History Begs… How much do you know?

Yesterday, I had an experience that reminded me that history would forget us, if we do not remember History. That was when I had a class with some fourth year students of Mass Communication in Cross River University of Technology, CRUTECH. I teach “Investigative Journalism” in that class.

As yesterday’s lecture progressed, I mentioned that THE NEWS Magazine exposed the fact that Salisu Buhari, first Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives in the Fourth Republic, lied about his age and educational qualifications, when he submitted documents that qualified him for election. The magazine showed that Salisu did not attend University of Toronto, contrary to his claims. Also, the magazine published facts that proved that Salisu was 7 years younger than he claimed to be, making him too young to be in the House of Representatives. I told the students that Salisu resigned from office and apologized to Nigerians, after that irrefutable exposure.

Just then, the expression on the faces of my students hinted me that they had no prior knowledge of that scandal. Thus, I felt obliged to take them on a short stroll down memory lane. Before that stroll, I needed to find out if they knew what I meant, when I mentioned Nigeria’s “Fourth Republic”.

The following question and answer session ensued between me and one of the students, as a result of this.
ME: When was Nigeria’s Fourth Republic?
STUDENT: After the First World War.
ME: Hmm. When was the First World War?
STUDENT: Before the Fourth Republic.

At that point, I didn’t know if I should laugh or get angry. I simply laughed and tried to suppress my disappointment. I knew that the student wasn’t technically wrong. But I also knew that he doesn’t know anything about Nigeria’s Fourth Republic. Also, it was obvious that he had no specific information about the ” First World War”. He simply felt that “first” must be before something and something must be after “first”. Although his reasoning was logical, he didn’t exactly answer my question. I didn’t want to say anything that may embarrass him. I simply told him that “I know that you are a part time student. But this does not mean that your brilliance should be part time.”

Thereafter, I calmly explained that Nigeria’s First Republic was the Republican government of Nigeria between 1963 and 1966, governed by the first republican constitution. The Republic got interrupted in 1966 when the military took over power through a coup. A civil war followed shortly after that and sustained military rule even after the war, until 1979 when Shehu Shagari was elected as executive President. I added that this return to civil rule heralded Nigeria’s Second Republic, governed by a Presidential system of government under a new constitution.

At that juncture, I asked the students to mention when Muhammadu Buhari led the military to overthrow the Second Republic. They all kept mum and looked lost. After a long pensive pause, one of them quietly whispered “1984”. I thanked him for his incorrect attempt and urged him to be bold, next time. I stated that the correct date is December 31, 1983.

A generation which ignores history has no past and no future – Robert Heinlein

On hindsight, I feel that I should not blame my students on their apparently barren knowledge of Nigeria’s history. Rather, I should blame policy makers who abolished History as a subject in the curriculum of secondary schools. I offered that subject and revelled in the stories I heard and the beauty of language employed in narrating those stories. Sadly, my younger ones and my children can no longer drink from that rich fountain of knowledge.

Yet, our leaders enjoin us to be patriotic. They ought to know that patriotism is tied to knowledge of history.

You cannot love what you do not know. Can you?

  • Cornelius Ellah

“History is important because it teaches you about the past, and by learning about the past, you come to understand the present, so that you may make educated decisions about the future.”Richelle Mead

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