Time to Sex Up Nigerian History

“I Thought Herbert Macaulay was a White American”

I was literally heartbroken when not too long ago, a Nigerian acquaintance of mine (born and raised in Nigeria) told me that she thought Herbert Macaulay was a white American. She could recite (in chronological order) most of the post World War 2 American Presidents, but she had no idea that Herbert Macaulay was a Nigerian. She was shocked when I told her that Macaulay was to Nigeria, what George Washington was to the United States of America.

How could a Nigerian born and raised in her own country be so unaware of her country’s past?  I soon discovered that she was not (as I hoped) a lone island of historical blindness. When I posted some video clips of Nigeria’s former leaders, Nigerian viewers were stunned by the precise articulation and fluent oratory of men like Balewa and Azikiwe. They seemed totally unaware that Nigeria could actually produce leaders who spoke “Queen’s English” and who sounded intelligent. It occurred to me that probably less than 10% of Nigerians could recognise the voices of Nigeria’s early leaders such as Awolowo or the Sardauna.


Why do so many Nigerians know so little about their own country’s history? The blame…actually….I don’t think “blame” is the right word here, but the federal government must take much RESPONSIBILITY for deliberately imposing a ”history blackout” on Nigeria’s younger generation.  Nigerian history is not intensively taught in schools largely because after the civil war, the federal government tried to brush the country’s past under the carpet in order to foster reconciliation. It did not want students to know that the country’s early history was rife with ethnic violence, military coups and people who murdered their political opponents in the middle of the night or during rush hour traffic. Teaching that to young people would be an excellent way to raise a new generation of angry embittered racists.

Is the government ENTIRELY to blame though? The absence of a library culture, and Nigerians’ quest for ‘professional’ academic paths such as medicine, engineering, law and accountancy, has naturally increased the alienation of history.


Are “we” (the writers) also to blame?  Reading historical narratives is not the same suspense filled experience of reading a murder-mystery or suspend belief fantasy of a Harry Potter novel.  We writers must present Nigerian history as something more than a mechanical rendering of dates and facts. Chimamanda’s Half of a Yellow Sun (although technically a fiction work) has historical credibility because she weaved real life historical figures like Gowon and Ojukwu into the fabric of a fiction novel. In essence she was “teaching” Nigerian history to her readers in a surreptitious manner.


Dry, ponderous academic style renditions of Nigerian history will not do.  In my writing I have tried to dramatise the historic events I write about, and bring the characters to life, so as to capture the reader’s imagination and momentarily suspend the reader’s belief that what they are reading is in fact….fact! In the popular vernacular of the Iraq war, we must “sex up” Nigerian history.  To interest readers in Nigerian history, we must turn our national characters into “stars”. That is the challenge for me and other writers….



10 responses

  1. Ekuson Debango | Reply

    About Herbert Macaulay see also:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Macaulay.Saro from cradle to grave.If he had his way, native Nigerians would have ended up like native Liberians did in the hands of the socalled Americo-Liberians who belong neither here nor there.Come to think of it Marcus Garvey’s “back-to-Africa” movement would have been detrimental to native Africans. Actually a group of freed Americans slaves had wanted to set up a settlement in Nigeria but this was thanksfully stopped by the British. No way Hose!!

    1. Ekuson, could you please clarify the Americo-Liberian comparison? I’m not sure I follow…

      1. Ekuson Dbango | Reply

        I was just alluding to the fact that when the American freed slaves were resettled in Liberia about 1847, they set up a system that totally excluded those who were already there from benefiting from education and all what not. This is not much talked about. This invidious sytem of discrimination and exclusion survived for well over 100 years until Samuel Doe struck. Doe’s coup was indeed to correct the seeming imbalance inherent in the system:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People%27s_Redemption_Council. If you look back at some of Doe’s political enemies, with the exception of General Thomas Quiwonkpa:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Quiwonkpa, most were mostly Americo-Liberians or outright African Americans(like Charles Taylor whose father is actually an African American). The reason for this is to reverse what Doe put in place and to return power in the hands of the Americo-Liberians like the current Liberian president. I for one am an ardent supporter of Doe and his program of redress.The comparison I was trying to make is that had the British not stopped the setting up of a Liberia -style colony in Nigeria, the same thing would have happened to us. It is that simple.I am sure you are aware that African Americans are asking for African citizenship after many years of denying any connection to the continent. I think it is for material gains now that the Chinese are present on the continent in record numbers:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoJoo4ksro0 . I once had a conversation with an American American author who told me that he thouhgt African American marines should invade and take over the oil fields in Africa. No matter where our convsersation veered, this man came back to the necessity to take over the oil field. I finally told him that nothing prvented him from trying such a misdaventure.NOTE: MY SCREEN IS NOT PRPERLY ALIGNED. I DON’T KNOW HOEW THIS WILL COME OUT AFTER I CLICK THE “POST COMMENT” BUTTON.

  2. yeah i guess it’s time our government really looked into this. history as a subject has completely been deleted from the secondary school scheme! it’s unbelievable. even in universities u ‘re not encouraged to study the course and you now find it so difficult to find ppl studying history. this is really pathetic ‘cos it’s just the same as we loosing our values if coming generation can’t recount or know of heroes or things that happenned long ago b/4 they were born.

    1. Great point Joy. Especially when you recall that the vast majority of Nigeria’s population is under 25 years old. A new generation is growing up without any knowledge of its past.

  3. Kayodeyemi GreatBilal | Reply

    I have a friend who teaches Geography and History in a British school here in Lagos(imagine that!), and the History syllabus is filled with British histories that she has teach the children, our children, Nigerian children, not English children O!

    1. …and the irony is that African studies/history courses in Europe are being taught by European professors to European students. Not many African students enrol on such courses!

  4. excellent post. i hope you don’t mind if i take inspiration from this to write about the same topic. i will certainly link back to your blog and credit you.

    1. Max Siollun | Reply

      I see you have a similar interest in Nigerian history Damilola. Nice website you have. Please do credit me for any material you use from my site. This site is protected by copyright, so I don’t want to get into copyright fights with one of my own readers! ;-)

      1. i certainly will. thank you

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