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HomeOpinionWhat if we were the Jews? By Dare Babarinsa

What if we were the Jews? By Dare Babarinsa

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AT the start of the Nigerian Civil War in 1967, none of the corps of military commanders on both sides of the battle field was up to 40. General Yakubu Gowon, the Supreme Commander, was 33. The leader of the rebellion, Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was 34. Benjamin Adekunle, the Commander of the Third Marine Commandoes Division was 30 and so was Murtala Muhammed, the Commander of the 2nd Division. The corps of coup plotters who started the crisis was led by a 29-year-old major, Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. Men like Admiral Akinwale Way, Alhaji Kam Selem, the Inspector-General of Police, his deputy, Chief Theophilous Fagbola and Commodore Soroh who were in their 40s and 50s were regarded as old men!
Now we know some old men do have them. The problem is what is happening to young people of Nigeria who are between age 15 and 30. Before the age of 20, they have already bagged a first degree. They know a lot about the fashion trends in Milan and New York and they can tell you all you need to know, and a lot you don’t need, about the premier league in England. What they don’t know is their own history, their own land and the meaning of our Nigerianess. Each of them is carrying a big bag across the mountain of life but few things in that bag belongs to him or may be useful to him.

I once had an encounter with a young lady who read Mass Communication from a state-owned university. She would like to be a journalist. I asked her ‘why do you want to be a journalist?’ She said simply it is because she read Mass Communication. We had an interesting discussion until I got to the area of books. She wrote in her curriculum vitae that reading is one of her hobbies. What do you read? I asked. She confessed she only read inspirational books. What type? She was too busy now looking for job that she has stopped reading! She had never heard of Olabisi Onabanjo, Babatunde Jose or Peter Enahoro. She has a vague idea of Dele Giwa and has heard of Dele Momodu, the publisher of Ovation magazine. Of course, she has never seen any editor before nor knows any editor’s name.

At least, in the distribution of ignorance, our country is very democratic. I have met a lawyer in Abuja who knew next to nothing about Taslim Elias. I met a youth corps member in Enugu who thought Emeka Ojukwu was just another militant. I have met a young physician who knew next to nothing about Kayode Osuntokun. Only among the military do we still have young officers who have a keen sense of history. Every commissioned officer knows the history of the Nigerian Armed forces from its days as the West African Frontier Force to the immediate post-independence era dominated by the likes of J.T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi, Maimalari, Ademulegun, George Kurobo, Joe Akhan, Babafemi Ogundipe, Shittu Alao, Ralph Sodeinde and Kur Mohammed.

As of today, 90 per cent of Nigerian youths who have some forms of formal education cannot name five state governors. Our youths are busy acquiring knowledge without education. Yet in the next few decades, this set of people would be in charge of the destiny of Nigeria. It is not a palatable situation. As of now, history is no longer taught in most secondary schools in Nigeria. If you want your ward to know history, then you have to take him or her to a foreign school on Nigerian soil. There, he would learn American history from American schools, Turkish history from Turkish schools and British history from British schools. But what he may not have the opportunity of learning Nigerian history in a Nigerian school.

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It is difficult to understand how we got to this pass. Now our schools are busy producing knowledgeable people without basic education. A young person would graduate from a university without any inkling about the history of that institution. He would not know the founder or founders, the first vice-chancellor or even the name of the current vice-chancellor unless there is Aluta. The basic curiosity that uses to be the simple characteristic of the young is painfully lacking among many of our youths. Ask some of them what is the meaning of their surname and you may get the smug reply: “My father did not tell me.”

The reason for this is the terrible decline in the popular habit of reading newspapers in Nigeria. Gone were the days when Nigeria paraded many towering media institutions that were reckoned with on the African continent and the world. Even regional papers like the Sketch of Ibadan, Standard of Jos, Herald of Ilorin, Chronicle of Calabar, Observer of Benin, Tribune of Ibadan and Triumph of Kano were giants in the Nigerian media industry. The New Nigerian of Kaduna was a regional paper of serious national standing. The behemoth then was the Daily Times group under the incomparable Alhaji Babatunde Jose. At its zenith, the Daily Times was circulating more than 500,000 copies daily. Its Sunday edition under the leadership of Gbolabo Ogunsanwo was doing more than 650,000 copies.

Now there are great newspapers in Nigeria but no giant in the field. Nigerians were reading more when we had only five universities than today when we have more than 120. Some people have blamed it on the pervasiveness of the social media, the intrusion of the internet and the iniquitousness of the television. But we need to ask ourselves certain questions to arrive at the truth. At the public presentation of The Nigerian Century, the compendium on the history of modern Nigeria, last week, I posed certain questions. “Are we more internet savvy than South Korea where the JoogAstill circulates 1,300,000 copies daily? Some blame it on our population. Is our country not more populous than Spain where the Pronto magazine still circulates almost one million copies? Some blame it on poverty. Is our country poorer than Cuba where Gramma still circulates more than 500,000 copies daily? Some blame it on literacy level. Are we not better educated than the average South African where the Sunday Times circulates almost 400,000 copies weekly?”

We in the media need to find out why our readers are leaving us and what is taking them away. This trend also poses grave danger for democracy. You cannot have a flourishing democracy where the media is asphyxiated by low patronage and subverted by political rascality. Such an atmosphere would breed impunity and reckless corruption.

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It is also dangerous to allow the future of our youth to be stolen by ignorance. In 1969, a man called Kofi Busia was prime minister of Ghana. He passed a law called the Aliens-Must-Go-order which affected millions of Nigerians who have been living in Ghana for generations but without the required immigration papers. Many of them could not find their way home because they have lost all contacts with their roots. Some of their children could only speak Ghanaian languages and some of those who could speak Yoruba or any other Nigerian languages, spoke with funny accents.

More than 150 years ago, the British government, later to be followed by the American government, abolished slavery. Only few slaves in America could retrace their way homes. Many of them have lost their languages, their culture and their collective memories. Some who came back retain more the culture of where they were coming from than their original roots. Till today, the descendants of those former slaves still cling to their old names.

So what would have happened to the Jews if they behave like us Africans? For 2000 years, the Jews were in exile, some of these phase of exile almost as bad as the African slavery in the diaspora. Then the Jewish state was reborn from the ashes of the past in 1948. The Hebrew language was back in circulation and Jews returned home from more than 100 countries united by shared history, shared culture and share language.

Israel is a small country compared to Nigeria. Its population is less than 10 million. But it has one of the highest internet penetrations in the world and the highest readership for newspapers. In that country, the Maariv, (equivalent to their own Alaroye) published in Hebrew still circulates 150,000 copies daily and 200,000 at the weekend. No wonder the Jews were able to survive 2000 years of exile. They read newspapers. If our own democracy must survive too, we must read newspapers for that is the only market place of ideas and interest in the modern world.

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