Jackson Okpale, a Nigerian trained architect, and pastor, is a keen watcher of global events and likes writing books, particularly on history.
One of his books entitled ‘In Memory of Nigeria: Where the Past is Forgotten’, which captures Nigeria’s decades of socio-economic issues, is to be presented to the public in Abuja this week.
In this interview, Okpale, married to a lawyer, Daisy, talks about his interest in history books and why he is passionate about reviving history in Nigeria’s school system.
By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor
It is curious that a trained architect like you is showing more interest in history. What is the motivation?
Well, I want to say that history tells us many things-from archaeology to science and technology, politics and development and helps us to learn from the mistakes, failure or success of the past and enables one to plan better and chart new paths to success.
I can say that history helps leaders to learn from common errors and escape defeats if they are adaptable and are able to read, understand and adjust accordingly to facts gleaned from history. That is why I have always been reading history books and now writing my own history books.
You asked me about my motivation. And the simple answer is that I want to leave a trail for people to tap from and become better, well informed and knowledge-driven citizens. I want to leave vital information at the domain of the public for them to tap from and become well informed people, who will not repeat costly and avoidable mistakes that can consume them or the nation.
Does this explain why you are releasing a new book on Nigeria’s chequered history this week?
Yes. It is basically to put the record straight and give Nigerians, especially the millennial, who were not born when most of the issues discussed in the book, took place. Of course, it is clear to everyone in the country that it is very difficult to find an updated history of Nigeria. It is equally very disturbing that most of our leaders have not learned from history, given the way they carry on in governance. This is the reason we are where we are.
Many times I asked the simple question: Why are we in the sordid situation in which most Nigerians have found themselves? How did we sojourn to this deplorable state in virtually all aspects of our national life? Each time, I had to go back in time.
The truth is that Nigerians are not well informed; and this bothers me a lot. Nigerian historians are not doing justice in telling us where we are coming from and where we are going. As an architect, I know that a building cannot stand without a solid foundation. It is the part of the building that you cannot see, which is like history. You cannot see history but you also know that Nigeria is built on the past foundation and history.
We always talk about the future. But there cannot be a bright future without the past. So, I am building on the past. This is what took me back. Also, my father used to keep records from the 1950s to the 90s when he died. His records were not published. It is in taking those records, which have a lot to do with Nigeria that I decided to write history books and give Nigerians what to read and think about.
My interest was spurred by the fact that what my father recorded could not be found in any newspaper or history books. He was a police officer who served in the northern and southern parts of the country. He used to have records of birth and deaths in my village. Interestingly, people used to come in large numbers to collect those information from my father and I used to wonder what they were doing with such materials until I realised they were for good causes.
Why did you choose the title ‘In Memory of Nigeria’?
A lot of people have been asking that we should go back to the past, a period we know little or nothing about. Is that not an irony? Those agitating for Biafra say let’s go back to 1967, claiming it is better. The Afenifere suggests that we should return to the 1963 Constitution, which they consider better than what obtains today while some others from the Northern part of Nigeria advocate a return to the pre-amalgamation period and many other viewpoints. So, I decided to capture all these, and you can’t do this without other references. I had to go back to the beginning.
People are agitating and saying the Nigeria today is not what they have been praying for or looking forward to. In other words, ‘In Memory of Nigeria: Where the Past is Forgotten’ simply tries to link the past to the present and help us to better understand the story of Nigeria.
What do you think makes your book different from other history books on Nigeria?
What we have now is up to date. It is also complete. The other history books you can find on Nigeria are fragmented. You find works on history of northern Nigeria or on the caliphate, history of Benin, of Hausa states, Lagos, and so on. Mine is a collation of these fragmented stories. This is up to date because it stops on October 6 2018. So, whatever happened in Nigeria up to that point is captured in this book.
What do you consider most important thing Nigerians are likely to learn from this book?
Nigerians should know their history; understand where they are coming from and what happened before they were born. They should be able to know and predict where we will be tomorrow. We should also be able to know the past leaders who helped to bring us to where we are, whether good or bad. History has been hidden from Nigerians.
We don’t know history. Former military head of state, Ibrahim Babangida, once said “As a people, we need a proper study and understanding of our history in order to correct the warped perception of our past so as to minimise the dangers of badly skewed histories of our democratic experience in governance and to generate mutual confidence and uphold the tenets of living together as one people.”
I am convinced that if you don’t tell your history, your enemies will distort your history. And, if you don’t tell your history, others will misrepresent your history. And what is written is what people will use to judge the future.