

The projected curriculum that now has History in it must be compulsory and fashioned in such a way that our children will reconnect again with their roots; not only learning about the exploits of the heroes and villains of yesterday but also the path Nigeria trod that landed her inside this pitch darkness. They must be taught about Nigeria’s military and civilian history, legislative history and the likes, so that the children can appreciate the tortuous journey we made to get here.

>>>The Cable

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