“What do I do with history?” is the biggest question I have always asked myself as an undergraduate. This was due to the country’s disregard for discipline. In Nigeria, aside from professional courses like medicine, law, engineering, and accounting (to some extent), other courses are as relevant as they are limited to the classroom. Nigeria is a country with a disregard for specialization; everyone is a historian, political scientist, journalist, and economist. All they need (as an average Nigerian) is to pick a book, go to the internet, and check social media comments to become scholars in the aforementioned domains. Therefore, a student studying other than professional courses is in a double struggle: the struggle for excellence and to secure relevance in the labour market. After all, not everyone can be a medical or legal professional. Hence, the need for such a symposium like the one held by the BIMA Initiatives in conjunction with the Students Historical Society of Nigeria, Kwara State University chapter, on Saturday, December 16, was imperative.
The guest speaker, who is an economic historian and lecturer at Lagos State University, Dr. Faruq Boge, was tasked with unraveling the topic: “Employability of Students of History in the 21st Century.” According to him, the twenty-first century is characterized by technology, the internet, artificial intelligence, globalization, and entrepreneurship. It is an age that enables quickness and ease in research-making. A century ago, one could carry out secondary research on any theme without necessarily being present on the field. In other words, the digital world now enables researchers to carry out quick yet easy research without much stress, sometimes from one’s comfort zone. It is an era that enables the availability of numerous resources on the internet for easier and quicker access. Also, appliances and applications that enable easy writing now replace the era of typewriters and have also reduced, if not eradicated, the reliance on voluminous dictionaries. Furthermore, a shrinking world has enabled the integration of economies and the relevance of innovations and creativity. Thus, several factors contribute to success in this century, unlike before, depending on an individual’s viability and skills. The scholar believes that possessing some skills would make a history student or historian employable in the contemporary world. Versatility, multi-tasking, time management, technological literacy, and artificial intelligence are skills a future historian needs to navigate the contemporary labour market.
A student of history must not be limited; he must be flexible and adaptable to different functions. His studies of history should not be restricted to narrations. Neither class assessments nor exams should be his priority, but he should learn how to integrate his knowledge of history to fit in any sector in which he finds himself. His effective time management helps him handle his multitasking. As part of his secondary task, he engages in technical training, which has now dominated the present world. These notwithstanding, the doctor believed that a would-be historian must take cognizance of some fundamental qualities and skills as they relate to his discipline.
In his view, research skills, inquisitiveness, brainstorming, chronological reasoning, critical thinking, communication, interpretation, and analytical skills are pertinent for a student of history and a historian. Undoubtedly, research is an integral part of history, which differentiates it from mere storytelling. Reading, an important aspect of research, is a historian’s will. He asks questions—what, when, how, and why—criticizes the norms to appreciate traditions of origins, compares and contrasts various traditions, as well as interprets sources. His results are best understood through his communication method. Hence, a historian’s ability to communicate his findings in any language of choice is essential, be it oral or written. In documenting his findings, a historian needs to be chronological, analytical, and objectively critical. These attributes distinguish his works from tales. Achieving these qualities means that such a student is prepared for the outside world. Dr. Boge was sure that a student with the above qualities could fit into the public and private sectors, venture into entrepreneurship, and work with international organizations and multinational corporations.
Federal and state ministries are possible employment spaces for a historian. A student of history could manage administrative and some technical positions in the ministry. This can be “ministries of communication, tourism, foreign affairs, and local government and chieftaincy.” A historian can secure employment opportunities at private or public research institutes—national and international—and civil society organizations. Here, think of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research, NISER, among others. Civil service and federal character commissions are employment sectors for a student of history.
A historian by discipline may take up archival jobs and internships at private and public institutions. He can be an independent or salaried curator at museums and libraries. This can be at the state, national, or international level. He can be a busy professor or consultant. He may also consider being an entrepreneur; he could write biographies of prominent personalities for the business’s purposes. As part of entrepreneurship, a historian may write on community history—its market, festivals, and leadership.
A historian can work with regional and supranational organizations such as ECOWAS and the United Nations Organization, respectively. Multinational corporations like MTN, Nestle, and Texaco, among others, are organizations where a historian can fit in, provided he has the necessary skills. A historian can also venture into journalism, especially for the relationship between the two disciplines: history—the past, as it relates to journalism—the present. Lastly, and most commonly, a historian excels in academia as a teacher or lecturer.
Dr. Boge had proven the economics in him to unravel the numerous opportunities available to students of history. His presentation was—for many—a succor. The question I forgot to ask him, however, is about the possibility of these opportunities for ordinary Nigerian citizens like me. Beyond criticism and radicality, Nigeria as a country is famous for its attribute of employing diverse specialists to occupy different functions. Frankly speaking, employment in Nigeria is about how ‘connected’ you are and how long your leg is. Whoever would dine with the devil (Nigerian government and employers) must possess a long spoon. Conversely, he was correct in his admonition to future historians to acquire some social and technical skills alongside their fundamental research skills. These skills will make them independent and relevant. The BIMA-KWASU SHSN symposium was decisive for inviting the seasoned economist and historian. Its action is commendable and motivating.
All in all, the doctor who teaches economics and world history at Lagos State University has demonstrated that the 21st-century world is beyond the school walls; it is a world of innovation and creativity with uncountable opportunities. It is no longer a world where you rely on the government for employment. Not in Nigeria!
Abdulkabir Muhammed is of the Department of History and International Studies at Lagos State University. He can be reached via email@example.com