Greetings. Are you aware that your topic, “How Nigeria broke the back of Apartheid”, may not make sense to a Nigerian educated, a freshly graduated university graduate, or part of the crop of Nigerian undergraduates? What apartheid did to the black majority in South Africa, and Nigeria’s role in bringing apartheid to an end is largely unknown to our young ones of today. WHY? The largest black nation on earth decided to remove HISTORY (including, Nigeria’s, Africa’s and the black race’s history from school curricula. Our young ones are proceeding into the future without that special wisdom which arises from a good sense of our own and other people’s history”. (…Martin Okpaleke)
The topic mentioned by Mr. Okpaleke appeared on this page some three weeks ago, but the gentleman’s comment remains a genuine concern to many people in all walks of life. Mr. Okpaleke is a journalist, though he might have drifted to another career in these days of “change”. At least he seems to have genuine concerns about the lack of apprehension for education in our school curricula. So many other people who should be equally concerned appear not to care about the core value of education any more, as long as their little children could speak the English language after a fashion, that is. Many of them cannot even spell the words they lisp—but that is another story.
What we are concerned with here is history, as it should be taught in Nigerian schools. It used to be one of the “blue-ribbon” subjects. In the primary school, pupils learnt about the local history of their people and their immediate surroundings, and then of Nigeria as a whole. So, in Lagos, we learnt about Oba Ado and his children, and how they helped to shape the course of the development of their era to the present age. If you were in Benin, you learnt about the Ogiso and the Ile-Ife connection, the emergence of the Itshekiri and the Opobo. Further East, you were taught about the confrontations of the various groups who were called “tribes”, a derogatory form of description promoted by the colonialists, and from which we are yet to extricate our identities.
Internecine conflicts were, of course, the motivating force of development, next to trade. It was the principal order among the Yoruba to whom warfare seemed to be a glorious way of life. It was even more widespread in the North where religious conflicts were the order of the day in the expeditions conducted to expand Islam.
By the time the primary school pupils emerged into secondary schools they would have gone through the colonization period. They would have heard about Jaja of Opobo, Nana of the Itsekiris, Othman dan Fodio and Kosoko of Lagos. After that would come the History of the British Empire which embodied the United States of America, the Dutch East African Company, and then the voyages of Magellan, Columbus and travels of Marco Polo, by which time you had covered the world and ready to leave for tertiary education.
Phew! I never realized I learnt all that at school, but now that I recollect it all, I cannot over-assess the value of the content of history in my education and my entire life. This is more important since I wound up as a media animal, I have found every bit of history that I learnt a distinct advantage to the practice of my profession. But even beyond all that, it has made me more of a Nigerian, more of a citizen of the world who is aware of his being.
However, we have even been involved in destroying the land-marks history that we inherited in this part of the country—that is, Lagos. There is very little one can do now, after the wanton destruction of the old Supreme Court in Tinubu Square, but one might at least try to protect and preserve the bits and pieces that are left. The remembrance of the Supreme Court in its majestic setting on the roundabout that is now dominated by a fountain that has no significance history or ordinary life. The Court had a full bust of Queen Victoria in the foyer and prestigious winding stairs to the first floor. It was customary to have music, classical music, played by the band of the Nigeria Police Force during the cool periods of the dry season. That attracted quite a crowd in those days, and you didn’t have to know too much about Beethoven to fit in. It all had so much colour and so much history.
The announcement that Lagos State government is going to celebrate its 50th anniversary revived the thoughts of such historical aspects of our lives in me. One sincerely hopes they have a large slice of the programme apportioned to the history of the State. It is rich and unique. As one of the old Lagos musicians declared some 75 years ago, “Ko s’ibi t’a le fi Eko we.” His name was Tunde King, and he was the forerunner of a magnificent trail of Juju players which included Akanbi “Ege” Wright, Tunde Nightingale, Picolo Peters, Julius Araba and several others who came from within the country to the coastal pace-setting city of Lagos. The organizers of the anniversary must be sure to feature the arts in the historical development of Lagos with, of course, music as the centre.
The Juju musicians inspired the brass bands, also of the 40s, which had the prosperous Calabar as their origin. Like the Juju bands, they too played along the streets but eventually settled down at a venue, usually the compound of the celebrant who had hired them. They were the forerunners of the highlife bands, which were spearheaded by Bobby Benson of “Caban Bamboo” fame. Behind him and around him grew maestros like Victor Olaiya, Eliaza Arinze, Bala Miller, Zeal Onyia, all of whom became bandleaders in their own right.
But there were other Lagos, or Yoruba sounds making their mark in Logos in the early 40s. The Apala genre, though purely a sound from Oyo, found its roots of popularity in Lagos among the meat-sellers at the initial stage, but later spread through the fun-loving citizens across the island. Of course the Dundun and Sekera were already established as the traditional music of the Yoruba elements who owned the city.
Now, those are the sounds. Now consider the sights. One may start with the most stupendous of all, the Atlantic Ocean. It kisses and pounds the Southern end of the island in a spectacular fashion which leaves first-time visitors breathless. The beach, which extends for miles and bears a variety of names from place to place, has also undergone series of development down the years. The development has been inhibited by the incursion of the sea which, in the past 70 year, or so, has moved in for quite a distance into the land. Victoria Island is what the land here is known as, and it has become a highly priced area, including the diplomatic residences and four-star hotels.
To the North is the Lagos Island, the central part of the municipality, containing the churches, the mosques, the colleges and schools, the commercial houses and residential areas. It used to have a race course, in the days when politics still kept a respectful distance from the genteel elements of the social life. The race course has been diverted to other services. But Lagos boasts of three stadiums of international standard and other sporting venues since, like in many other endeavours, every step of development was taken in Lagos. For instance, another important feature, the municipal bridges dozens of which can now be seen all over the country, was first constructed in Lagos to ease the problems of the traffic which, sad to say, still remain as the dilemma of a large city.
Let us then consider the people who made history in old Lagos, We have to go back to the 18th Century, in the days of King Kosoko who, like Jaja of Opobo and Overame of Benin, actually went into battle with the white colonialists who eventually took over the country. King Kosoko epitomised the dignity of the royalty which was invested in his birthright, and fought the British forces who attacked Lagos to a standstill. Herbert Macaulay, who was a civil engineer, became the father of Nigerian politics when he stood up for the rights of Lagos chiefs all the way to the Privy Council in London, and then later founded the Nigerian National Democratic Party which became the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroun. His co-founder of the NCNC was Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Onitsha man who had spent part of his youth in Lagos and later became the first President of Nigeria. There were, of course, many other citizens who left an imprint on the history of this nation, through their activities in Lagos, and several came from other parts of the country. That aspect, apart from any other, makes Lagos unique.
We have to remember that the celebrations are for the creation of Lagos State, which includes Badagry, Ikeja, Ikorodu and Epe. Each has its history its peculiar contribution to the State. To gather all the various facets of what a celebration for the entire State should be appears a phenomenal task which we are sure the men appointed will perform admirably. It would be, of course, through a number of days involving various activities. We wait for the shows, and lectures, and possibly picnics and excursions. But, above all, one hopes that the history of Lagos will not fail to be highlighted and, what is more, this may lead to an appreciation of our history even beyond Lagos State. The celebrations would have conferred an undying blessing on the whole nation, if it would lead to the revival the teaching of our history all over the nation.