Friday, 20 January 2017

Memory Initiatives in Nigeria, By Bayo Ogunmupe


       Earlier this December, the Centre for Memory and Heritage convened a workshop on Memory Initiatives in Nigeria. It was held at the Kongi Exhibition Hall of Freedom Park, Lagos Island. Kayode Samuel of the Ford Foundation coordinated it. Innocent Chukwuma represented the Office of the Ford Foundation in West Africa.
       Mr Samuel introduced the Initiative as a civil society driven project. Memory initiative is about keeping record of all our activities as a people. This means writing down our history in politics, economics and the arts. He alerted us that History had just been restored as a subject of study in the Nigerian school curriculum. Samuel lamented its removal and that the Initiative was established to keep the memory of our history, culture and tradition alive. Questioning the removal of history as a subject of instruction in our schools further, Samuel opined that the removal could be traceable to regime interest of the military junta ruling at the time. This was done because, for the ruling authority to survive, it had to hide certain information from the people.
       In his goodwill message, the representative of the Ford Foundation and the promoter of the Initiative, Innocent Chukwuma said he belonged to those born in Eastern Nigeria in 1966, the time of the military coup that kicked off the civil war. He said the country promised them nothing and nothing was delivered unto them that were born in Umuahia at the time.
       Then, a lawyer and researcher Ed Emeka Keazor presented the first paper of the workshop. Keazor also coordinates the Nigeria Nostalgia Project. In his submission he averred that the social media had demystified Nigerian history  through the New Age Griots and the Internet. Keazor said that Nigeria Nostalgia Project was connecting Nigerian History with modernity via research. He said the media have democratized history by reducing history for the preserve of professional historians. Keazor maintained that there was no substitute to research and that would-be historians should employ research in their trade.
       The second paper was delivered by the former Nigerian representative at UNESCO, Professor Michael Omolewa. He gave us a run down of how the federal government removed history from the curriculum. Omolewa who now teaches 20th century wars, blamed Nigerian civil society groups for allowing the government to drop the subject from the school curriculum.
         After tea break, a general appraisal of the issues followed. An architect and manager of Freedom Park regaled us with the history of Freedom Park the venue of the workshop. The site was built as a prison by the British Colonial Administration in 1872. It was rebuilt in 1885. The prison was pulled down again in 1972. During the struggle for Nigerian independence, Obafemi Awolowo, Anthony Enahoro and Lateef Jakande served prison terms there. In 1979, the prison was merged with the Island Maternity Hospital but the people rejected it as part of the hospital. The people resented having to give birth to babies at a place that had served as a penitentiary where people had been guillotined.
        But no one had an idea of what to do with the site until Raji Fashola became governor of Lagos. Fashola now turned it to a park where conferences would be held. Thereafter, the discussion moved back to memory initiatives. Among notable contributors was Akin Onigbinde who opined that there was no way anyone could stop people from reading and writing history. The former Presidential adviser on Publicity, Dr Reuben Abati sided with Onigbinde, citing various works that have recorded the history of Nigeria since independence.
       In my own contribution, I sided with Onigbinde and telling the audience of how I had published 'Nigerian Politics in the Age of Yar Adua' in 2011 and how book had sold millions in Europe. Australia  and North America. I reminded them that there is a market eagerly waiting to read them abroad notwithstanding the poor reading culture in Nigeria. We must write because there are deliberate attempts to falsify, distort and hide motives behind the removal of history from our school curriculum. I told them history was removed so as to hide the fact that the tribes were balkanized into unviable states in order to emasculate them. That wars of domination beginning from 1966 are still raging either as Boko Haram or Python Dance. Indeed our leaders had to hide their acts of subjugation and agenda of domination through suppression of information and the pauperization of the people. Any wonder why Nigeria is being run by second rate brains? The audience was reminded that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. The conference closed on building partnerships to sustain memory projects.

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