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Bakassi, our history & future

By Helen Ovbiagele

The word ‘dunce’ was freely used by teachers during my primary school days, when you showed ignorance in any subject, even in what the teacher hasn’t taught you, but which is in your text books, or has appeared in the newspapers ..

At College, it gained some sophistication and ‘dunce’ became ‘blockhead’. Whichever the case, if you had an atom of self-respect, you made sure that you avoided what would earn you that name, otherwise, it could become your middle name. So, you had to be one step ahead of the game, and you read as widely as you could (text books, newspapers, etc) and memorized and crammed details about important people, places and evel1ts, both local and international, into your head. Apart from being booed by the class for failing to provide the right answers, you could get caned in front of the class too, if your non-performance is a habit.

There were no calculators, or, internet search engines, etc. to help get answers, yet, as much as possible, you had the answers at the tips of your fingers, just in case you got asked.

While there’s been a huge relief that corporal punishment and forced learning have been much watered down or even eliminated in our educational system, knowledge of any sort has taken a deep dive. Modern day parents, teachers and their wards, seem perfectly happy to be ignorant about everything; except, of course, things that have to do with making money, sports, reality shows, or having a nice time out there. Many citizens are oblivious of history-making events.

This doesn’t seem to ring true, when more things are happening in all areas of life now than ever before, and the world has become a global village through communication – the GSM, internet, radio, television, satellite cable television, and we have more audience participation. Yes, but our knowledge lacks depth, especially if you’re one of those who like a deep understanding of events.

Maybe it’s because some of us are from the era when History and Geography were taken seriously as an important part of our life, and taught separately as subjects in class. Drawing the map of Nigeria, West Africa, Africa and the world was a regular assignment, and you knew the names of world capitals and heads of state, by the time you completed your secondary school education. These days, I doubt if all students of higher institutions in the country know all our state capitals and the governors, and the history of our country.

When a friend’s undergraduate son strolled into their sitting room as we were discussing a national newspaper’s lead headline, ‘Why we lost Bakassi to Cameroun, by Duke’, and we were wondering whether the matter could surface in future, his father asked him how much he knew about it.

“Ah, dad, one can’t know all these things, now. It’s not part of our learning world. We concentrate on our syllabus – what we need to pass the relevant examinations. Times have changed, sir. Only those doing Journalism should bother with world events. I’ve heard Bakassi mentioned, but I wasn’t curious. Why should I be, dad?” he asked.

“You see the ignorance of our future leaders?” scoffed the dad. “He’s heard of the name, but didn’t feel it was necessary to know about it, even if it’s googling it on the internet. Young people’s lack of curiosity in important matters, never ceases to amaze me. “

“Dad, I’m studying Accounting. This name Bakassi is not important to it, is it?” “But it used to be part of our home state. It’s not that far from Calabar.”

“Used to be part of Cross River State? What happened to it, dad? Okay, okay! Can I use your Blackberry to google it?”

“You may google it, but the account in this paper by an ex-governor on why we lost it to Cameroun, may also help, since it involves efforts made by Nigeria to keep it. Here. Whatever the course you’re taking at the university, you should know the history of our people. You may find yourself a leader some day, who knows?

How would you rule well, if you have no grip of history and geography of the people? Anyway, it isn’t entirely your fault. It’s the educational system. If such an important event took place in our days, our teachers would have made it the topic of the day and discussed it at length

in class. Getting people transferred from one country to another one, is not an every day occurrence.” This is true. Future generations are going to wonder how it happened and why we allowed it, and the efforts we made to retain it. On the internet, I had read that on ’10 September 1884, Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom had signed a Treaty of Protection with the king and chiefs of Akwa Akpa, known to Europeans as Old Calabar.

This enabled the United Kingdom to exercise control over the entire territory around Ca1abar, including Bakassi. However, documents released by the Cameroonians, in parity with that of the British and Germans, clearly places Bakassi under Cameroonian Territory as a consequence of colonial era Anglo-German agreements. Even after Southern Cameroons voted in 1961 to leave Nigeria and became a part of Cameroon, Bakassi remained under Calabar administration in Nigeria until ICJ judgement of 2002.’

All I can remember of the 1961 event is that we got to the classroom one morning and our teacher told us that the map of Nigeria has been altered, and he showed us the deep curve in the south-east to reflect that part of the country, opting to join the Cameroons. Years later, Sardauna province in the north also opted to join the Cameroon.

We were conscious of these alterations to our map then as pupils, because our teachers made it a point to let us know. Later, they were included in our history books. I hope we still have historians in the country who are compiling present-day events, and the government is funding their researches. Foreigners shouldn’t be, like it was in the past, those who are documenting events in our country.

Our descendants have the right to know the country and its past, and how the leaders handled issues of their day.

Everything about Bakassi should be well-documented and included in our history books. Leaders of another generation in Nigeria, may want to re-visit the issue, and successfully bring back the people into this country, who knows? They need to have a clear-cut account of what really happened in the different eras.

Schools should have well-equipped library which pupils should be encouraged to use, and there should be weekly current affairs classes where topical issues are discussed and debated upon, in order to create national awareness in young people. Merely singing the national anthem and reciting the pledge, are not enough for this.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.