MUST READ: LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT 1

The Dog Called Buhari: Where They See War, I See An Opportunity To Return History To Our Classrooms

Dear President Buhari,

It is 2am and I cannot sleep. There is no better time and way to reach you than through the art of letter writing. It is an ancient art facing the threat of extinction, being pushed towards the precipice by its e-cousins who are edged on by man’s technological advancement. But some of us are just too old school to want to allow this ancient art die just like that without giving a fight. Only recently, in a textbook for students of tertiary institutions, I had written on letter writing and why we should not allow it to be killed. Again, letters have been flying around these days as you may well know. Permit me to join the band of letter writers. Thankfully we are being led by a battle-tested fighter and letter writer; I refer to your former oga at the top, Baba Iyabo himself. Remember how only recently (during the Jonathan presidency) he had embarked on a letter writing offensive against real and imaginary enemies of his. Well, good enough, his estranged friend and former lawyer, Dr Tunji Abayomi has picked it up from where Baba Iyabo left it. Dr Abayomi in service of a political career that has refused to fly in Ondo State has launched a blitzkrieg of letters like a man commissioned to save the letter from imminent extinction. Honestly because Dr Abayomi is closer home to me than Baba Iyabo who is entombed on a hill top mansion somewhere in Abeokuta from where he pontificates once in awhile, I got the bug from him (Don’t forget sir, Oke-Agbe Akoko, Ondo State the redoubt of Abayomi is just some kilometers away from Akure where I live and Ado-Ekiti where I work) and from Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who only just wrote a stinking letter asking for the resignation of Chief John Oyegun, his party National Chairman. In the coming days and months, I intend to write you a series of letter in the literary fashion of Denis Brutus, who wrote seventeen letters all together from within the confining walls of South African apartheid government imprisonment to his sister-in-law, Martha. Good enough, right now, I am not within any physical prison walls, but the prevailing grim economic situation in Nigeria that began shortly before your inauguration but which has since worsened under your watch, puts me I feel, in a kind of psychological prison which many believe is worse than the physical prison. Whether my letters to you would reach Number 17 is still in the realm of uncertainty.

Glaringly enough, though it is the season of letter writing, still I pray this letter of mine somehow gets to you, able as I hope, to penetrate the fortress of my own lack of official access to you and the officialdom (something like kingdom) built around you by a time-tested system which disallows mere mortals and ordinary citizens like me from having access to you, my leader. I am used to this oddity as my fellow country folks are too. Who are we to think that like what is obtainable in civilized clime such as America, a Nigerian can carry his/her ordinary body to enter a whole Aso Rock, the presidential lair? In Nigeria, it is simply the stuff of wicked pipe dream and illusion of grandeur for any ordinary citizen to so dream. I do not need to be told by your official vuvuzelas (I refer to Femi Adesina and Shehu Garba) that you have been busy trying to find solutions to the myriad of problems, many of which are the self-inflicted type and which you have inherited, facing our fatherland. I know. I know because I am a leader too in my own right. Yes sir. I am a leader of a small family of four: me, Dupe (my wife who supports you so much that I wonder if the support was not due to espirit de corp. You see, her father is an old soldier like you; he was a military instructor), JJ, my son and Nimi, my little princess. With my own family, I know that leadership oftentimes is not a tea party; it places on a leader’s shoulder (whether lean like yours and mine or robust like Ambode’s), a lot of responsibilities, both realistic and unrealistic. Like our people expect magic from you (who can blame the poor people? They honestly thought you were actually a magician who can conjure like Prof Peller), my own family expects same from me. “Wetin be my own” I have been forced to ask occasionally. “Did I make any promise like Buhari ni?” My wife would have no such nonsense from my coconut and forgetful head. She would throw my marital vows at me and for good measure, at times, the Bible would be thrown in to remind me that Saint Paul wrote an epistle to Timothy in which he referred to a man who can’t take care of his family as being worse than an ‘infidel’. Whenever I hear ‘infidel’, kai! I always gentle because I don’t want to be called an infidel in a religiously charged country like Nigeria because before my wife might be able to say ‘na domestic matter ooo”, one might be sporting a missing limp, if one’s forefathers are not fast asleep where they are. Or have one’s horror struck head on a spike, if unlucky. Back to the leadership talk sir, for instance, it has been difficult coping with the tantrums JJ has been blackmailing me with since the Nigerian economy nosedived over my inability (mostly) and unwillingness (at times) to meet his appetite for, and daily expectations on ice cream and apples. Efforts to make him see reasons (I told him about the economic recession and that those goodies are dollar and pocket unfriendly right now) have rebounded off his juvenile brain. Local alternatives like Kunu, Zobo and garden egg do not cut it with the naughty boy. And to show how fruitless my efforts in that regard have been, the other day, as I made to leave the house in order to see to it that there are always clothes on his back, the enfant terrible innocently demanded that I returned home with one hundred (100) apples (Yes! You heard me right, 100 apples) for himself and his sister later in the evening. I said to myself, “in this Buhari economy? You are not serious.” I looked at him with ‘bad eyes’, hurriedly leaving the house. Now comparing my personal leadership headaches with yours, yours are Herculean where mine can be likened to a midget. It is like comparing death and sleep. Certainly there is no basis for comparison because my people always say the size of a man’s head would determine the size (ferocity) of his headache. I placed myself in your shoes and I quickly realized how ferocious your leadership headache must be especially now that your name (which used to signify hope and expectations) has become synonymous with dashed hope. In the academia where I am hiding my head literally speaking, we refer to the general post independence leadership failure or lack of it and the disenchantment of African people as postcolonial disillusionment (who coined this thing sef? Choi! Na wa ooo). Presently in Nigeria, the general air which odourises the land like the smell of shalanga (pit latrine) is post election disillusionment. The shout of Sai Buhari in any market place in our country today is likely to earn the impudent and insensitive shouter some dirty slaps (if s/he were lucky) or cost him/her limp(s) or dear life sef (if unlucky). Whether a fiction, a faction or real, there have been reports of some careless Sai Buhari shouters unmindful of economic pain and anguish, being summarily dealt with in popular anger in JTF style. As a prominent chorister in the Sai Baba Choir during its heydays, I have learnt to apply sense, dousing what is left of the waning ember of Buharism in my being. I have tactically maneuvered myself away from possible Sai Buhari victimhood because ‘person wey craze man beat him Mama bifor, if him see mechanic dey come, him go pick race.’

Pardon me, Mr. President for rigmaroling. Now to the heart of the matter of my letter. It is time our country made a 360 degree u-turn from the path of perdition she is racing through on the matter of History as a subject in our primary and secondary school curricula. How we arrived where we are now on this subject still beats my imagination. My people, Yoruba place much premium on history in the shaping and moulding of character, and also in decision making process. They say: “Bomode ba subu, a wo waju. Bagba ba subu, a wo ehin” (When a child falls, s/he looks ahead -future-; but when an elder falls, s/he looks behind –past/history). The clincher on the important role history plays in the society is encapsulated in the Yoruba saying that: “bomode o ba b’atan, a ba aroba. Aroba si ni baba itan.” Sorry sir, on this one, you would have to look to your deputy, Prof Yemi Osinbajo for help in translation or transliteration. Any attempt of mine to translate would make the beautiful saying lose its aesthetic value. Doallah, I don’t want that to happen.

History is no longer being taught in our schools (primary and secondary). In order for it to survive in our tertiary institutions, it has had to change nomenclature just to attract ‘customers’ who grudgingly prefer History and International Studies (or History and Diplomatic Studies) to studying ‘ordinary’ History. “But why is this Megida bringing this matter up?” you may be thinking right now. Well it is because recent events in the country and my experiences as a teacher have exposed the dangers of this national malady to me and other keen observers like my friends, Dr Adeyemi Johnson Ademowo and Sunday Aikuirawo Aniyi. I am sure you’re aware that a citizen who named his dog, Buhari has been pressed with criminal charge following a report to the police by an offender party. The matter has expectedly become hot potato and you’re probably laughing over the matter as suggested by your vuvuzela, Shehu Garba. But it is not a funny matter for presidential laughs because you are right in the middle of it all. How can you possibly be laughing over this serious matter? Mr. President, it is not funny. But I see an opportunity where others see a trigger for war. It is one reason why we must return the teaching of history to all layers of education in Nigeria as a compulsory subject/course to save us from repeating history. According to George Santamaya, “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Santamaya’s quote is a classic putdown of our national aversion to the teaching of history. I have tried my best to educate our people on why the cocktail of Ms: mischief, malice and morbid hate serve as the catalyst for the man’s (who named his dog, Buhari) action and should be condemned in the most stringent manner because of what his action could have engendered.

In what way is our country’s past connected to this isolated incident of a dog named Buhari in the Santamayan philosophical musing, you might be wondering. Well, you see, by the time the civil broke out and it lasted thirty months, I was nowhere around this place. I was still living comfortably in my extraterrestrial abode. It was not until about a decade or so after that I was birthed and berthed here, in this Lugardian contraption of colonial convenience. By that time, the country was still in recovery mood; a part of it still lay, a wasteland of concrete and human ruins, buried dreams and ethnic bitterness that has refused to heal and go away (Well I must say that you and other leaders of our land haven’t done much in the healing area though, and generations of a group that is a part of us have been fed with a cocktail of lies and bitterness back-to-back to our collective shame, inaction and national endangerment). Personally, I hold the civil war in which you were an active player responsible for denying this country another Nobel laureate in Literature in Christopher Okigbo. Whenever I remember him or read his poems, I shed tears of pain for all that we lost in that needless and senseless war which consumed many bright souls like him on both sides of the warring binary. “How does he know so much about that war?” you’re probably wondering. Don’t wonder sir. History taught me. I read.

History taught me that it was partly the kind of lack of tact, mischief and insensitive taunting of the type displayed by Mr Joachim Chinakwe Iroko that was responsible for the pogroms in the north which eventually culminated in the Nigeria Civil War. The coup was never an Igbo coup. It was conceived by about six or seven idealistic young army officers who had been enamoured of the coups in Togo in which President Olympio lost his life as well as the two coups in Ghana. But somehow, and also in the nature and manner of coup in which close friendship and camaraderie are crucial to success, and also because at that point in our national history, south easterners were the core of the officers corps of the army, all but one of the mutineers was Igbo. The man who led the coup, Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu was affectionately called and known as ‘Kaduna’, after the city where he was born and lived all his life, with fluency in Hausa language that surpassed that of many aborigines. At first, the coup was nationally acclaimed and celebrated across the country because the politicians had so shortly after independence messed up the country so much that the people were united in joy in seeing their backs. There was little sympathy at first for the gruesomely killed politicians. Matters were to change when some ethnic champions/jingoists, emboldened by the actions and inactions of the beneficiary of the coup, Major General Aguiyi Ironsi (unfortunately again, Igbo), began to read ethnic meanings into the coup to incite the people. Some Igbo ethnic traders in the north poured petrol into the fire by reportedly producing almanacs and cartoons showing a ‘frightened’ Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello (the revered leader of northern political empire and premier of the region) hiding in his harem of wives dressed as a woman. Some others reportedly also portrayed a bloodied Bello having his throat slit by a dagger-drawing Nzeogwu. Before anyone could say ‘biko’, a well planned extermination of easterners began in earnest in all parts of the north simultaneously on an industrial scale in well coordinated attacks. Mr. President, I have read over the years a plethora of fictional and autobiographical accounts of that epoch and I have always been left numbed by the savagery of the killings and man’s inhumanity to man. Some wives escaped to the east without their children who were killed or lost, but with the severed heads of husbands who still had the look of shock and horror on their faces. I still shudder to recall these tales and scenes of horrific monstrosity. Long before the Rwandan genocide, there was a Nigerian genocide.

In year 2002, I was an undergraduate when another careless and insensitive action of a Nigerian writer had led to wanton loss of lives and properties. I refer to the Miss World riot of that year in some northern cities. Recall that a This Day newspaper reporter, the Lancaster University trained Miss Isioma Nkemdilim Daniel had written herself and Nigeria into trouble. A post civil war child like me, Miss Daniel’s lack of commonsense, tact and sensitivity as a citizen of an ethno-religiously charged and divided society like Nigeria, has earned her a place in the national roll call of infamy, as a result of her action which needlessly brought the country national misery and international opprobrium. Writing on the opposition of some conservative Muslims to the Miss World beauty pageant scheduled to be hosted by Nigeria due to the crowning of a Nigerian, Agbani Darego as Miss World the previous year, Miss Daniel made the following remark: “The Muslims thought it was immoral to bring 92 women to Nigeria and ask them to revel in vanity. In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from one of them.” A statement and reference to Islam’s holy prophet Mohammed (S.A.W) which she had thought was funny and light-hearted left 200 dead, 1,000 injured and 11,000 homeless in violent religious riots, by the time the dust, smoke and holy anger had settled. Not to mention the properties including This Day offices in Kaduna which were consumed in the inferno which her action caused. A fatwa was placed on her head like Salman Rushdie’s by then Zamafara State Deputy Governor and aspiring Mullah, Umaru Shinkafi. Miss Daniel, fearing for her own life, subsequently went into exile, helped by Amnesty International and Committee to Protect Journalist. As I write, Miss Daniel lives somewhere in the West under an assumed name, always to be looking behind her shoulders for the rest of her life, and unable to visit the land of her birth, all because of one moment of tactless audacity. I was visiting the north on assignment at that time when hostilities broke out, but I was lucky I had earlier departed the hotbed and was in the historic town of Gembu, the headquarters of Gaskaka LGA, Taraba State, safe and sound but hearing with trepidation news of senseless killings of innocent people by roving religious fanatics who were baying for blood

Sir, the two historical incidents I have renarrated here are sufficiently for your benefit and whoever reads this letter. This, exactly, is the spot where the problem lies for me on the matter of the man who named his dog Buhari, and proceeded to parade same gleefully and purposely in order to taunt his northern neighbours, who surely as he suspected and events have since proved, won’t take likely to his indiscretion which many are now justifying on the warped logic of freedom. Returning History as a compulsory subject in our schools would do us a lot of good. Historical mistakes of the kind I have mentioned in this letter would be signposted to help our ability to be tolerant, forgiving and, understanding of our differences as peoples lumped together in a no love lost union of strange bed fellows.

Personally, my experience as a teacher who meets regularly, students of different ethnic hues, propels me to beg you to help this country do the right thing on the teaching of History in our schools. I have the opportunity of teaching fresh students (Jambitos) in the varsity and one course which offers me the chance of seeing what our national aversion to history has caused us is: Introduction to Nigerian Literature (a compulsory course for English and Law students). In the course of teaching this course, students have to be taken through aspects of Nigerian and African history and most especially, our cultures. One of the first hurdles they must cross year in year out is to submit within two weeks of the start of class, the panegyric (Oriki) of their family and town in their indigenous languages and translate same into English language. Each student then stands before the class to recite the panegyric in their indigenous language before reading the translation in English. You would need to be there to feel the sense of shame and righteous anger I feel towards the elites and educated citizens of this country who have turned our children (our future) to outsiders/strangers to their own culture and in their own country. Many don’t know their hometowns, those who happen to have never been there even in cases where they reside with their parents in Lagos and their hometown is Ibadan or Abeokuta. Last year, there was the case of a student who at the beginning of her recitation named Okpanam as her hometown (this is a compulsory part of the assignment. I mean naming your hometown). Before she could begin her recitation, I asked her if she knew of someone from her town (Okpanam) that had played a prominent role in the history of Nigeria. She was totally lost. I was flabbergasted. Trying to help her, I told her that the person in question had played a prominent role in the first military coup in the country. She was unmoved still. To ginger her, I offered to give her ten bonus marks, if she could name him. I increased the bonus to twenty, thirty and at this point the class was in a frenzy of excitement and incredulity. Still she failed herself and broke my heart. My heart was totally shattered when I turned to the whole class of two hundred plus students and I offered the thirty bonus marks to anyone who could provide the answer. I bowed my head in surrender and perplexity when no one could mention the name, Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, who has a book written in his honour and memory by his best buddy whom he called ‘Oba’ i.e. Olusegun Obasanjo. To crown a totally bad day for history and the teacher, another student who named Owo, Ondo State as her place of birth, when asked if she knew a politician from her town who had served with distinction as the governor of old Ondo State, mentioned Dr Olusegun Agagu as the person instead of the legendary Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin, the first executive governor of old Ondo State. I ended the class. From nowhere, I was besieged by a powerful headache and I had a sleepless night.

Mr. President Sir, I have regaled you with some national and personal stories in order to strongly push for the return of History to our classroom. A man without history is lost. The one without culture does not exist at all because culture is the carrier of identity. The good news I bring to you today is that after my encounter with students on this subject last year as narrated above and my bitter excoriation of them, parents, elites, policy makers and government, many of these students genuinely warmed up to the subject, asking me for ways they could make up for their lack of culture (language especially) and historical knowledge. I volunteered to and actually bought some history-based books for the willing. It is not too late to make a national u-turn on this matter.

Thank you for your patience. Till I write you another letter, warmest regards to your yanriyan, beautiful Madam Aisha and your deputy, the man who has left me in the classroom, Prof Osinbajo.

Yours affectionately,
Olumide Olugbemi-Gabrielgeorgesantayana

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