AFRICAN EDUCATION AND IDENTITY
Address by President Ibrahim Babangida to the 5th Session of the International Congress of African Studies at the University of Ibadan on December 16, 1985
I consider the invitation to open the Fifth Session of the International Congress of African Studies as a tribute to Nigeria and recognition of our role in the sponsorship of the current session of the Congress. I would like to believe that the invitation is also a recognition of our immense and longstanding support for a scientific study of Africa. We have, as a nation, recognised the significant role played by Africa towards human civilization: and, as an Administration, we have an abiding faith in the capabilities of Africans to continue to discover new ways of ameliorating the living conditions of our peoples, wherever they may be. In this connection, I am aware of the significant role played by some Nigerian academics in the formation of your Association. One such Nigerian is the late Professor Kenneth Dike, who, during his life time, was committed to the objectives of the Congress as an instrument of increasing our understanding of the African continent.
I would like to seize this opportunity to associate myself with the feelings and sentiments of my predecessors who, as heads of African Government of Ghana, Senegal, Ethiopia and the Federal Republic of Zaire, have had the rare opportunity to address the Congress. Furthermore, I am in full support of the aims and objectives of the Congress in promoting the scholarly study of Africa all over the world. I hope the result of these studies shall be adapted in solving the problems of development of Africa. I believe that the Congress provides appropriate venue for leading scholars of Africa, from all over the world, to meet and exchange ideas on the state of the art and science of African Studies. It is a venture that should be encouraged and supported.
Not long ago, Nigeria was called upon to host the second Festival of Black and African Arts and Culture. This task was accepted with enthusiasm and accomplished with honour. It was, indeed, an occasion that attracted the attention of the whole world, Festac 77 lasted for a month: a month in which Africans from the four corners of the world, saw each other, exchanged ideas, shared experiences and reflected together. It was a month in which Nigeria offered Africans, from both the New and the Old world, an opportunity to reverse the course of history. It was a period in which Africans, consciously and deliberately, reformed links that were severed by the Slave Trade.
Indeed, it was the first time, since the slave trade, that Black and African families came together as one whole entity. Deriving from that experience, the Government of Nigeria has established the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC) to document the variety of talents and accomplishments brought together during Festac. The centre is committed to the scientific study of Africa in an effort to make the results of such studies available to the wider world.
It is therefore a rare honour to welcome the International Congress of African Studies to its original home, Nigeria and, in particular, to lbadan the citadel of learning and the seat of our premier university. I am happy to see so many distinguished scholars come to Nigeria to exchange ideas about the growth and directions of African Studies. I am informed that there are delegates from Africa, Europe, North and South America, Asia, and the Islands of the Seas. Such a gathering is a healthy indication of the importance which academics have come to attach to the development of African Studies.
I share the view that an improved knowledge of Africa and its problems can and should be used to promote better understanding and international co-operation. Such knowledge should be put to good use by educating your colleagues and, indeed the world, about Africa.
I am particularly happy about the theme of the Fifth Congress: African Education and Identity. The timing is ripe and the subject is apt and thought-provoking.
As you are aware, education has been the cornerstone and major priority of most African countries. Since political independence, we, in Nigeria, have devoted proportionally higher resources to education than the colonial regimes ever contemplated. Consequently, we have had a tremendous expansion of elementary, secondary and tertiary education; Adult Education has also received a fair attention.. We cannot however, say that the results, especially in terms of impact on our social, economic and political development, have always been commensurate with the resources so far invested. We cannot pretend to have won the battle, particularly, the battle against ignorance in Africa.
Traditionally, the explanation that has been proffered tend to blame our colonial heritage as the major cause of our under-development. While this may be so, I believe the time has come to examine the lack of recourse to our historical past and the supporting human values which under pinned it. In such an examination, we may find answers to the problem of inadequacies. For example, we live at a level of subsistence that we are at once faced with the twin problems of food surplus and food scarcity depending on the, season and geographical location.
Indeed, every drought produces famine; sometimes on a disastrous scale, that we require international food aid. Our economies suffer from various imbalances and contradictions that so often, we are weighed down by the cost and consequences of these dislocations. Even now, we are yet to develop the scientific and technological base that is necessary for our economic take-off, in spite of our educational development. I hope your Congress will examine these issues in depth, not merely as an academic exercise, but as an issue-area requiring policy options and solutions.
At the time of your inauguration, over twenty years ago, very few countries whether inside or outside Africa, paid adequate attention to African Studies. At that time to, we, in Nigeria, were just about transforming the University of Ibadan from a colonial University College to an independent University. We were also faced with teething problems of establishing the Universities in Nsukka, Zaria, Lagos and Ife. Now, we have established several other universities and centres of African Studies. 1 know that a similar pattern of development has been going on in Africa and other parts of the world have also established centres for African Studies.
There are, of course, many other countries of the world in which African Studies is unknown in their schools or universities. What is more, in Europe and North America, where the initial initiative was taken to foster the growth of African Studies, there is now a creeping lack of interest in such studies.
It is therefore a major challenge for the International Congress to sustain and expand the scope of African Studies in the world. This can only be done by your continuing demonstration that African Studies do, in fact, contribute to African development and international cooperation. Such studies, rooted in our history, also offer solutions to our problems. Thus, apart from the excitement of scholarship, you should endeavour to relate your research and academic exchanges to the socio-political and economic conditions of Africans, wherever they may be found all over the globe.
I believe there is a lot to be learnt from the academic and practical roles of African Studies. African Studies have come to be accepted and recognised as a legitimate field of intellectual pursuit; and Africanists, particularly in recent times, have legitimately concerned themselves with decolonising African history as well as projecting the true image of Africans and African history.
The intellectual history of Africa and the contributions of Africans to world civilization should continue to be pursued with vigour. There is an urgent need for a wider dissemination of information either in book form or in any other form, so that our cultural achievements may be better known and appreciated. In these difficult times, we need to appreciate the history of our kingdoms, particularly their survival strategies as well as the integrative values which underpinned such kingdoms. We need to be reminded of the great Empires and Kingdoms of our ancestors and the ultimate values that sustained them. We need to adopt and adapt the technological tools with which they conquered and tamed their environment in order to subdue our own environment.
In spite of the coming of age of Africa, we know very little about ourselves and the scanty information which is available is neither disseminated nor diffused around the world for the greater understanding of humanity. I hold the view that those who are engaged in African scholarship should regard themselves as permanent ambassadors of eminence: you should, like modern ambassadors; reflect the views of your countries, in this case, your chosen fields of pursuit in African Studies. You have a crucial role to play in disseminating truthful information about Africa. In this regard I am aware that there are Universities and Centres of African Studies around the world that are anxiously looking for fresh materials by Africans and Africanists, about the true situation in Africa. They are looking for such studies, partly to correct the damage done to Africa by colonial historians and anthropologists. Partly too, as a mark of recognition of a legitimate academic pursuit. You should therefore engage in the book trade and ensure that more books are produced to inform and correct traditional views of our society. You should also ensure that research on Africa does not remain scattered, duplicated and un co-ordinated.
At this juncture, I would like to remind you that this Congress is taking place at a most opportune time in our history. It is a time when the Federal Military Government is determined to canvass for ideas on major issues, affecting the politics and economy of our nation. We believe that through public debates and discussions we could arrive at policy options which, apart from being best suited to the peculiar conditions of our economy, would also guarantee and sustain a stable political order. We are, .as a matter of course, committed to Africa and the cause of oppressed peoples of our continent.
Only recently, a Committee was set up to organise an all-Nigeria Conference on our foreign policy with the genuine intention of reflecting all shades of opinion in our society. In short, you have come at a time when our doors are wide open to ideas and information in our bid to harness the enthusiasm and willingness of our people towards building a self-reliant and self-sufficient society. It is my ardent believe that, given the opportunity to participate, Nigerians can chart a path of self-sufficiency. We are capable of building an orderly and stable society that can guarantee us peace and progress.
In considering the issue of “African Education and Identity” therefore, I hope you will not ignore the issue of Human Rights in Africa. The goal of Education and the aim of the War Against Ignorance must be to improve the conditions of Africans in such a manner that will enable them to live their lives in peace, dignity and honour. It is therefore essential that the war against ignorance must be extended to include a war against injustice and inhuman treatment, in particular against any form of apartheid.
In conclusion, I wish your Congress a successful and meaningful discussion. I also wish the participants a pleasant stay in Nigeria, and at the end of the meeting, a safe and happy return to your homes.
Thank you and God bless.