Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, has criticised those behind the de-listing of History from Nigerian schools’ curriculum, saying he was disappointed at how the subject had been treated on the continent.
Mr Soyinka, a professor of Comparative Literature, spoke Wednesday at an event in Lagos organised by the United Bank for Africa to commemorate this year’s Africa Day.
“History is a burden and that is why most people avoid it,” Mr Soyinka said.
“Sometime ago in Nigeria, a minister deemed it fit that history be removed from the syllabus, I was shocked. Those who expunge such a discipline from our schools deserve to be expunged from history altogether.”
For several years, History, as a standalone subject, was missing from the basic and junior secondary schools’ curriculum in the country.
It was, however, reintroduced in the 2018/2019 curriculum.
Mr Soyinka also spoke on the need for African unity, noting that leaders must not make the mistake of ignoring issues that cause disunity because unity cannot be commanded into existence
“I believe our unity is possible even with the plethora of languages,” he said.
“We just have to understand what the purpose of that unity is. Priorities exist, but the picture of Africa together is one we must keep in view but not forget the issues militating against it.”
“I wish to plead that we particularize the sense of unity. Let’s prioritize the material condition of our people. Right now, we are being recolonized by some internal forces.”
The programme, which was themed ‘Africa’s History Redefined: Our past, a path to the future,’ had other panelists like Djibril Tamsir, a Guinea historian and professor; Samia Nkrumah, a leading female Ghanaian politician; Tony Elumelu, the CEO of UBA; and Femi Kuti, Afrobeat musician and activist.
Mr Soyinka also expressed disappointment at the current state of the country stating that “this country is descending into an horrendous abyss, the like of which have not been witnessed in this country.”
In response to a question from the moderator, Ayo Obe, on whether Africa should continue to look on to its history, Mr Tamsir said the continuous denial of the history of Africa remains a problem even after independence.
“There is no people without a history. Our history has been denied and our people know nothing about it. After independence we didn’t know what to teach about our history because it had been denied. Our schools taught European history instead.”
“We asked that UNESCO set up a committee to look into African history and before the end of that, we had set to work establishing research institutes all over Africa and our histories are being taught I our schools and Africa has been able to reestablish itself.”
“The OAU created in 1963 as an historical date, was a vengeance on the date of the partitioning of Africa because on that day, we proclaimed its unity. In 1999 when OAU became AU, it speaks of that unity.”
Mr Tamsir also reiterated that Africa can only get better.
“The path has been created and nothing will stop Africa. Our democracy is still at an early stage but it will get better. Though there are coup d’états everywhere, peace will reign and Africa will be united.”
When Ms Nkrumah spoke, she affirmed that this century should be known for African unification.
“The last century was famous for national liberation. This century, what could be the best thing to happen to Africans? I think it’s our unification.”
“When I say Africans I mean both Africans at home and Africans abroad totaling 1.5billion people. That is how strong we can become if we think and act together.”
“I believe we should unite for our liberation. The last 500 years has been about defeat and liberation but we have an history before then. We need to look at our contribution to civilization, religion, culture, and this will give us the courage to move forward.”
She also posited that until what it means to be a black man or woman is totally clear, unification is impossible.
“The day we understand what it means to be a black man or woman is when we move forward to be truly free. It will be easier to meet the need of our people if we come together.”
Femi Kuti said the absence of footages for the slave trade had made it near-impossible to appreciate the horrors of 500 years of slavery.
“We don’t appreciate 500 years of slavery. Unlike the Jewish holocaust where there were footages, there is no footage of the slavery. You dare not make a Jewish joke about the Holocaust, the whole nation will descend on you but the world makes jokes of slavery; a man put in chains and walking the distance from Benin to the port in Badagry into a life of slavery.”
“We are lost and this is what the west wants. If we had leaders that understood the history of Africa, they would put things in place to move the people forward. As far as am concerned, history is everything.”
Mr. Kuti also said that colonization and westernization introduced most of the gender inequalities known today.
“Feminism is un-African because in the Africa history, in Yoruba land where I come from, there is no title to distinguish a female king from a male, an Oba is an Oba. Our whole essence as African men was to better the lives of our women, we had powerful female gods.”
“It was colonization and its religion that made the male folk more powerful with their words always emphasizing on the He with no room for the She.”
Mr Elumelu said it is time for Africa to move on from blaming others for its woes.
“We need to move on from blaming others for our history and drop our entitlement mentality. We can’t keep telling our children this history.”
“Let us tell a history of our economic renaissance and development. I see a continent with all the potentials to be great. We need to move to the future with optimism leveraging on the resources we have; a population we can retrain.”
“As we talk about our history, we need to think of the type of history our children will tell.”