“Are there no wonderful historians in Nigeria” is the question that comes to mind each time I remember the presidency’s congratulatory statement on Professor Saheed Aderinto’s prize award late last week. The sagacious Professor Aderinto is an ambassador whose impact on Africa cannot be summarized in an article such as this. The Professor of History and Africa Diaspora Studies has done a great job in replicating Nigeria’s academic standard in the field of history and its ally, International Relations abroad. Through his Lagos Studies Association, the Scholar has assisted a lot of academics in the field as it helps them connect with one another to enable scholarly publications through grants and prizes, including but not limited to the writer.
Upon his recent Dan David Prize award of $300,000, President Muhammadu Buhari and other political icons like the president-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and the former governor of Anambra and Nigeria presidential aspirant, Governor Peter Obi congratulated him for “situating African history at the cutting edge of diverse literature in the histories of sexuality, nonhumans, and violence, noting that it is exceptional to see a single person leading scholarship in all of these fields.” (the Vanguard reported). I think it’s high time the government ceased to congratulate Nigerians abroad for their exemplary character while they deprive the intelligentsia at the home of the realization and actualization of their academic potential. The President and other congratulators should better work towards actualizing the growth of history and its studies in Nigeria rather than making mouthful encouragement. The discipline which helps to recollect the past, project the future, and enhance diplomatic relations among other importance is very downgraded in the country so much so that most secondary schools do not have it included in their curriculum. Thanks to the Nigerian universities who serve the role of a dream changer. The reason history is still in existence in Nigeria is that students have no choice or wouldn’t want to wait at home while their classmates count the number of days they have got to conclude their university studies.
The most infuriating part of it is the derogatory remarks and treatment the history students receive from their fellow and outsiders. This was so because the government itself does not regard discipline. Among staff in the universities, those in the department of history are often viewed as second class in terms of recognition and provision of infrastructure which all university teaching staff are entitled to regardless of what department a lecturer belongs to. In so many universities, one wonders if the faculties of medicine and law are part of the school environment. It is no gainsaying that the seats of some law students at Lagos State University, LASU, are more comfortable than those of some lecturers in other departments. I do not think that the Buhari government which is “a supporter of history” has been able to solve these inequalities.
But When President Muhammadu Buhari commended and congratulated Professor Saheed Aderinto on the prestigious Dan David Prize award, what about the other intellectuals and gurus of history and International Studies who have been doing appreciably well in their respective universities but lack motivation and aid? For how long will the government continue to preach emigration to its workforce whose academic impact is not motivated nor recognized? The reason nobody will challenge my position is that no academician in Nigeria has been able to gain the recognition he deserves except that such a person emigrates to first-world countries where the systems operate on values and specialization rather than politics and ‘connection.’ Professor Toyin Falola who is now an emeritus professor and a distinguished teaching professor at the University of Texas at Austin is a product of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. He did not serve at various universities abroad because he was a son of a governor or senator, but because his potential in him was realized and valued in those countries where he traveled to. The same “Ambassador'”, Professor Aderinto could not manifest his scholarship until he fled the country and traveled abroad where he became a lecturer at Florida International University; No wonder, the country does not cease to experience brain drain. Even those who are considered professionals, especially doctors and nurses keep on “japaing.” The only person who will see this as sentimental is one who does not appreciate the impacts of these notables I have mentioned. Instead, it is for the government of Nigeria to learn from the parables of the emigration of her potential that the country is not conducive enough for no one else but politicians. No one is willing to remain in a country where academics’ salaries are penny when compared to those politicians who don’t write essays, neither teach nor mark scripts, as they earn millions of naira including several allowances like wardrobe allowance or the obnoxious sitting allowance. The deficiency in the Nigerian constitution as regards political offices is a topic for another day.
I beseech the Nigerian government, most especially the Buhari’s, whose regard for history cannot be overemphasized, to enable grants and a conducive environment for lecturers in the department of history and International Studies and other departments where needed. I reiterate that there are innovative and productive minds in the field of history and International Studies in Nigeria who are ready to restructure the country and the Continent’s history, like Professor Aderinto but are influenced by the poor academic environment, economic burden, and lack of recognition. Graduates of history and International Studies should not be limited to academia; they should be upgraded to governance. These are the sets of people who are meant to be advisers to the government. The foreign department should be filled with this personnel. Computer specialists, economists, and lawyers who are Mr governor or Mr president’s friend should not hold foreign relations office while intellectuals of history and diplomacy are left to roam the streets.
By the time President Muhammadu Buhari considered the above postulations, by enabling a good university environment for lecturers to explore, giving grants to lecturers for academic research, employing historians and international relations specialists in their supposed parastatal, only then should he come out to congratulate international-based prize awardees, otherwise his ”congratulations” will only encourage and spur emigration. The latter’s consequences no doubt, are clear.
Abdulkabir Muhammed is a writer and student at Lagos State University