If Our History Defines Who & What We Are, Who Is Writing Our History?

Posted on Thursday, September 13th, 2012 at 9:00 AM

By Oluwamayowa Idowu

History shall be kind to me for I intend to write it“ -Winston Churchill

I interned at a publishing company in Lagos and during this period, I learnt about one of the great Nigerian failings: a poor maintenance culture and the depreciation of history.

At the time, this firm was working on an essay collection. Some of these essays were published in some of the most popular publications in the nation in the 80′s. The firm wanted to republish these essays and wanted them in original form. They commissioned researchers, sending them far and wide to scour the nation’s largest libraries for these pieces. This was eventually unsuccessful and the firm had no choice than to drop those articles. This experience taught me to appreciate the numerous books and newspapers my father kept in his library which I had come to view as junk.

What makes this more galling is that, this was in the pre-Internet age which means that these articles and other historically relevant materials would probably never be accessed again. I remember reading a review of the warts and all tale of Oluremi Obasanjo in which the reviewer advised that our leaders and members of the older generation cultivate a writing habit that would help shed light on so many issues and factors that have shaped our growth and development as a nation as they would be key in defining our identity and its origins for generations to come. We are nothing, if we don’t know how we got to where we are.

One of the great pitfalls of poor historical documentation is that it allows for Revisionism. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, it allows us change our tunes to pontificate the undeserving. It allows us to misinterpret nuances in a way that would conform to what is socially desirable. Reading old magazines and newspapers has taught me how important it is to understand issues and the context surrounding them. It teaches the importance of gauging the public reaction at the said time instead of relying on hearsay. You know what they say about seeing and believing.

We live in a culture of now, a society where every little issue is subjected through the microscope of the public. When we aren’t tweeting our thoughts, we’re calling in to radio shows to debate them . I once had the privilege of going through a private collection of Thisweek magazine (Nduka Obaigbena’s 80′s publication) and I regard it as providing the foundation of whatever understanding I hold of pre my birth Nigeria. It allowed me to witness the immediacy effect and the condemnation that followed IBB’s Structural Adjustment Programme whilst also helping me understand what that generation felt. Fortunately for me, this belonged to a family member. Based on this, I clearly am the exception. What understanding of our parents and grandparents Nigeria do the not so lucky of my peers hold?

As a people, our history defines who and what we are. It is our identity. It is what would define how future generations view those before them. Our history helps us fulfill one of our greatest desires as human beings; uniqueness. Most African Americans have an understanding of the Slave Trade and how their forefathers were forcefully made subordinates to the white man on the daft basis they were inferior. They understand that this set back the development of the Black race by creating obstacles that we are still smarting from today. It is for this reason, Barack Obama’s ascent to US President was so profound. It was a step in the right direction. Not every member of the ‘Obama’ generation was subjected to racism but with the way it was celebrated, one would think we were all born when Emmit Till was stoned to death. One would think we all sat down on that bus with Rosa Parks or marched with Martin Luther King. The racism of years past is something that defines the Black race. It is with sentiments like this, I fear for what would become of the Nigerian story.

How can we possibly appreciate some of those things that got us here when they’re so poorly documented? How can one appreciate the beauty of 30′s and 40′s Lagos if Wole Soyinka doesn’t articulate it like he did here.  How would the generation to come understand the failings that plagued their grandfather if Chinua Achebe didn’t document it in ‘The Problem With Nigeria‘.

Documenting our history is something we have to take on board more in order to ensure that the work of our forefathers is not in vain. Preserving it is also something we need to work on.

Photo credit: flickr.com
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OluwaMayowa Idowu is a blogger, writer and Web Journalist. His work can be found on http://mayowaidowu.com . You can also follow him on Twitter @MayowaIdowu | http://shutterfeeds.com 

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  • 15 Comments on “If Our History Defines Who & What We Are, Who Is Writing Our History?”

    Comments
    • Ginika September 13, 2012 at 9:45 AM

      Oyinbo

    • Laila Ikeji September 13, 2012 at 9:50 AM

      wonderful piece.
      http://www.LailaIkeji.com

    • lily September 13, 2012 at 10:56 AM

      The writer is so on point. History enables us know who we are and appreciate how far we’ve come……nice piece.

    • Abuja's City Guide September 13, 2012 at 11:33 AM

      They say those who write other people’s history are often the greatest liars. I think it’s always better to tell your own story rather than his-story!

    • adenike September 13, 2012 at 12:26 PM

      I totally agree with the writer. I present and produce a documentary programme on my radio station and ever since I started, I’ve only done just 1 Nigerian documentary (on the late Ojukwu) which i still tell myself till date that it wasn’t my best work. I do foreign ones with ease because everything is available online – in formation is a click away. Our history isn’t well documented, I keep complaining about this.
      I’m about working on June 12 1993 elections and I know that will take so much from me.
      Another problem is that, a good part of our history is based on conspiracies. We’re not sure of the truth which makes it more difficult penning it down.
      But I’ll say both conspiracies and truths should be documented. Well done Bella.

      • Tunmi September 13, 2012 at 9:15 PM

        Where are these documentaries? do you happen to have a blog or tumblr or website where one could access your works?

    • Teris September 13, 2012 at 1:35 PM

      i in’t have to read your entire piece but dude! you are spot on!

    • Temiyemi September 13, 2012 at 3:01 PM

      This was well written and makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately we will never know many great stories of the past.

    • brandigest September 13, 2012 at 4:40 PM

      I our history is not writing, it is washed off. Imagine looking for the documentary of the Biafra war, and you can’t find the footage in NTA only in US. We don’t seem to care. People who were actors during our beginning often tell lies about the true stories that marked our evolution. So who cares.
      http://www.brandigest.wordpress.com

    • Ogor September 13, 2012 at 6:40 PM

      Very well said. The other day I was talking about the educational curriculum of primary and secondary schools in Nigeria. Nigerian history is barely taught. Nigerian art is viewed as demonic(greeks and romans have Thor and Zeus, yet our own Sango or Amadioha is viewed with disdain) Most kids know more about what’s going on in the US , or about American presidents than they do about Nigeria’s colonial and pre-colonial times. I fear for this and the next generation. And they wonder why patriotism and loyalty to Nigeria isnt the way it should be.

    • Tayo September 13, 2012 at 7:37 PM

      An excellent topic and one which is long overdue for discussion amongst Nigerians and Africans as a whole.
      Well said Ogor, we know nothing of ourselves and what we do know we view with disdain.
      We are not taught of our past civilisations and the mighty empires of Songhai, Ghana and Mali. Nor of those of the Kanuri, Oyo, Benin, Mapungubwe or the Ashanti – and I mean in depth, the way other people learn about theirs.
      We are not taught of our fathers who stood against the slave traders such as Abdul Kadir Kane who went right into the slave ships to rescue his people. Na so oyinbo go open him dirty mouth – Una sell una sef – u go get mumu wey go come repeat am, forgetting that their ancestors went to those abominable ships to rescue the hostages and destroy those vessels of human misery.
      We are not told of the evils that were wrought against us in the names of Xtianity and Islam and which still are today. Of the wholesale massacres that accompanied the so – called colonising missions of England, France, Germany and Italy in Africa.
      And because we do not know we do not care about those who were taken from us, our brothers in the Americas and the Caribbean. The white man feels free to tell us that Kenya and South Africa were ‘empty’ when he came along – and morons readily agree with him. He tells us with style that the art of Oyo and Benin are due to his influence and that any beauty we possess is because his DNA is present, somewhere. And these lies are just the tip of the iceberg.
      Those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.
      It is us who must take up the baton which has been cast down and run with it for the sake of future generations. We must so that the sacrifice of our fathers will not be in vain and so that a greater evil does not befall us in the future.

    • cindy September 13, 2012 at 8:42 PM

      Great Article. This really creates awareness of the fact that our history is not documented. History is an area I comment the British and Americans for. I think the Nigerian media should have played a bigger role in preserving our history. It would have been more appreciated. Thanks for this.

    • Tunmi September 13, 2012 at 9:33 PM

      I completely agree with the writer and this is the first BN article that I am actually proud of and that has inspired me to do something. We didn’t have Nigerian history in secondary school and it wasn’t until I left the country that I realized just how necessary that was.

      There are blogs now that actually go into detail about Nigeria’s history. One can find help on Nairaland (past the tribal comments), Sugabelly’s site also includes some stories about Nigerian history (sugabellyrocks.com), and eccentricyoruba (eccentricyoruba.wordpress) is another good one. I keep looking for archaeology related or sociology related blogs about Naija but I’ve only found little. Guys, if you happen to find some, please post their links.

    • iamfascinating September 14, 2012 at 6:57 AM
    • mini September 16, 2012 at 10:05 PM