No nation is ever great without a sense of the history from which its sense of purpose springs. Purpose, essentially, is the reason any entity exists at all. Even on an individual level, purpose is what motivates us and makes life worth living and enduring all its tribulations. From small businesses to large corporations to serious government entities, keen attention is paid to history in order to guide their steps, strategies, and decisions. This seems to be common sense; I would go as far as saying it is almost a universal truth. In our Nigerian parlance, Igbo people would say, “Onye anahu ebe nmiri nolu maba ya, amahu ebe ona eje,” translated to “Knowledge of history guides you in your journey to your life’s destination”. In Yoruba land, they say “Odo to ba gbagbe orison, gbigbe ni yo gbe,” literally translated to, “A river which forgets its source would dry.” If you do not know where you are coming from, you are bound to perish. Two of my favorite takes on history come from the Roman historian Livy and Karl Marx. Livy wrote, “The study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind; for in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see; and in that record you can find yourself and your county both examples and warnings; fine things to take as models, base things rotten through and through, to avoid.” Marx wrote, “History is nothing but the activity of men pursuing their purposes.”
This begs the question, why then does Nigeria and on a grander scale, the majority of Sub-Saharan African countries shun their own history? Our history is precluded in our educational systems and in our documents of governance. I used to think corruption is our bane, but of what nuisance is corruption without a backdrop of which it is injurious? Do we have a purpose or social contract that is enshrined in our practices guiding our country? No wonder we make the same mistakes and same decisions every time and mortgage the lives of our future generations with fruitless debts owed to foreign countries and entities. A cursory study or observation of our relationship with the rest of the world would reveal a relationship that was never on an equal plane, rather a relationship where we are subservient. All I see are people that are perambulating over and over expecting a different outcome. We have become the dumping ground of the world squarely because we have decided not to learn about ourselves, thus repeating perennially the same missteps. For example, Africans, and especially Nigerians, are quick to run to the IMF and World Bank at any slight reason to do so. However if we had studied the history of the IMF and World Bank, we should have deduced that these entities have never helped any country into success. In fact, their prescriptions have been ruinous to anyone indebted to them. One survey says all the third world countries that have done business with the IMF and World Bank have been worse-off since that relationship, yet our leaders bob and genuflect at the sight of these organizations. Stupid, ain’t it?
On the matter of jurisprudence and system of governance, if you take a look at the majority of Sub-Saharan African countries’ governing contracts with their people, they are over 90% duplicated from either the United States (mostly) or France. We also facsimiled the name: Constitution. So mindless is our imitation that we forget that the word constitution is just a word, and that the US just picked that word to name their governing principles. We could have named our governing documents different names, right? I digress. My point here is we copied these governing documents but failed to see the historical perspectives that culminated in those governing documents. So what we have is a bunch of nicely sounding letters and words without their essential counterpart—their spirit. For example, the clause of freedom of expression did not just find its way into the United States Constitution. The drafter of that constitution took history in England from where they came, and where the word of King was law and life, into consideration and decided they did not want a country as such; they wanted a country where one could express himself, thus history guided them in arriving at that clause. Same is attributed to the clause of freedom of and from religion. It was later woven into their culture that these clauses are revered and cannot be easily disrespected or trampled upon. Can it be said that we in Africa, especially Nigeria, have imbibed these clauses though we have copied the text? We have yet to dig into our history in order to give spirit to those letters and words, and the result is the mind-numbing human rights abuses that are the norm and even legislated in our laws.
Though our various indigenous ethnic wisdoms emphasize the importance of history, we have failed to harmonize the beautiful clauses we copied with our history cultural perspectives, and take from it what is advantageous and dispensing with the not so useful ones. No wonder we are directionless, lost, and unfruitful in much of what we do. We have refused to know ourselves, learn about ourselves and with that we have no knowledge and understanding to come up with any purpose. All we have been doing is looking outside for solutions when answers are right there inside us.
I hope we get back to our history in order to wake up from our slumber.
– From Eleniyan’s Ponderment
Eleniyan is a legal practitioner in Washington DC metropolitan.
Photo Credit: Presidents’ Art – Artist Wale Ajayi via Dailymail.com