Jackson Okpale is author of a book on Nigeria’s history, set to be launched this month, titled ‘In Memory of Nigeria: Where the Past is Forgotten’. Here, he talks about his primary motivation, why the work is timely, and more. Excerpts:
Bookshelf: Why did you decide to write a book about Nigeria’s history?
Jackson Okpale: It’s very difficult to find an updated history of Nigeria. It’s also most likely that we haven’t learned from history. This is the reason we are where we are. Why are we in this situation? I began to ask myself this question. Each time, I had to go back in time. The truth is that Nigerians are not informed, and this bothers me a lot. Nigerian historians are not doing much justice in telling us where we are coming from and where we are going. As an architect, I know that a building can’t standard without a foundation. It is the part of the building that you cannot see, which is like history. You can’t see history, and Nigeria is built on the past.
We always talk about the future. But there can’t be a future without a past. So, I am building on the past. This is what took me back. Also, my father used to keep records from the 1950s to the 90s when he died. His records were not published, so I decided to go further and have mine published. I realised that most of what my father recorded can’t be found in newspapers or history books. He was a police officer who served in the northern and southern part of the country. He used to have records of birth and deaths in my village. People came to him to get such information.
Bookshelf: What inspired the title ‘In Memory of Nigeria’?
Okpale: A lot of people have been asking that we should go back to the past, this past that we don’t know much about. Those agitating for Biafra say let’s go back to 1967, claiming it’s better. The Afenifere say let’s go back to 1963, that the constitution of that time is better. We find some others in the north, like Professor Ango Abdullahi, who said no, let’s not stop there, but go back to 1914 before the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates. So, I decided to capture all these, and you can’t do this without other references. I had to go back to the beginning.
People are agitating and saying the Nigeria today is not what they have been praying for or looking forward to. In other words, ‘In Memory of Nigeria’. If you look at the subtitle, ‘Where the Past is Forgotten’, apparently, they have forgotten about the past. So, I decided to dig it up.
Bookshelf: There are many books on Nigeria’s history. What makes yours different?
Okpale: What we have now is up to date. It’s also complete. The other history books you can find on Nigeria are fragmented. You find works on history of northern Nigeria or on the caliphate, history of Benin, of Hausa states, Lagos, and so on. Mine is a collation of these fragmented stories. This is up to date because it stops on October 6 2018. So, whatever happened in Nigeria up to that point is captured in this book.
Bookshelf: You are an architect and not a historian. At what point did you decide to write a history of Nigeria?
Okpale: Like I said, my father was the first influence. However, the burning issues in our nation has been as a result of our past. So, the question is, what is in our past? The burning issue is not architecture, but about our history. What have we achieved and what are we striving to achieve?
Bookshelf: What do you hope Nigerians will take away from your book?
Okpale: Nigerians should know their history, where they are coming from and what happened before they were born. They should be able to know and predict where we will be tomorrow. We should also be able to know the past leaders that have helped to bring us to where we are, whether good or bad. History has been hidden from Nigerians. We don’t know history. Former military head of state, Ibrahim Babangida, once said “As a people, we need a proper study and understanding of our history in order to correct the warped perception of our past, so as to minimise the dangers of badly skewed histories of our democratic experience in governance and to generate mutual confidence and uphold the tenets of living together as one people.”
If you don’t tell your history, your enemies will mis-tell your history. If you don’t tell your history, others will mis-tell your history. And what is written is what people will use to judge the future.