The place of history in nation building (1)

RIWH Award for History from Africa
Awarded Paper, 2011 (Please don not cite without permission)

History which is the account of events that had had relevant impact in human development and management has from time immemorial played a pivotal role and can still play an important role in nation building. The place of history in nation building can not be over emphasized as i will be looking or diagnosing the role of history from the societal and emotional perspective. In other words, we can say that the fact that history examines the records of events means that both the positive and negative aspect of human changes are embraced.
Morally, history served as a reference point for most of Nigerian politicians as the often made reference to history. The former Military President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida) in 1986 during one of his public engagement was of the view that “history will forgive you for taking a bad decision but history will never forgive you for not taking a decision at all”. Suffice it to say that most Nigerian politicians often refer to history whenever they are being accused aither rightly or wrongly. Many of our public office holders when criticized whether fairly or otherwise often reply that history vindicate the just. This moralizing role of history tends to infuse in the public office holders a deep sense of awareness that posterity will definitely put their actions on trial.
E.H. Carr’s definition of history as a dialogue between the past and the present is still tenable. A clear understanding of the past can throw more light on the presentand thus prepare a nation for its future. In other words, the nation can learn from its successes or failures of the past and can use the past occurrence to modify its activities in the present and also prepare itself for the tasks ahead. As Robert Smith has written:
“…there lies the possibilities of extracting from the past, lessons for the present and future, and therefore a means of helping humanity in the understanding and handling of itd problems. These lessons are given by means of specific instances but are sometimes also formulated in generalization”.
From the foregoing, a nation can not do without its history. In fact, history is the study of society in time perspective. A nation that abandons its history is gone for good and thereby slips into oblivion. Guy Rocher was more emphatic on the relationship of history and the society when he remarked that:
“society is history. It is constantly engaged in an historical movement. In a transformation of itself, its members of its environment as of other societies which it maintains relations. These changes are more or less in harmony with the past of the society and follows a more or less explicit pattern”.
B.O. Oloruntimehin in his own contribution said:
“Every society is historically determined to the extent that it is a living record of important and continuing reactions to changes in its social, economic and political life…”
History has also been the principal medium for the transmission of culture (e.g for social control) even including the cosmology of the people in a nation. Africans transmit their cultures through educational institutions associated with puberty rites, secret societies, initiation of age grades, training and initiation of priests and diviners as well as those ceremonies taking place before coronation of a new chief or king. Besides, another means of transmitting culture in Africa is through the court historians or chroniclers. In many parts of Africa, there were carefully trained and selected historians in the palaces of Kings and courts of highly placed chieftains. Such palaces or court historians included the Arokin of the Old Oyo Empire and the Griots among the Mande peoples of the Western Sudan (like the Mande of Senegal, Guinea and Mali).

To be Continued Later.

(Essay written by: Oyediji Oluwaseun Babatunde, Mobile Number: +2348132148197 +2348094095664, E mail:, Facebook: Oyediji Oluwaseun Babatunde, Twitter: @profseunoyediji, Website/Blog:

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