The Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, has attributed the travails of democracy in Nigeria to the abolition of the study of history in schools in the country.
Mr Soyinka said the abolition commenced when five political parties decided to dissolve into one.
He was referring to the five parties in 1998 which came together to adopt the then military dictator, Sani Abacha, as their sole candidate for president.
He recalled the late Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Bola Ige, referring to those parties as “five fingers of a leprous hand.”
“Was It is just a coincidence that these parties decided to merge themselves at the same time when history was abolished as a subject? To me, it is not a coincidence. To me, the government at that time only felt that Nigeria had arrived at the end of history, so what is the point? “
Mr Soyinka said this Tuesday in his keynote address to the African Humanities Programme’s Regional Assembly in Abuja. The three-day programme, which was the fourth in the series, ended on Thursday.
“Even if history is a waste, there is one good reason not to ignore the waste because it may turn combustible when no one is looking. Don’t ask me what we are doing in this afflicted nation when things happen to us and history was abolished,” he said.
He said the lack of historical background has created a gap in the formulation of young minds of new generation students.
“There was a kind of decontextualisation of experience, even the processing of information,” he said.
He said the government also lamented the abolition of history in the curriculum “but it seems the pronouncement is passing into history too.”
Mr Soyinka said Africa today supplies the largest percentage of global migration, but added that the phenomenon affects the entire world and not just Nigeria.
“Does anyone need reminding of the response from the leadership of this latter-day cattle coloniser known as Miyetti Allah? No price for guessing! A recourse to history to justify the serial brigandage and massacres. I wonder what may lie in the heads of this spokesperson, they invoke history to justify dehumanisation,” he said.
At the event, a professor of theatre and film studies at the Nnamdi Azikwe University, Akwa, Tracie Utoh-Ezeajugh, said Africans cannot divorce their collective existence from ethnicity and religion “because it gives us identity.”
“I believe that what we should be talking about is the way humanities scholars are handling production concerning ethnicity and religion. Are we handling them from a sentimental point of view or from a purely academic point of view that is research-oriented?”
“And then we should try to locate our studies in the global scholastic space. We need to read what other people are writing because what is happening in Nigeria is not just Nigeria, it happens all over Africa.
“Religion is a way of life, we cannot depart ourselves from there. I cannot pretend that I do not have a religion. Likewise, I cannot also pretend that I do not come from an ethnic group. For us to move forward in Nigeria, we have to remove ethnicity sentiments, especially as scholars, from our writing because our writing has the ability to mobilise, incite, bring together, to unify, to heal and so what do we want our writings to be?”
She said it is essential for the academia to be objective in their presentations.
“Even if it is a historical fact, we have to go into the field research and make sure that what we are presenting is not from a sentimental point of view as scholars, because you cannot equate us with people out there. But in research, we can right some of these wrongs.
“We are not segmented by ethnicity or religion, rather we are unified and that makes us unique. We have an ethnic group we cannot deny. We have an identity, we have a collective identity and that makes us Nigerians. So how are we bringing our religiosity and ethnic group together to give us a unified peaceful nation,” she said.
The Director of International Programs, American Council of Learned Societies, Andrzej Tymowski, said the AHP programme has more than 400 fellows of faculty of arts from Nigerian universities who take off one year of teaching to devote themselves to research and writings.
“One of the big problem for Nigerian scholars is that they have to teach and do service, they cannot finish their dissertation and the books they need,” he said.
The African humanities programme started in 2008 and it is currently running in five countries – Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria.