By Anote Ajeluorou
Nigeria has become a country largely without a sense of history. This has been compounded by the very fact that history is no longer fit subject for young Nigerians to learn in schools to stimulate their intellect in knowing or discovering who they are and where they are coming from, so says Nigeria government. And as legendary Chinua Achebe succinctly puts it, ‘a people who do not know where the rain started beating them will not know where it stopped beating them’. The result is that of a country fast becoming ahistoric, with the attendant inability to chart a proper path towards the sun, like plants yearning for sunlight to grow into fruitfulness.
But a new book modelled after the powerpoint module, 500 Hundred Remarkable Events in Nigeria’s History 1960 – 2010: A Chronicle (Janiobooks Ltd, Lagos; 2012) and written by Cyprian Enwefah will serve as a quick reference material to fill in the missing gaps so visible in Nigeria’s historical education both among the old and the young. Enwefah has seemingly drawn his experience from the fast-growing tragedy of a nation that has lost its sense of history to provide in powerpoint format landmark events in Nigeria’s history. He is also aware that Nigerians have not only become ahistorical, but that they are averse to reading large doses of materials hence his inescapable anecdotal approach – snippets of information and facts with dates but without the usual baggage of explanations and analyses.
This makes his approach very special and in a class of its own. In just six pages, he provides ‘A Brief History of Nigeria’ so that the young or unfamiliar reader gets a sense of what happened before independence and sums up the historical trajectory into the future. Enwefah is a master of the succinct, who has compressed vast historical materials into brief notes for easy assimilation. He also gives a brief profile of Nigeria’s principal political/military actors that have impacted on the life of the country. This background information prepares the reader for what he encounters about the particular leader and what he/she does. There are also rare photographs too, to titillate the reader; photographs of leaders to jog the memory into wakefulness.
Apart from the landmark events he has so briefly knocked together for breezy understanding and assimilation, Enwefah also provides other very useful and rare materials that even informed history students may only have heard or read about but not in full detail: the broadcasts all the leaders who have ruled Nigeria ever made! This is rare; this is vintage dossier, archival material ever unearthed; archival materials that Nigeria does not have a good record of keeping except you went outside its shores. But Enwefah has treated his readers to these rare documents.
So from October 1, 1960, Enwefah starts narrating Nigeria’s historical Odesey, with the Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa standing alongside Queen Elizabeth’s representative, Princess Alexandra of Kent as the Union Jack is lowered forever and Nigeria’s flag is hoisted up at Tafawa Balewa Square at Onikan, Lagos. Balewa’s acceptance speech is reproduced. On hindsight, one cannot escape the irony laced in the Balewa’s proclamation, ‘But now, we have acquired our rightful status, and I feel sure that history will show that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace: it has been thorough, and Nigeria now stands well-built upon firm foundations’.
In less than two years, that ‘firm foundation’ began to witness signs of weakness. By the sixth year, Balewa had been killed in the first military coup to usher in the bloodiest civil war Africa ever saw. Over 50 years on that ‘firm foundation’ is still rickety and in dire need of being recast, for a new Nigeria to emerge from the ashes of that bloody conflict and the contradictions it further gave birth to.
Also reproduced is Gen. Thomas Aguyi-Ironsi’s now infamous unitary system of government speech that ultimately led to his death, when he sought vainly to pull the country from the brink the five infamous Majors had precipitated the country into by staging a coup. LT. Col. Yakubu Gowon takes over the saddle of leadership of a new nation floundering on uncertain waters, thus pitting him against his nemesis, LT. Col. Chukwuemeka Ojukwu. Particularly rare among the speeches reproduced in this concise book is Ojukwu’s revolutionary speech to the people of Biafra six months before the war ended. Indeed, it’s a speech every Nigerian in danger of being thrust in leadership position would do well to study and take a cue, as Ojukwu problematizes the situation of the black man, which has changed very little since 1969 when he famously made it to galvanise Nd’Igbo to their historic destiny as a leading race amongst men.
Ojukwu’s 38-paged teatise or ideologue that laid the ground-norm for the revolutionary struggle of Biafra is vintage African true nationalism. Indeed it’s a speech every young Nigerian should study, as it provides a manual for pushing the country beyond the boundary of ineptitude, corruption, tribal cleavages and other obnoxious, self-serving interests that hold the country hostage from moving forward. Ojukwu saw well ahead of his time. Nigerian leaders should read the speech and seek out the technology a war-weary, war-pressed Biafrans produced to defend themselves against the formidable foe that Nigeria was. Indeed, questions should be asked: what happened to the technology Biafrans produced while the war lasted for 30 long months? Why did Nigeria allow the technology produced in Biafra to go to waste after the war? Why was the technology not harnessed as part of Gowon’s reintegration, rehabilitating and reconstructing mantra?
Suffice to say that Nigeria’s inability to harness the local technology Biafra produced during the war has been at the root of the country’s industrial backwardness!
Gowon’s tame ‘no victor, no vanquish’ speech is also reproduced for the reader’s benefit. So, too, are other speeches and major events, culminating in President Goodluck Jonathan’s speech on Nigeria’s 50th independence anniversary in 2010.
Indeed, Enwefah’s 500 Hundred Remarkable Events in Nigeria’s History 1960 – 2010: A Chronicle is a delightful book to read for its sheer archival resource materials that can be glimpsed at a glance. Everyone interested in Nigeria’s history will find this book delightful companion and a treasure trove.