Who Is Afraid of the Past?

Disclaimer: This is not a legal article; it is a product of my recent reflections, continue reading at your own risk.

I have a fascination for museums. I must admit I haven’t visited many in Nigeria. I usually visit important historical sites and museums in any country I visit. This helps me to appreciate the history and maybe also serve in understanding the people. I believe that museums and historical sites are sacrosanct to the narrative of any country.

Me at Robben IslandRobben Island Cape Town 2013

IMG_20150327_161723 At the South African Jewish Museum in Cape Town 2015

Traditionally, our forefathers had the culture of oral tradition. Family history, exploits of ancestors gone past, culture and many other things that are central to such families and communities are passed down by the elders to the younger generation. I remember when I was younger; I asked my parents that I wanted to learn the ‘oriki’*of my father’s family, they looked at me like I was going crazy but I digress!

I am not an expert, but I think preservation of history and culture is very important and would continue to be an important part of the future of the human race. I was a very curious child, forever asking questions, so many people were tired of me and I earned the nickname ‘Laide Oro po’*. I would ask questions about any and everything. I grew up around a lot of books and I read many serious books from my father’s mini library at that time. Many of those books I did not understand completely until I read them again as an adult (imagine my twelve-year-old self reading original Hamlet).

I do not remember exactly when I came across the story of the Nigerian Civil war. I think it was from reading Ken Saro Wiwa’s On a Darkling Plain. I started asking my parent and every adult around me questions about the civil war. Everyone I spoke to only had a personal perspective to the civil war. My mother spoke about her time in Ile Ife when the easterners left and when they came back after the war, my father spoke about the experiences of his elder brother who was in the Nigerian Army and fought on the federal side.

In the University, I found myself in conversation with a group of friends about the civil war and I realized that there is still so much bitterness simmering below the surface, even among the so-called younger generation.

I think many of us know of the important events in the history of our country through the tinted, coloured or even biased lenses of our parents or the elders around us when we were growing up. This makes it difficult for us to make up our mind about important issues and leads to us harbouring a lot of misconceptions about the true nature of the events.

I wonder what the official (and perhaps unbiased) position of the Nigerian government on the Civil War and similar events that defined Nigeria as we know it today is. People that have visited Rwanda have lauded the government on how they have taken the genocide and have woven it into their narrative, institutionalized it and even converted it into a revenue generation opportunity. Most countries that have passed through very difficult times have transformed their past and pain into hope for the future, educating the youth so that the same mistakes are not repeated.

I remember the hue and cry over the Half of a yellow sun movie. The regulatory agency deemed some of the events relating to the Civil War portrayed in the movie as inaccurate and the release was delayed until a significant part of it was redone. My question when that whole drama was being played out was what is the Nigerian government official position on the civil war?

All the books I have read on this matter have been very personal and sometimes biased narratives. Name it, Wiwa’s On a Darkling Plain, Why we Struck by Major Ademulegun chronicling the events leading up to the war, and Prof Achebe’s There Was A Country. These three are the only books I have read on the subject and obviously their perspectives are vastly different. The literature on the Nigerian Civil War are very sketchy, it almost seems as if there is a conspiracy of silence.

I have checked online for official information relating to the period. I was able to come across the fact that there is indeed a National War Museum in Umuahia. I did not locate a website for this museum; neither did I find any other official government information about the civil war. I think a museum about this aspect of our history should be present in every region of the country. The younger generation needs to understand the authentic events that occurred. This would prevent radicalization by hate radio stations and far from accurate sources.

People say Nigerians have a short memory of hate, that we forget, that we move on, that we take things in stride and live our lives. I think this is time to talk, to teach our children, to write our history the only way we can, to create museums, memorials and anything that will help us to deal with the past.

When we sweep things under the carpet, people who benefit from dividing us will contort the history to their advantage.

The past is not something to be afraid of; it should be embraced, and used as a stepping stone for the future.

We must remember, constructively.

*Oriki- Praise poetry, indigenous to West Africa and very common among the Yoruba.Usually very specific to families and towns.

*Laide Oro Po- Loosely translated ‘Laide too much talk’, my family calls me Laide.

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