School Curriculum: Retrieving History from the Trashcan of Ugly Decisions

Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, on 13 May 2021 lampooned the removal of History as a subject from the country’s educational curriculum.

The governor known for his controversial stance on issues spoke in Makurdi at “Media Week and Communications Day 2021”. He threatened that the Benue State government would set up laws to restore the subject to ensure it is taught in Benue schools if the Federal Government did not do the needful.

The programme which was organised by the Directorate of Social Communications, Catholic Diocese of Makurdi, saw the governor label the removal as ignoble. In his words, “Removing the subject History from the country’s school curriculum was an evil agenda to prevent the young generation from knowing their past.

“Even if Nigeria won’t restore the study of history to the school curriculum, we in Benue will initiate a legislation to make history a compulsory subject in schools in the state.

“Our children need to know how their forefathers lived on this land hundreds of years ago. Our children need to know what took place at Ushongo Hills in 1804 and why this land and our people were not conquered till this day.”

While the place of history is paramount, it is important to point out that Governor Samuel Ortom is using this to drive a particular point home seeing that the event of 1804 at Ushongo Hills was when the forces of the 1804 Islamic Jihad, led by Uthman Dan Fodio, were defeated at the Ushongo hills in Tiv land.

Tivs have always held on to this historical event as a defence against the belief that Fulani herdsmen founded Tiv land. These were the claims by the leadership of the Fulani Cattle Breeders Association, Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, in 2017. The claim at the time met, with a rebuttal from the Mdzough U Tiv (MUT), the apex social-economic and political union of the Tiv Nation in Benue State the same year. According to a statement from the group:

“The assertion by the group that the Fulanis were the original inhabitants of the Benue valley is ridiculous, preposterous, and a complete falsehood. There is neither historical, archaeological, nor anthropological evidence to indicate that the Fulanis ever inhabited the Benue Valley at any time before the advent of the Tiv people.

“What is a veritable and verifiable historical fact is that the forces of the 1804 Islamic Jihad, led by Uthman Dan Fodio, were defeated at the Ushongo hills in Tiv land. That explains why Islam could not be imposed on the Tiv people, nor Emirs appointed to rule Tiv land.

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“For the avoidance of doubt, the Fulanis’ claim of having settled in the Benue Valley before the Tiv is a lie, because their attempt to change the narrative at this belated time confirms our suspicion that their interest in the Benue Valley is more than the grass they seek for their cattle.

“It is a devious strategy to secure illegal rights to Tiv ancestral lands, in order to exploit the political and religious opportunities that come with such rights. We challenge the Fulani to tell the world where and when the Tiv displaced them in order to settle in the Benue Valley.”

Meanwhile, others who are not versed in history have started berating the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), unenlightened by the fact that it was really during Obasanjo’s tenure that History was removed from the educational curriculum.

The Federal Government officially expunged history from its basic school curriculum in 2007 and relegated it as an elective, instead of a core subject at the senior secondary level, thus widening a generational gap in students’ mental development.

The move was predated as far back as the 1969 National Curriculum Conference, which resulted in the adoption of a National Policy on Education, and subsequent adoption of a 6-3-3-4 system of education. Subsequent years followed with a decline in the teaching of history thereby resulting in the final removal in 2009 and 2010.

History is a very enlightening subject! Those who took the subject those days in 2003/2004 learnt about the likes of Mai Idris Alooma, Mai Ali Ghaji of the Kanem-Bornu Empire, Oba Esigie, Oba Ewuare of the Benin Empire, Fante, Ashanti, Nana Prempeh and the Golden Stool!!

Administrators of the education system when this subject was removed need to clearly state their reasons. What was the justification in the first place? Some of the conjectures around the removal include the fact that people started criticising the subject with the excuse that knowledge acquisition should be expended on technological advancement the way the US, China, Germany, and the rest of the world had their focus.

It is equally perceived that Obasanjo removed history from the country’s educational curriculum on the excuse that it will always refresh old wounds and impede national unity.

However, in the words of Chinua Achebe, “a man who does not know where the rain began to beat him cannot say where and when his body dried up”. To put it more succinctly, when children do not know their history, how will they know their heroes and their future trajectory?

History is paramount for both self and communal awareness. It is essential as a resource and resort for cultural information. In terms of economic development, historical tourism, where tourists travel to explore the history and heritage of a place, is an important source of revenue for many countries.

Even so, after several years, the Buhari-led administration first gave hints in May 2016 that it was making efforts in the restoration of history to the basic and secondary school curriculum.

Education Minister, Adamu Adamu, speaking on this hinted thus, “Somebody, who doesn’t know his history is even worse than dead. So, this government is going to bring back history.

“It would even be better if we study local history first. You have to know who you are before you can be anything in this world … I believe this government is going to return history to the curriculum.”

In June 2019, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Education, Mr. Sonny Echono, said that the Federal Government directed all basic and secondary schools across the country to immediately implement the teaching of history as a separate subject beginning from the 2020/2021 session. But this has met with little or no compliance.

History, nonetheless, will always repeat itself when people fail to learn from it. This is why many blame Nigeria’s present challenges on the removal of the subject because when a group does not know where it is coming from, agreeing on right path for the future becomes an uphill task.

Categories: Education, Features