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Return of history in schools: How knowledge of the past can shape the future

By Chijioke Iremeka
10 December 2022   |   2:41 am
Government has restored it following observation that the removal has undermined the peace and cohesion as well as triggered mutual distrust among the many ethnic nationalities in the country thereby hindering national development.

About 13 years after expunging History as a subject of study from the nation’s basic education curriculum, the Federal Government has restored it following observation that the removal has undermined the peace and cohesion as well as triggered mutual distrust among the many ethnic nationalities in the country thereby hindering national development. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA writes that the re-introduction of the study of History came after Nigeria had produced generations of citizens without a sense of history of their roots, evolution and development of their country.

A decade and three years after History was expunged from the basic education curriculum in Nigeria by the administration of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua for what has been described as feeble reasons, stakeholders who reacted to its recent re-introduction, including academics and curators of history, want History listed among the subject combinations that students would offer in both external and internal examinations.

Though the official reasons given for its removal from the education curriculum were that students’ interest in History was dwindling, a few jobs were available for History graduates, and there was dearth of teachers for the subject, The Guardian learnt that there was unspoken reason for the government’s action.

It was learnt that the ruling class decided to jettison the subject to conceal certain elements of the nation’s history considered ugly from young Nigerians. Of specific interest were the occurrences that led to the Civil War, the war itself, and its aftermath.

For this reason, Nigeria does not have an official account of the 1967 to 1970 Civil War written in Nigerian perspective, except the ones scripted by foreigners for the rest of the world and for the country, hence the truth about the war is yet to be told.

The stakeholders, who couldn’t understand the rationale for throwing the nation’s past to the gallows, even when history is a major consideration in setting any country’s foreign policy objectives, described the government’s action as most insensible and has denied the citizens their right to sound education just as it has flung the country into oblivion of its existence.

They held that by this singular act, the government relegated and eroded the knowledge and information that learners should have been exposed to. Even the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, said the removal of History was a monumental mistake with serious consequences for the country.

“The loss created by the absence of this subject has led to a fall in moral values, erosion of civic values, and disconnect from the past. More worrisome was the neglect of the teaching of this subject at basic and post basic levels of education, which invariably eroded the knowledge of the evolution of Nigeria as a country,” he lamented.

According to the minister, national cohesion is being threatened with the country retreating into primordial sentiments because of lack of knowledge about the evolution of Nigeria following the removal of History from the basic education curriculum.

The stakeholders argued that History, at the first instance, shouldn’t have been expunged from the school academic curriculum by any serious government on the lame and reckless excuses that students’ interests in the subject was dropping, when such a subject could be made compulsory. To them, such was a pitiable judgment and thoughtless way of handling a problematic situation.
The stakeholders described the removal as a fallout of saddling people with a responsibility that is bigger than their comprehension, noting that the problem should have easily been resolved by a serious government by placing an incentive or scholarship on the subject or making it compulsory for all students as in the case of Mathematics.

History was discontinued in schools during the tenure of Aisha Jibril Dukku as Minister of Education under the President Yar’Adua’s regime in 2009.

According to a professor of Legal History at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Osun State, Akin Alao, a country without a sense of history is a soulless nation. “It could be safely said also that myriad of challenges facing the country and nation-building efforts in Nigeria are a result of the neglect of history.”

Similarly, a Roman statesman, philosopher and academic skeptic, Marcus Cicero, who tried to uphold optimate principles during the political crises that led to the establishment of the Roman Empire, said: “Not to know what happened before you were born is to forever remain a child.”

The Roman scholar and lawyer submitted in favour of history when he said: “For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?” Hence, a man without a history is like a man without memories.

The Guardian gathered that the history of inter-group relations in Nigeria has confirmed the extent of interactions among Nigerian ethnic nationalities long before the imposition of colonial rule. It would have been the duty of history as a subject in schools to bring these truths to young Nigerians to influence their understanding of life and what roles they could play in cementing the relationship among groups.

Unfortunately, the irreconcilability is that the countries that pull the strings at the Brentwood’s institutions have not scrapped history as a subject in the educational curriculum of their countries. In fact, it is even made compulsory at freshman year in their universities.

They are aware, like all visionaries of powerful civilisations, that history is the bedrock of education without which a country does not and cannot grow. From the family to the state, history has been the great teacher of civilisation. Children can hardly learn without history; states cannot make policies without recourse to history. Thus, the claim that history is non-viable to economic development is spurious.

It was observed that as a subject of study and as an intellectual means of political, social and economic development, history is viable, not just for mere certification but its significance for intellectual rebirth and cultural revival that would enable the country’s educational system to enrich the minds of young Nigerians.

A Spanish and US-American philosopher, essayist and poet, George Santayana, said: “When experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it…This is the condition of children and barbarians, in whom instinct has learned nothing from experience.”

It is believed that a proper historical awareness will enable every Nigerian to know that the country belongs to all, and not just to a set of mischief-makers attempting to falsely rewrite history, thus creating room for a better understanding of Nigeria.

According to a senior lecturer at the Department of History and International Studies, Nnammdi Azikiwe University (NAU), Awka, Sam Okeke, history is premised also on the need for proper documentation for Nigerians from all strata, whether pleasant or not. When history is not working in content or form, it can be corrected, as Nigerians have done in the past.

Okeke noted that history has values in developing the minds of the people, there is no discipline without its own history, including medicine.

“What is required is the acquisition of the techniques of history. For example, a lawyer has to know, understand and consider the two sides of a coin to make a good case.

“A medical doctor needs the history of the patient and the ailment before he can have a successful diagnosis. An architect must have a sense of history to know what designs will meet specific need. An administrator must be very familiar with the history of the people before he can administer successfully.

“We must stomach the fact that many other countries of the world have worse histories than Nigeria and no matter how unattractive our history is, we have to tell the story to prevent the history from repeating itself. What made the difference is that while others were brave and visionary enough to confront their histories and avoid repeating their ugly aspects, we try to mask ours so as to forget them, thus repeating them as though they were parts of our national hobbies,” he added.

On the reintroduction of History and the need to make it a standalone subject to be taught in class and be written in both internal and external examinations in the country, the Head of Department, History and International Studies, Legacy University, Okija, Anambra State, Ezeme Vincent, said the news of the reintroduction of History as a standalone subject in the basic education curriculum in Nigeria 13 years after its abolition, was a welcome development.

Vincent, who said he didn’t want to congratulate the government yet until he sees the full implementation of the order, described the reintroduction as better late than never.

“It can be recalled that the Federal Government under the current minister officially issued this policy of reintroduction of History as a subject in 2019, and now in 2022, we are hearing of the kick off of the training of History teachers after three years. It doesn’t call for celebration, but then, I do not want to lose hope yet.”

On the significance of this policy directive, the lecturer said: “It cannot be over emphasised. A man who lacks History is like a man without memory. If you do not know where you are coming from, you would not know where you are headed for. Every great nation in the world today holds her History in high esteem. Nigeria as a country cannot afford to do otherwise if we desire to be great. We must stand up and lead the narrative; outsiders cannot tell our own story.  

“Again, the NERDC has a lot to do. It must swing into action by investing on a comprehensive research that would give the country a generally acceptable history, without prejudice or any form of bias. Furthermore, History should not only be taught within the basic education curriculum but should be a standalone subject in both external and internal examinations in Nigeria.”

Reacting to the development in an earlier publication of The Guardian, a professor of History and former Vice-Chancellor, Caleb University, Ayodeji Olukoju said since education is on the concurrent list, inter and intra tier collaboration is required in returning History to the curriculum.

“First, stakeholders should work out the content of the syllabus to suit the context. Second, as this is a culturally diverse federation, the local, state, regional and ethno-cultural contexts should be incorporated in the content. Hence, the syllabus will have a series of concentric circles to reflect these contexts.

“Third, separate texts should be developed for primaries one to three, primaries four to six and junior secondary school one to three. While education history graduates should work out the pedagogy, core historians should produce the content. Finally, each text should be produced to suit the peculiarities of the learning stage of the users, both students and teachers, including illustrations and sample questions as appropriate,” the ex-VC said.

On how to remedy the dearth of teachers in the subject, Olukoju advised: “Recruiting History teachers should be done systematically and in phases, as the subject is injected into the different levels of schooling. Candidates who obtained a minimum of SSCE credit pass in History should be given priority in admissions into NCE and degree programmes in Education History and History major.

“Incentives should be provided in the short run to encourage prospective teachers as was done for education science students. Regular in-service training should also be conducted to improve teaching skills.

“If Americans could be proud to learn about George Washington, the American civil war or the declaration speech, John Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln and other great leaders of their country, why are Nigerian schoolchildren deprived of learning about past events and people?”

A historian, Ogbodogbo Sylvester, while reacting to the claim that interest in History is dropping, said: “Usually, some people would decide to do a degree in History before going for Law to broaden their IQ. History gives you deep background of every course, including sciences. No country can do without history and that is why I’m bothered. I have a number of friends who studied Law as a second degree after graduating from History.

“History is very important in all ramifications. Before I studied Law at the University of Ife, I first of all had a degree course in History to prepare me for the Law programme. I wanted to have the knowledge in history and documentation in preparation for the task ahead. I believe that History and Philosophy have a way of increasing one’s reasoning ability and IQ.

“So, whoever said that history doesn’t interest students is telling a big lie because there are better ways to handle this matter if that were to be the real reason for expunging History from the school curriculum, which I’m most doubtful of.”

Against the excuse that historians don’t find place to work in Nigeria, a historian and journalist, Jideofor Nelson, said there were many places a historian can work provided that the person is good at what he studied in the school.

“I’m a journalist and I studied History up to the master’s level. I’m doing well in my profession, even better than many of those who studied Mass Communications. Almost all the editors that I have worked with are all graduates of History. Who will say that there is no job for historians? I think the reason for the removal of History goes beyond what we were told,” he said.

Nine years after removal, the government realised that the decision was wrong, and in 2017, the Nigeria Education Research and Development Council (NERDC) announced that it was set to reintroduce History as a subject, beginning from the 2018/2019 academic session.

The NERDC Executive Secretary, Prof. Ismail Junaidu, had stated that the curriculum would be standalone that would be taught from primary one to JSS III after the National Council on Education (NCE) had approved the reintroduction of the subject.

In 2018, the Federal Government unveiled a new curriculum for the teaching and learning of the subject in basic schools across the country. The new curriculum was approved at the 63rd meeting of the NCE, which held in Kano in June 2017.

Given the events that played out in the last 40 years, it would seem that the ban placed on the teaching of History in Nigerian schools was calculated to impose collective amnesia on the people and mentally dislocate Nigerians.

The World Bank could not have meant well for the country when in 1980, it insisted on the restructuring of the educational curriculum on the pretext of non-viability of History as a course of study. Such a decision only prepared the ground for the economic dependence of Nigerians on other countries.

According to the Minister of Education, AdamuAdamu, who spoke on the reintroduction of the teaching of History and training of teachers for the subject at basic education level, the absence of this subject has led to a fall in moral values, erosion of civic values, and disconnect from the past.

“More worrisome was the neglect of the teaching of this subject at basic and post-basic levels of education, which invariably eroded the knowledge of the evolution of Nigeria as a country. The immediate implication of this was that we lost ideas, even of our recent past, and we scarcely saw ourselves as one nation and gradually began retreating into our primordial sentiments,”Adamu lamented.

The minister added that the training and retraining of teachers to enhance their capacity and lead to the mastery of the subject would be a focus of the reintroduction.

The Executive Secretary of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Dr. Hamid Bobboyi, confirmed that a total of 3,700 history teachers had been selected from the 36 states of the federation and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for training.

According to him, the selection was done on a pro rata basis, 100 teachers from each state and the FCT, and the training is to equip them with the necessary skills to teach the subject, especially with the modification of the content.

Bobboyi said following the directive by the minister for history to be restored as a subject in schools, the commission and NERDC swung into action, which led to the Kick-off.

As a complement, state governments, in collaborations with private sector initiatives, should take the ambitious step of setting up mini-museums of history in different local government headquarters as practised in more enlightened societies. This will also facilitate education tours and present an ingenious way of being acquainted with history.