History, as a course of study, haunts every day. We witness this awful theatre when a leader goofs, when the country hurtles to a fiery point, when a governor fumbles, when a political party stumbles. It mocks and weeps every moment. But even history mocks us when we look at it and do not see. It is the big, bright blindness, like walking into a galaxy and unable to pick out an object with our eyes.
I also celebrate the Lagos State Governor, the BOS, Babajide Sanwo-Olu for bringing back history studies in Lagos.
I therefore dedicate today, as a graduate of history at Ife, to all my history teachers, beginning from high school. Although I remember one Mr. Faturoti at Methodist Primary School, Ibadan, who first gave us a poignant hint about the study of the past, about the imperial absurdity of Mungo Park, who claimed to discover River Niger while all the local fishermen and travellers, from generation to generation, did not know they had a river they fished from and a canoe that splashed on its waves from place to place.
I recall three history teachers at Government College, Ughelli, who immersed us in the cunning, comedy and tragedy of the past. The first was Emeka Anyaoku, no relation of the Commonwealth leader. I recall him, wielding our history book, authored by Ifeka and Stride, and striding from side to side, speaking rhythmically about the Old Oyo and Kanem Borno empires, and spicing it with humour, wit and anecdotes, including a dose here and there of pidgin English. His foray into pidgin emphasised his insistence on flawless writing. Kudos to him. Two prepared us for WASCE. The first was Eshareture, a smallish, charismatic man whose elocution seemed bred in Buckingham Palace. He taught us 18th and 19th century West Africa History, and loved the dissections, play of heroes and villains, the chemistry of forces, the climaxes. I recall when he spoke about the formation of Sierra Leone and Liberia. He then distilled a point, rose from his desk and said, “Let us call it the humanitarian factor.” He wrote it on the blackboard in his cursive style. It was from him we first learned of Lord Mansfield and his judgment of 1772 that put paid to slavery on English soil. I doff my hat.
Teacher Edenya was our last teacher. Short and spry, he never sat down until our last class session answering our questions before the exam. He and Eshareture marked WAEC exams. He apparently smoked and ate quite a few kola nuts. His right hand was shaped like one wielding a cigarette and his lips always smacked as though simultaneously enjoying and getting rid of the last taste of the fruit. His poppysmic became a mainstay of his rhetoric. Edenya was a master of the past. I can hear him now swaying from window to window, reeling out story after story. I recall especially his narrative of the Niger Delta city states, Dappa Pepple House, the drama of the boy king, the impudence of trade and colonial seed. I recall his story about the anarchy and nation building of the Yoruba Wars, the so-called Benin Massacre, his clarification of Islam being the “official majority” of the Sokoto Caliphate. Those who did not insert the word official in their essays were penalised. While Dan Fodio prevailed, the vast majority of the people were still not Muslim. I bow to him!
Next stop Ife: how many can I recall. First was Femi Omosini, dashing with a rhetorical fluidity. The Cambridge graduate did not hold notes, but he dictated for a full hour about the social and intellectual history of Europe. It was a mellifluous feast. Hear him: “By the 16th century therefore, feudalism had declined, and the philosophy of monarchical centralisation started to give way to that of feudal local independence.” Enjoy again: “The pope had become extremely worldly. He wined and dined with secular authorities and he bargained openly for the expansion of papal territories.” And again, “The Holy Roman Empire became neither holy nor Roman.” All of this without a note pad in his hands. I salute you sir.
The next was Olomola, a fiery teacher with lots of quotes in his head. He would for instance tell us of the Jukun kingdom, and he said historian Margery Perham, who had heard of the exploits of the Kwororofa, expected to see the magnificence of an empire. But when she visited it, she found goats walking beside huts under a hot sun, and “she said, quote, an exaggerated glory. End quote.” He prefaced every quote by saying ‘quote’ and ended every quote by saying ‘end quote.’ I feel blessed to quote you.
Of course, I cannot forget A.A. Akinjogbin, a paternal figure in class, who loved to teach history as though telling it to his children. We read him in secondary school with Adu Boahen. He had a soft voice and paid attention to detail as he broke open the era of slavery in African society and urged us not to over-glorify our past while holding the west’s feet to the fire. But black slaves had rights, he always emphasised. He showed how Africa and Europe were at a certain time on the same level technologically and economically. So, enamoured of him was I that I sponsored essay competitions in his memory at Ife. May your glory flower on.
I quoted B. Oloruntimehin last week. Always in his French suit, he taught with a sort of sardonic flourish, and we learned not only history but historiography from him. He freed us from received narratives. For instance, why do we call the British rule indirect when they were responsible for the major disruption in the societies. Just because they placed rulers in charge was not indirect since they took orders from the British. It is like saying the CEO of a company rules the company indirectly because he has sales and personnel managers. I was to read later in life that the English had imposed it on the Irish during the reign of James I. It is the rhetoric of deceit. It is such turn of mind that made him tell us that “The abolition of slave trade was an act of enlightened self-interest by the Europeans to give the Africans a new role in the international economic system.” Bouquets on your casket.
Professor Richard Olaniyan opened America to me, and it was such a marvel to attend his class. He spoke with such energy unveiling the dynamics of the Americas, the majesty, flaws and humanism of its founding fathers. Such names as Jefferson, Washington, Patrick Henry, Madison, Adams, et al, came alive, and made me fan of its history. Eternal gratitude, sir.
I end these tributes with Professor Anjorin, who unveiled 20th century world history. The world wars, Hitler, Franco, Mussolini, the savagery of a century and its embalmed heroes enchanted his class. He was such an avuncular fellow, if even fatherly. Once I challenged him on a point and my fellow students whispered that “Sam is trying to challenge Baba.” My naivety paid off. He appreciated my petulance of a curiosity. He did me no harm. His harm was exaggerated by his students. He was a gentleman.
We should learn from the past. It teaches us to bring memory to the salvation of the moment. We are seeing its deficiency today. When Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike said Atiku turned his back on Jonathan because he said it was the north’s turn, it was only recent memory. Yet few remember. So some of us also are reminding peripatetic Atiku how pathetic that his party corralled it for the north in 2019, and no southern candidate ran for it. Now, he acts as though it never happened. If we recalled history, Ayu would not even run for any party office since all his resume is about how he was fired from office to office. Now, he is facing another firing. He seems in love with it, especially if we add the charge that he got N1 billion largesse for doing nothing. The firing hanging over his head has not put him in the frame of mind to rebut the allegation from the scratchy voice of the Rivers man. He needs to clear the air. If not, EFCC should let us know if it was in pounds or dollars, so we know how our currency is going downhill.
It is this lack of history that made some to forget that a certain candidate was a governor for eight years with nothing to show. They forget that the one that has something to show they want to deny. Hence, Shakespeare in his play The Tempest, mocked such people who “make a sinner of memory to credit a lie.” We need to salvage our memory. If we cannot remember what happened just five years ago, or 20 years ago, how can we know when “the rain started to beat us?” And how to get dry? It is the jolt of the past. It is the same thing that led some of us to forget that our wealth made the British crown a marvel. The marvel was our forebears who the British cudgelled to death. In the queen, we hailed our tyrants. Like the character, also in The Tempest, who says, “How fine my master is.”
It is because of our lack of history that we ask people what they want to do instead what they have done as election guide. Rather than resume, we stress “presum-e.” Presumption must not derive from assumptions but from facts. Contempt for facts is driving PDP into factions. Few recall that while history is repeating itself in PDP, it is denying another history. The New PDP arose in a similar storm that reinforced APC. What we have is an N-PDP without a split, a faction without dismemberment.
As the campaign starts, we should embrace history. Not to follow those revisionists who exposed a hypocrite yesterday but have now espoused him and banded together only because they hail from the same tent. It is about resume first before “presum-e.”
NB: Sam Omatseye is a respected columnist with The Nation Newspaper