Now History is back: Son of Professor Dike, a pioneering figure, reflects on his works

Now History is back: Son of Professor Dike, a pioneering figure, reflects on his works

Wednesday, September 2, 2020 9:48 am


Emeka, left, and his late father, Professor Kenneth Dike

Now that schools may soon re-open, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo spoke on the importance of reintroduction of History in students’ curriculum. That was at the August inauguration of the Nigeria History Fund by the James Adekunle Ojelabi Foundation. The fund is dedicated to, among other things, supporting history students with a scholarship scheme.

According to the Vice President, “History is far too essential for us to deprioritise. It encourages us as individuals to not restrict ourselves to thinking in the short-term, but to remember that we too are living histories.”

This is a great service to the pioneering fathers of African History. One of them was Professor Kenneth Dike.

Emeka Dike is the son of Kenneth Dike, first indigenous Vice Chancellor University of Ibadan. His father, apart from this, pioneered African Historiography. In the past, Europeans believed that since African history was not written down until they came, then Africans did not have history. He changed all that. In this interview with Ademola Adegbamigbe (Idowu Ogunleye snapped the photos); Emeka Dike narrated how his father challenged that notion, his tenure as VC and national issues.

Your dad was the first indigenous vice chancellor of the University of Ibadan, formerly called University College Ibadan and he pioneered African Historiography, can you talk about his pioneering role and challenges he faced…

Actually I used to come back from Staff School Ibadan and ask my father, if it is true that you did this and you did that? He was a man that hardly spoke about his own achievements. He was very humble and simple. So I actually found out things about my father first from outside and then I would come home and ask him, rather than him sitting me down and telling me. But having said that, his PhD thesis at the University of London was actually what became the pioneering work that changed the whole world outlook on African History. That is ‘Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta, 1832 -1885’. His first degree was also in African History at Aberdeen University in Scotland and his PhD in London University. When he was doing his PhD, the prevailing notion at the time was that since African history was not written down it was not history and that African history only started when the ‘white man discovered Africa and started recording the story of Africans on paper, so therefore because our history was not recorded physically until then that our history did not start until they came. My father challenged this notion that even though our history was not written down, that in our society we had people who maintain the oral tradition, old men who passed on our tradition from generation to generation. If you want to know where your village came from or what happened, there are people you go and ask and they will tell you the history of your community and my father argued that this is how our history has been passed on so even though it is not written down it is still our history.

Professor Keneth Onwuka Dike, first VC, UI and father of African Historiography

Professor Keneth Onwuka Dike, first VC, UI and father of African Historiography

How then do you prove that it is your history, as it is not written down? My father then used other disciplines to verify what the oral tradition said, for example, the use of linguistics, for example, if you say that the Igala tribe came from the North, and migrated to the River Niger and settled around Onitsha, how do you prove that? If you trace that the elements of Igala language are still being spoken by that community then you realize that it is the same people that have migrated down, so he used linguistics, then he used archaeology to also verify what the oral history said. And then of course British written records.

So using these other disciplines, he used it to prove whether the oral history was correct or not. This now became known as multi disciplinary approach to African history – by using different disciplines – Linguistics, Archaeology and written material to reconstruct African history. So he was the first person in the world to pioneer that approach which is quite interesting.

Emeka Dike: "“My father then used other disciplines to verify what the oral tradition said, for example, the use of linguistics. For example, if you say that the Igala tribe came from the North, and migrated to the River Niger and settled around Onitsha, how do you prove that? If you trace that the elements of Igala language are still being spoken by that community then you realize that it is the same people that have migrated down, so he used linguistics, then he used archaeology to also verify what the oral history said. And then of course British written records.”

Emeka Dike:
““My father then used other disciplines to verify what the oral tradition said, for example, the use of linguistics. For example, if you say that the Igala tribe came from the North, and migrated to the River Niger and settled around Onitsha, how do you prove that? If you trace that the elements of Igala language are still being spoken by that community then you realize that it is the same people that have migrated down, so he used linguistics, then he used archaeology to also verify what the oral history said. And then of course British written records.”

People often think that the most important thing my dad did was being the first VC of University of Ibadan. He is referred to as being the father of modern African history and that is worldwide, not just in Nigeria. That is his history in a nutshell.

So this book, the thesis, apart from being the first researched economic history of Nigeria, used this method I discussed to write it. So it became a pioneering work in this field. It was originally published by Oxford University Press and some years ago I got the publishing rights back from them to republish it because one of the problems we have in modern day Africa is that we don’t know our history. That is the problem that existed when my father was alive and the problem is even worse now. If the book is not around, how will people read it to know what is in it?

Professor Keneth Dike's book, "Trade and Politics in Niger Delta..."

Professor Keneth Dike’s book, “Trade and Politics in Niger Delta…”

Professor Dike with aides doing research for his book Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta in the early 50s

Professor Dike with aides doing research for his book Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta in the early 50s

For me, my main reason for publishing it is that Africans and Nigerians will continue to have access to this material which is a very important book for us to know where we came from and know where we are going.

 Do we take it as part of immortalizing your dad?
Yes, it is a part of his immortalisation definitely, but so is his work in Ibadan University as an administrator, and as a founder of ‘historical scheme’ in Nigeria. In short his biography (when I republished the book, I put on a chronology of my dad’s achievements at the back of the book) is shocking! When you start reading it, you start asking yourself how did one man achieve so much in a short space of time? He died relatively young, so it is all contained there. His legacy goes beyond the book, his legacy is the history scheme, people like Prof. Ade Ajayi, and his other colleagues who he inspired to do important research work in African history. He inspired them all and they all worked together to produce what we call Nigerian and indeed African history today. The sad thing is, the young generation, where are they? Are they taking off from where these people left off? And the answer is that nowadays, we have more non-Africans who are experts in African history than Africans!

 

 Before you continue it is a sad thing that history is not being taught in schools and people are not been encouraged, what is your reaction?
My reaction to that is that it is one of the reasons I republished this book. The first statement my father made about history is that if you don’t know your past you don’t know your future, if you don’t know past you cannot plot your future. That is the biggest problem of Africa, not just Nigeria. In Nigeria- we have a short memory. People have forgotten what happened, five, three, ten years ago and if you don’t remember the past you make the same mistakes over and over again, it means you are not learning from past experiences. As a human being you know that if you touch fire at the age of one and it burns you, that memory is there, when next you see fire, you won’t go near it.

As a society history is important to us and one of the issues about modern day Nigeria is that the socio- political system that we have borrowed from the British and Americans doesn’t incorporate our culture. That is why for example, a local government chairman can collect money from the Centre and spend it without any accountability. But if the money was given for example to different clans in the local community, they have a clan system, they meet every year or every month, they have accountability built into the clan culture, that is our culture. The local government chairman does not fit into the culture hence there is no accountability if you give him the money.

So if we evolved our system more with our traditional systems in mind then we will have recourse, which is where Africans are missing their history by not incorporating tradition into their political and economic policies. If you tell somebody from the village that he is going to be ostracized for doing this or that, he will comply but if you tell him, ‘I’m taking you to court’ he will not be bothered. So the Japanese, after the Second World War, incorporated their own culture into their system – their economics and politics, this is what the Africans have not done. We have to use those things in our culture that are positive and incorporate them into our modern political and economic systems going forward that this is the importance of history.

 How did he start, was his own father educated?

My father lost his dad at an early age, around the age 9 or 10. His elder brother who was a teacher in Awka, who he lived with, brought him up. His initial schooling was from a local school in Awka, under the tutelage of his elder brother, then from there he went to Dennis Memorial Grammar School, and then to Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone. To answer your question, no, his father was not educated in the English sense.

 Let’s talk about his achievements in U.I. from somebody who was taking over from the British, there would be challenges. How did he overcome them, did he tell you about it, did he write it in the book?

This is what I obtained later when I was much older. Definitely there were a lot of challenges. He had issues where some people said, why must an Igbo man be a VC in Ibadan, those elements came up, leading to court cases. Some elements in the society were not happy. But my father had a lot of respect from the students. Once or twice they had some students’ unrest, my father actually appeared in the hall to talk to them and when he came – first of all they were actually surprised that a whole VC could come to the hall and address them, something that had never happened before. In fact Jim Nwobodo was in U.I when my father was teaching, also Wole Soyinka was a student, maybe those are the people you ask more about my dad, these were the people that were students in Ibadan at the time.

Professor Dike delivering his convocation speech while Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa listens

Professor Dike delivering his convocation speech while Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa listens

Apart from these, which other ways has your dad been immortalised?

We have Kenneth Onwuka Dike Centre, KODIC, which is a centre that was set up around 1985. We have a large piece of land in Awka, which I am trying to develop for the Centre. The issue with my dad is that he was never a politician; Nigerians only give money to politicians. Going back to the issue of history not seen as an important discipline, you think that a man like this that achieved so much and is well renowned in the field, would have been given more national recognition. The Government gave him CON under Shagari and he received two Presidential awards under Goodluck Jonathan.

One of the things I’m personally upset about is the naming of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka which my father started. When Enugu and Awka were in Anambra, there was no Enugu State; then it was called Anambra University of Technology.

After U.I. there was the Biafran war, and my father was roaming ambassador for Biafra. After the Biafran war, he went to Harvard, taught in Harvard for 10 years, setting up the African History Department in Harvard. He was professor emeritus at Harvard. After Harvard, he retired and came back to Enugu and set up the first University of Technology in Nigeria-Anambra University of Technology. That university has since produced two universities – Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka and University of Technology Enugu.

Now why would a university started by Kenneth Onwuka Dike the first VC of University of Ibadan be named after Zik, when in fact Zik established a university in Nsukka? The politics is that ‘oh we want to keep the name ‘University of Nigeria-Nsukka’ therefore we don’t want to change Nsukka’s name to Zik’s name.’ However, Zik started Nsukka, Kenneth Dike started Nnamdi Azikiwe University, talking about an unsung hero! The man actually started a university, he is the first VC in this country and you go and name the university he started after a politician. I don’t have anything against Zik but Zik already has a university, University of Nigeria-Nsukka so name it after Zik. What better way to immortalize Professor Kenneth Onwuka Dike?

Your dad headed the organizing committee of the International Congress of Africans in Ghana in 1963 and you said he was not a politician, what was that?

My father was actually involved in that. Everyone is a political animal. My father was involved with organizing FESTAC for Nigeria, and anything having to do with African culture or African history. My father having pioneered this new approach to African history obviously was considered an important person all over the world. So, anything that was considered to do with African history, he generally tended to be involved in it. When he became VC of Ibadan, anybody of substance that came to Nigeria visited Ibadan. If you look at the university’s guest book, which was in the VC’s lodge, everybody that visited Ibadan signed that book, for example Martin Luther King Junior. So any dignitary that came to Nigeria ended up going to Ibadan so you can imagine the exposure he had. And He also attracted the Ford Foundation that funded a lot of university projects.

Emeka Dike: “His legacy goes beyond the book, his legacy is the history scheme, people like Prof. Ade Ajayi, and his other colleagues who he inspired to do important research work in African history. He inspired them all and they all worked together to produce what we call Nigerian and indeed African history today. The sad thing is, the young generation, where are they? Are they taking off from where these people left off? And the answer is that nowadays, we have more non-Africans who are experts in African history than Africans!”

Emeka Dike:
His legacy goes beyond the book, his legacy is the history scheme, people like Prof. Ade Ajayi, and his other colleagues who he inspired to do important research work in African history. He inspired them all and they all worked together to produce what we call Nigerian and indeed African history today. The sad thing is, the young generation, where are they? Are they taking off from where these people left off? And the answer is that nowadays, we have more non-Africans who are experts in African history than Africans!”

 He was also the chairman of Association of Commonwealth Universities at a point…

I think because he defined African history, he was the father of ‘modern African history’. He was an obvious choice to chair or inspire anything to do with African history. He was the source, before him they said we didn’t have a history. It is difficult for me to give you all details, but definitely he had contacts with the UK, having schooled there and all that.

Before we move on to your book, what was growing up under your father like? Was he such a strict disciplinarian, what did you learn from him?

He was a very principled man, hardly raised his voice, very gentle. He didn’t have to raise hisvoice, his mere calling you and talking to you were enough. I never saw him lose his temper, he was always cool, very cool and in control and also very humble and very unassuming. Of course, we were brought up to learn that there are some things you could not do because you come from a responsible family and everybody seemingly was looking at you, so you had to do the right thing. That pressure was always there to set a good example.

 Even in his African disposition, in terms of our African historiography, what was his disposition with foreign religion, Christianity and all that… Was he a Christian?

He was an Anglican. I have my father’s pocket Bible from 1938! It was a Christmas present from his elder brother. I have it upstairs. I even have places he underlined, my father was a catchiest, he was going to become a priest, and he was a catechist when he was living in Aba where he also played the organ in church. So he was really into religion but my mother was a catholic. They had a mixed marriage, we were all baptized catholic but basically we used to go to both the Anglican and Catholic Churches. Basically, yes he was very religious, not just going to church, he practised his religion. It is very hard for you to go somewhere and hear someone tell you anything negative about him, whether the person is Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa, it doesn’t matter. Everybody had something good to tell you about him. So he practised Christianity in his way of life.

What informed the title of your book, Inverted Pyramid and where did you get the inspiration from?
For me to explain really I need to give some background. I left Nigeria maybe a year before the war ended, then my father was roaming ambassador for Biafra based in Ivory Coast, because Ivory Coast was one of the first countries that recognised Biafra. My late twin sister and I left – even before my mother came out of Biafra. We were all in Biafra during the war; my father was out doing work. So basically I schooled in England, I went to prep school and public school there and later university in the States.

So when I came back to Nigeria in 1981, my upbringing was that you acquire an education and then you come back to Nigeria and contribute to the society, the idea of even working out there did not come up. But I came back to Nigeria, I discovered that the whole thing I learnt over there was not being applied here, and having supposedly gone to the best school over there, it makes you think about your life, it seems you are re-learning and that all the knowledge which you had acquired is of no use in the Nigerian environment, so you started learning from scratch again! “The Inverted Pyramid” means the pyramid is upside down. That is, Nigeria is like that – the top is down, the bottom is at the top. Nigeria is the pyramid!

You wove your plots around this character, Zuby. The book is a spy thriller…
Have you read the book? I know you read the back of the book!

Let me ask you four questions on the thematic concerns of the novel. One of the themes is the low level of economic development. What is your prescription for Nigeria to develop economically?

Part of the problems that we have is corruption. Part of the reason corruption is rampant as I explained before is that adopting a system out of the context of our culture doesn’t mean anything to us. The idea of ‘government money’ is different from the idea of ‘community money.’
Now that money that you are giving to the local government chairman, if you give it to the clan in the community, nobody can steal that money because they have a system of monitoring it, they have their bank accounts, they have their meetings, they can see what you are doing and they have the power to censor you. This is an example of using our culture to disseminate our national resources.

When you create something you call ‘a local government chairman,’ it doesn’t belong to any culture we recognise, there is nothing in our culture that has ‘a local government chairman,’ what does it mean? It means nothing. So when he collects the money on behalf of the community the community has no access to it because the ‘local government chairman’ is not part of the community culturally. Therefore they have no system in place to monitor or control what he does with the money he has been given on behalf of the community. This applies to the Niger Delta and everywhere in Nigeria.

What happens is that the money is actually being given to individuals who are not representing their community culturally or in any way and the community has no power to fight back and say sorry this money that was given to you for us, you spent it. There is no mechanism, because we have ignored our culture. In Japan you work for a company your whole life, why? Because they have a ‘feudal system’ like in the north of Nigeria, where the feudal lord hires his people forever. So they adopted that same system in their modern company’s system. So you are loyal to your company, you are expected to be there your whole life so you behave yourself. That’s an example of using your culture in a modern economic system. So we need to adapt our systems to suit our cultures.

 There is also the theme of indifference of government to the plight of the poor despite our stupendous wealth, how did that problem start? How can it be corrected?

This can be corrected in a very simple way, which is by enforcing the law, if you have the law and you don’t enforce it, it is useless. If you go abroad, the simple reason people obey the law is not because the law is there but because the law is enforced. If you run a red light there is a policeman sitting on the corner to arrest you. When you do it once, second time you won’t do it again. There are people watching you, there are cameras watching you, if you break the law, you are caught but in Nigeria when you break the law there is nobody to catch you. Even if somebody comes, if you put your hand in your pocket and bring out a N100 they go away. It’s just enforcement; we must try to just enforce our laws.

I think this is what the new administration is doing now, they are not making new laws instead they are trying to enforce the existing ones that are there, that people have ignored. We have laws about everything but are they being implemented? And yet we say we have unemployment, if we don’t have implementation, then hire the people to implement it! When you implement the law, you save money for the government to pay salaries of those you have hired to enforce the laws. But if the money is taken away by a minister, how can they have money to pay salaries?

Emeka Dike: “Definitely there were a lot of challenges. He had issues where some people said, why must an Igbo man be a VC in Ibadan, those elements came up, leading to court cases. Some elements in the society were not happy. But my father had a lot of respect from the students. Once or twice they had some students’ unrest, my father actually appeared in the hall to talk to them and when he came – first of all they were actually surprised that a whole VC could come to the hall and address them, something that had never happened before.”

Emeka Dike:
“Definitely there were many challenges. He had issues where some people said, why must an Igbo man be a VC in Ibadan, those elements came up, leading to court cases. Some elements in the society were not happy. But my father had a lot of respect from the students. Once or twice they had some students’ unrest, my father actually appeared in the hall to talk to them and when he came – first of all they were actually surprised that a whole VC could come to the hall and address them, something that had never happened before.

 The Nigerian factor is another message in your novel, how can we deal with that problem?

The Nigerian factor can be dealt with by re-education. That’s what I’m trying to do. We have to dismiss this myth that things ‘cannot work in Nigeria,’ What is the meaning of “it cannot work in Nigeria?” This same Nigerian who says it cannot work in Nigeria, lands at Heathrow airport and he is lining up and he is behaving himself! As soon as he lands back in Nigeria he becomes a Naija who cannot obey the law. How is that possible? He is the same person, he hasn’t changed he hasn’t gone through any treatment. So the Nigerian Factor is a myth, a sort of brainwashing.

Some people don’t want things to be done right in Nigeria. In my book, I call them The Vested Interest. Let me give you an example, somebody who imports generators and sells does not want NEPA to work because of what he is making from generator sales. A lot of people are making money from refined imported fuel that is why our refineries have refused to work. This thing is simple, if our refineries work, you can’t import fuel to sell, and that’s who I call The Vested Interest, people who are benefiting from present day Nigeria. They are very powerful and they have a lot of money, they are making money so they don’t want things to change, so things are not changing because we don’t know what to do but rather because some people don’t want them to change. You have to break that chain somehow. The Nigerian factor is simply brain washing. We have been brainwashed. It is a lie, things will and can work if we want them to work in Nigeria.

We have to go back to history. History is – first of all – the discovery of oil– every country in the world that discovered oil has had the same problem that Nigeria had in the 70’s because oil money is easy money, it just comes. It is not like agriculture – where you have to work and work. So human beings being what they are all over the world, when they get this ‘easy money’ they spend it, Nigeria is like other countries. But where Nigeria is different is that at some point, there is some control introduced, after some time people will say ‘this is enough spending, let’s do something for the community’, but here there is no control. A politician will take and take, he is not thinking of the country, so we must have re-education, we have to. In America when you go to nursery school they will train you to love and believe in ‘the American dream.’

We have to believe in the ‘Nigerian dream,’ it is not about your own village or my own village. From a young age, we should re-educate children to believe in Nigeria as their own country. Today there is only one thing that unites us in Nigeria –football – when Nigeria is playing another country we pull together as one. So we have to have people rooting for the country so that when you take office, you know your responsibility is for Nigeria not for yourself. There is no magic working here, we must be honest to ourselves as Nigerians.

 There are many Harvard products in Nigeria and you head their association, in what ways have you been able to retrain the government? With this level of intelligence among your group members, things are not supposed to be like this, there is a kind of contradiction…

This is part of what we are trying to do. This is one of the goals of the association, to get a group of likeminded people who are exposed as to how things should be done, and we are hoping that once we form a critical mass, we should be able to talk to the government, have position papers, do things with NIIA, call speakers to come and re-educate people, have something to give back to the community and the country. I know it is not an easy thing to do because again I’m funding most of these activities myself, and it is still at the early stage. Abroad, the Harvard Club is just a social thing, just to get together and mix, but in Africa it can’t be just a social activity. We have political social and economic issues and we have a responsibility to talk about them and not just to sit down socialise with each other.

 Are you interested in politics?
I can’t afford to enter politics! Politics in Nigeria is politics of money. You need to have billions of dollars to run, which is wrong, which is not the intent. The intent is to get the vote but in Nigeria you need dollars to run.

 How do you match banking with creativity – writing?
First of all I am disappointed with banking in Nigeria as of today. The banking I did in the early 80’s is not the banking of today. The kind of banking I did was that we went outside, you would go to your customer, to a factory, you would see the kind of business they are doing, you came back and wrote about it. You would see what you could do to assist them, it was a hands on banking, not one that you sit down and all you do is finance trade, financing with a 90 day circle and sell FX. Then for security you tell them to bring their grandfathers’ graves and houses! If I have a house in Ikoyi, will I come to you for a loan? So the banking we have in this country is not really helping the economy. It is banking for the already rich.

Everybody wants to give money to MTN. But MTN doesn’t need your money. People that really need the money don’t get the loans, the banks don’t have what we call in the industry – long term funding. Their money is short term because they get it from government deposits but again they are not going out to finance agriculture, something that will give them money in the long term, it is a vicious cycle. They are only interested in short run returns.

 Are they ways you can intervene?
Anything is possible, there are some ideas and projects that am working on currently that will bring long term funding into the country, so that it can fund agriculture at 5 per cent instead of 25 percent. There is no need lending money at interest rates that people cannot afford, which is why people don’t pay back, when the interest rate is too high, they cannot pay back. They say people are defaulting, tomorrow they will say banking in Nigeria is so bad, it is a vicious circle. Part of the thing I am working on is how to bring in cheaper money into the country, because it is our money, these people are coming here, taking our crude oil – even our money is with them. So I believe that that the ‘surplus income’ in the West has to be invested in Africa because they made the money from us. And we need the money more than they do for our growth and development. This is part of the things I have been working on for some time.

 Do you believe in the current leadership and will there be light in the tunnel?
The phone call I just received now, somebody told me someone has been sacked, I have not seen the papers today. I have great hopes for this administration. Everything is all about enforcement. You have to enforce the law.

 

-This interview was published in the past on this platform

-Ademola Adegbamigbe, editor of TheNEWS has been reporting life, politics and economy for the past 26 years

 

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