Heart of Arts

Falola: History, a Therapy for Healing Nigeria, By Ayo Olukotun

Ayo Olukotun

 

“If Nigeria would rebuild its nationalism values to keep a tab on its developmental course, there would be a need for more investment in historical research and studying the subject from primary to tertiary education level as a necessity and not an option.”

Toyin Falola, Distinguished Humanities Professor, University of Texas, Austin, at the Second Distinguished Lecture Series, Department of History and International Studies, Lagos State University.

Wednesday, 10 August, 2022.

 

A fortnight ago, acclaimed Humanities scholar, Oloruntoyin Falola, was a guest speaker at the Lagos State University. Organized by the Department of History and International Studies, the lecture characteristically turned out to be a memorable occasion with Falola showing in clear terms what Nigeria had missed by neglecting the study of history, opening up a path to redemption and remediation. No doubt, it is easy for a historian to discuss the value of his discipline, not just to humanity but especially to a country like Nigeria tottering in the wilderness and in search of a compass for redirection. It is a different case altogether when a mature historian of Falola’s stature takes on such a subject showing bit by bit how history can help to reclaim the greatness that Nigeria once dreamed of but has since veered off.

Divided into several parts, the treatise took on such sub-themes as history and nation-building, cultural identity, history and national development as well as the value of history to national consciousness and patriotism. He discusses these subsidiary themes in clear depth, putting them in historical perspective and showing how a detailed study of them can illuminate Nigeria’s search for a way out of the blues. He argues, for example, that one of the productive uses of the study of History is that it helps leaders and followers alike to think about the origin of problems, that is how they came about, what lost opportunities produced them and how they can be managed or remedied. According to him, there was a time when insecurity was not this pronounced in Nigeria and Nigerian lives were as sacred as those of any other country on the globe. Analytically, therefore, the task is to ask the question, What and what transpired to make insecurity so distinct, so pervasive and so consequential in terms of the haemorrhage of human lives? These are simple and direct questions, although the answers may not be so straightforward.

Pursuing the logic further, one can argue that insecurity climbed onto the front burner with the advent of the Boko Haram insurgency which began to torment the country from about 2009 onwards. At that point, it was not yet a full blown terrorist onslaught but skirmishes here and there. Its development into a national crisis can be linked to the allegation that some Nigerians who were sympathetic to its causes began to sponsor, patronize and fan up its embers. Given that nobody has been arrested for sponsoring it, this meant that the sponsors, whatever their motives, have free rides. Sooner than later, cognate militant groups, some of them derivatives of Boko Haram, began to spring up in several parts of the country. This is the prelude to the current murderous excess in which the country finds itself. Although Falola does not dwell on this subject, he erects a template of historical logic and analytical method by which one can learn the lessons of history. Could it be said therefore that successive Nigerian leaders allowed Boko Haram and allied groups to build power bases within the country because they either ignored its tendency to escalate or did not prepare early enough to introduce counter-insurgency measures that would have prevented extremist groups from gaining the foothold they later did? Needless to say that the “lessons of history” are often problematic to draw because the study of history is not without contentions, propaganda, partisanship; and, therefore, difficult to pin down.

In the lecture, Falola asked a question, “Is there not a time when many of Nigeria’s problems did not exist as they do now?” Such questions can help us to highlight and understand the origins of national problems and what historical sequences took place to build them into behemoths. Take for example, the current population explosion in Nigeria estimated at 218 million this year. Consider that in 2000 we were only about 122 million. However, the growth rate already indicated the Malthusian nightmare that we are currently facing, especially with the youth bulge and associated problems. A diligent study of history and indeed of contemporary affairs would have warned that if nothing was done about the soaring population increase the country would be headed for trouble, more so, as we are not a terribly productive nation. The point here is that historical analysis, by the way not confined to history, helps to understand how the problems a nation faces begin to gestate, mapping current trends and warning of consequences if no one does anything about them. This is a way of telling us, as Falola does, that historical study is a handmaiden of national planning.

All of these are to hint at the relevance of historical studies and methodology to grasping the nature of problems, mapping their trajectories and planning, for those who care to plan, for their mitigation. That is why it is such a regret that our politics has descended into promises upon promises with fulfillment of the promises more and more elusive. If Nigeria continues like this with succeeding group of politicians interested only in winning elections and not doing the hard work required for true leadership, our present plight, God forbid, would only be a child’s play in what may happen later.

To return to Falola’s postulation, all the problems that currently bedevil us could have been predicted at least a decade ago but how much did we act to alleviate them before other problems came to compound them?

One other interesting aspect of the lecture is the linkage between history and development. The scholar tracing the history of development planning from the colonial days, argued that colonial planning was not aimed at developing the Nigerian nation but at the colonial metropolis with all its tragic consequences. Post-colonial planning began with independence but did not achieve much in spite of resource abundance because corruption had become endemic, becoming a counter-narrative to occasional genuine efforts to transform Nigeria. This was deepened by issues relating to instability, nation-building deficits, among other disabling issues, leading to a situation where, as the lecturer pointed out, Nigeria’s future had become uncertain.

Another important highlight is the narrative provided on the national question and how history has both aided and impeded understanding and analysis of the subject. Although the amalgamation is often blamed for being arbitrary and conducted under fiat, the lecture argues that pre-colonial peoples had economic, social and political intercourses over centuries, thus providing a logic for a Nigerian nation. It is also true, however, that ethno-national identities, especially when not well managed, have tended to hinder the sense of Nigerian nationhood.

As shown in the opening quote, there is a lot that the Nigerian state can do to re-introduce and capture our fading sense of history, both as training for leadership and in the provision of a sense of direction for a nation struggling for fresh vistas.

 

Professor Ayo Olukotun is a director at the Oba (Dr.) S. K. Adetona Institute for Governance Studies, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye.

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