Have you ever wondered how nice it would be if Nigeria has an equivalent of the US Library of congress? Ok that seems a little bit like overreaching since we can’t boast of generating and supplying constant power to every home right but still it doesn’t hurt to dream does it? It would be great to have a national archive where our children can read about the amalgamation of the north and south protectorates; a central data base where we can easily access video footage of speeches given by our past leaders. In writing this post I tried to check online for any information I can glean about the history of our great country and I came up short. I mean the bulk of what I found was from the war.
Richard Spiropoulos, (a two time Emmy Award winner, whose work on the oil spill in Louisiana contributed to the Peabody Award win for CNN’s 2010 coverage) attended the Silverbird’s Man of The Year awards. He shares his take on the event and the effect of the dearth of a national archive with us.
As I walked into the conference center at Eko Hotels and Suites, Victoria Island for the Silverbird’s “Man of The Year” awards, I realized I was horribly late. My amateurish miscalculation of “Nigerian Time” had caused this horrible faux pas and sadly my first foray into Nigerian journalism wasn’t off to a roaring start.
As I slunk into the shadows, I quickly put my camera together and right there it hit me; this room was alive and teeming with history.The screens around the room revealed rare and priceless footage from the aftermath of the Biafran war. But, it wasn’t this documentary that gave me this sense of history, it was the people in the room.
Living legends, figures in our nation’s history who had come forward at various times when Nigeria called and they were still doing so five decades later. I was in the same room with Generals Yakubu Gowon, Theophilus Danjuma and Muhammadu Buhari.
They were all being honored by Silverbird with Lifetime Achievement Awards for their unrelenting patriotism and commitment to the country.
It felt strange looking at them as young men, on the screens flashing on the walls around and then looking into their faces directly across the room as their eyes glazed over, lost in recollection. They had been there, when all hell broke loose and the country nearly fell apart. They were there when brother rose against brother. They were amongst the few left who had the keys to the vaults of our nation’s history.
I snapped out of my reverie for a second and turned to the photographer beside me to ask what I had missed and sadly, it turned out that I had missed a poignant ode to three of Nigeria’s founding fathers.Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello were honored post-humously their sacrifice, passion, courage and dedication.
I started clicking away at the screens on the walls. A powerful documentary was airing. It was the first time any of the those images and video had ever been seen by anyone who wasn’t around during those dark days The footage was rare, priceless and riveting and most of it had never been seen in Nigeria.
It had cost Silverbird a fortune to get it. Some might argue that it was insane to have paid so much money to a film archivist from another country so we could learn the truth about our own. Some might even say it was borderline extortion, but either way we are not to be completely absolved of sin in this matter. Our blatant disregard for proper documentation of our past has led to our being forced to oay heavily to learn more of our fading history.
In that instant, a light bulb of realization went off in my head. This was a call to arms. It was a call for the nation to faithfully document its past and present, for the sake of its future. It was a cry to ignite our patriotic curiosity, to know and record the facts and to document them for posterity sake.
As one chief speaker, who had fought the Biafran War as a child, quoted, “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground”.
So much knowledge and wisdom is lost forever unless they found ways to document their experiences and share their sagacity.
And so the speakers in the room, led by the fiery rhetoric of SilverBird founder and Media Mogul Ben Bruce beseeched the former and present leaders in the room to “Please hand us your memoirs”.
He recalled the lone radio voice of the Biafran war, the only voice that narrated events to the people as their worlds were blowing up all around them, a voice now lost, silenced forever because no-one ever pressed ‘record’.
Where were the videos that could have answered so many questions that we still have today about that war?
Why were there no Nigerian film archives?
Why were there very few videos saved during the presidency of General Buhari?
And why was there no account as to how Kingsway stores, one of the most amazing supermarket chains in all of Africa, suddenly collapsed?
It was mind boggling that we could have intentionally destroyed visual and written evidence of our nation’s past.
Another speaker at the event urged Generals Danjuma, Gowon and Buhari to do something quickly or deprive future generations of their treasured, hallowed recollections on the events that shaped our country’s history.
I think as a nation we need to cultivate the habit of documenting events and saving them for the future to celebrate and remember the past. We need to celebrate our history.
Do you agree with Mr Spiropoulous? Let us have your thoughts on how we can preserve our history for the coming generations.