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Back You are here: Home News Personal Interview Without a sense of history, we make same mistakes over and over again — Korieh

Without a sense of history, we make same mistakes over and over again — Korieh

Chima Korieh is professor of African History at Marquette University Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the United States of America. He graduated from the University of Nigeria Nsukka with a First Class honors degree in History in 1991. He has a Masters in Education degree from the University of Helsinki in Finland, a Masters of Philosophy degree in History from the University of Bergen, Norway, and a PhD from the University of Toronto. He was a British Academy Fellow at Oxford University in 2008 and the author of over ten books. In this interview with KELECHI DECA, he highlights the importance of history as a tool for national development and bemoans the recent development where History is missing in the school curriculum in Nigeria. Excerpts.

WHAT extent do you describe history has a very important vehicle of development of the people of a nation?
Of course there is an old saying that if you do not know your history, you are a lost nation.  So history is fundamental in terms of understanding a people lives, identity, culture and way of life. The historical perspective is very important for many nations including the so called developed nations. A sense of history is important in terms of giving directions on where people are going to or how they get to organize their lives. In that respect, history is important even if you study medicine, engineering, there is a historical perspective in every discipline, but I think the most important rule is affirming the people's identity and understanding of who they are.
If you look at the present curriculum in the Nigeria education system especially in the secondary schools you will discover that history as a subject is almost extinct. What do you see as the consequences of such policy?
I think that it is a very sad story because one has to look at it in terms of the educational system that we have been operating here even from the colonial period to the present time. Over the recent years there is a lot of emphasis on engineering, medicine or disciplines that would give you vertical skills and competency to live, but in many respects you can't ignore that history is important in understanding or giving background to other aspects of life. So in ignoring history, the curriculum is like leading the country or society as a blind person. It is a very sad story that history is taking such a back burner because it is the fundamental foundation of many developed societies whether in the ancient times or in the modern time. Many sudden core developed countries have continue to emphasize history in their curriculum because they understand it is very important and fundamental in their existence as a people and not just the practical disciplines that would offer you jobs and opportunities but with history it gives a critical perspective which you can apply in every other discipline. You will be a better lawyer or journalist if you have a background in history and it applies to all the humanities and social sciences. History is fundamental to all those discipline.
If you have the opportunity to advice the government on this issue, what would your take be?
I think it will be that there has to be a balanced approach to the education of the individual to be an effective citizen. You can't teach about citizenship and responsibility without teaching about history and the past. I think it is one of the dilemma the country faces today, because we ignore the historical pasts and we tend to make the mistakes of the past because we have no sense of history so we need a balanced curriculum that would develop the intellectual mind of the individual, history and many other humanities and social sciences give that kind of critical perspective. And then you need to also balance that with other skills that will be important in terms of the advance in the technology. But you can't just ignore one and emphasize the other; we do that at the detriment of the society and the individual as a whole.
Recently, there has been a lot of historical revisionism going on. What would you say is responsible for this?
It has to do with that genuine need for people to look at their story as told by other people so that they will be able to bring in their own perspective the way they know it is. I think this is a very important thing because if you look at the Nigerian curriculum even when they are teaching history, there is an attempt to screw the curriculum and the content of the history books to favour certain perspectives and ignore others. I will basically look at the recent history of Nigeria particularly the post civil war period. Many textbooks written by Nigerians really give no attention to the civil war or the Igbo experience in it and I think it is important in terms of presenting a balanced historical perspective of this country; it is part of the past. But I think there is a tendency because the historical curriculum is designed by the government and some individuals who want to portray a certain perspective in the history, they tend to ignore others. And what some of us has done in the Igbo Association and others are doing is to try to write this history to also reflect the experiences of the Igbo people as well as other ignored minorities in the country. That way we can get a balance perspective of the history of this nation.
Let me tell you a very interesting experience that I had recently. I edited a book that is called "The Nigerian Biafra Civil War; genocide and the politics of history of memory''. Now, the University of Calgary Press was supposed to publish this book, obviously it was reviewed by two Nigerians, one of them said the review was very positive while the other said there was no perspective from the northern part of Nigeria and the western part of the country. And my respond to Calgary was it is like telling a publisher or an author that there must be a German perspective on the history of the holocaust. And it is more important to look at the ethnic names of the contributors rather than the content of the book and I had to move the book to another press which published it now. So it gives a lot of perspective into the politics of history and memory and what people want to emphasis and what they want to de-emphasis and those who occupy the position of power detect how history is written and this is why many have said that history is political because it is presented from the perspective of those who write the history and it is left for others to ensure that there is a balance perspective by bringing their own perspectives to challenge sometimes what is the dominant ideology.
How would you describe the history of the Igbo people in Nigeria?
I think the history of the Igbo people like many other ethnic groups in Africa is a very complex one. First is the area of speculations in the history of Igbo in the ancient past, because we do not have a lot of records about developments within the Igbo, but what we know so far from archaeological evidence and linguistic evidence is the etiquette of the Igbo people here in the area they occupy now. But also that the Igbo may have influenced the history of many other parts of sub Sahara Africa through migration, their spreading of the knowledge of agriculture and iron technology which I think to the large extent explains the people and the colonization of the rest of the continent. So in that respect the Igbo have played a very important role in the history of ancient Africa.
In conclusion, what is your take about the ongoing effort to situate the Igbo question in Nigeria?
I think the important thing first of all is to agree that this is an important exercise in terms of trying to really understand who we are in the past, the contemporary situation and how we are going to move ahead in the future. So I believe in this need for intellectuals of Igbo descent to come together to explore many aspects of the Igbo people, their ways of life and history and then possibly come up with some perspective on how we fit into the Nigeria federation and what perhaps will be the perspectives of the Igbo on a true federation and that needs to be articulated. It hasn't been done for Igbo people, we don't have a voice, and we can't pick a piece of paper to say this is the Igbo perspective on the Nigerian equation. And I think this may be a beginning for articulating that in a much more formal way.

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