The Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has said that removing history from school curriculums cannot erase the memories of the Biafran War.
Biafran War, also known as the Nigerian Civil War, was a civil war fought between Nigeria and the Republic of Biafra, a secessionist state. On behalf of Biafra, the leader of the secessionist state, Lt. Col. Chukwuemeka Ojukwu had declared its (Biafra) independence from Nigeria, led by Gen. Yakubu Gowon in 1967. The war ended on January 15, 1970, with two to three million people reportedly killed.
Nigerian government removed history studies from primary and secondary schools’ curriculums from the 2009/2010 academic session, probably because of the clamour for the restoration of the Republic of Biafra on account of perceived marginalisation in the South-East and South-South regions, by some youths.
In 2019, the government however ordered the reintroduction of the subject, although many schools do not have history teachers.
However, speaking on Sunday at the 24th edition of the Lagos Book and Arts Festival organised by Book Kraft, Soyinka said that memories of the Biafran agitation can never be wiped away from the people.
Soyinka, who spoke on the role of memory in keeping historical experiences, however, warned that at the same time, we must not become prisoners of that collective memory.
TheCable quoted the Noble laureate to have said, “Collective memory is the key because it is that memory which is related to the mechanisms of relating reality to whatever narrative is given to us. It is far more important and it is more dangerous because you can get trapped in it because it is collected as a community activity and some of that I think is happening to us here in Nigeria.
“I’m referring of course to Biafra. The collective memory there is very strong, even before the war, I warned that this collective memory might remain to plague efforts at nation being and that therefore, everything should be done to avoid that war.
“When I use expressions like, Biafra can never be defeated, can never be wiped away, people thought I was talking about just the battlefield.
“I was talking about, a notion, a passion which enters the collective memory in active life not just as a past narrative. this is what I was warning against. And we’re seeing it today.
“Governments sometimes think that by undertaking the criminal act of removing history from schools, something which I never believed could ever happen to us. The government actually stopped the teaching of history in schools.
“So naive, so stupid as not to recognise that there is something called memory, collective memory, active memory in the present.
“If the purpose was to obliterate the war or memories of the war, what about events that led up to the war? What about the position, the narrative of existence in relation to the outer world? How do you obliterate for heaven’s sake?
“Yet people sat down and went about their business when they removed history from the curriculum.
“That’s what I mean by saying that we must always adjudicate the present by history, by the collective memory.
“At the same time, however, we must take care not to become prisoners of that collective memory. That member must be able to use our collective memory in a progressive, productive, creative, and advanced way.”