By Odinaka Ezeobele of Existentialism & Letters

“Unless we know what we are and how we came about to be what we are, we shall certainly be unable to know where and how to go further" Nwafor Orizu, Nigerian elder statesman. 

The quote expresses the need to find meaning in our lives by seeking beyond what we know. One of the important ways we can achieve this is through a conscious effort to study our collective human culture and take lessons from it. As we proffer solutions for a myriad of problems in our society, there is one weapon we can add to our arsenal; that is the value of studying humanities and this includes history. 

Perhaps a story which gives literal meaning to the idea that humanities saves lives is the story of how we collectively failed 276 kidnapped girls. You may know that about two years ago in April, 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped girls from Government Secondary School in the town Chibok, Borno State, and most of the girls have still not been found nor rescued. Similarly, about twenty years ago somewhere in eastern Africa, an extremist group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army orchestrated what is now popularly called the Aboke abductions. It was the removal of female secondary school students from St. Mary’s College boarding school, Aboke, Apac District, Uganda on October 10, 1996. Sister Rachele Fassera, the deputy head mistress of the school, pursued the rebels and negotiated the release of 109 of the abducted 139 girls.

This might be shocking were it not a familiar story. Given our society’s pattern, in a few years this may be forgotten history. But it shouldn’t stop there, we must search for ways in which such events must never happen again or that we are better prepared for it. The two events are not the same, and equating them would be callous, but as Nigerians some lessons can be learnt from the rescue efforts in Aboke abductions. And a way to learn these is through the study of our history (a field of humanities).

It’s no accident that some of Nigeria’s intellectual giants were students of ”Classics“. People like Wole Soyinka, Emeka Anyaoku and Flora Nwapa were students of Classics. I’m not arguing for a western-centered education, but the general study of the humanities in the context of our local and global society which we now participate in. In a country where it’s the common sentiment that majoring in the humanities fields is a frivolous endeavor, one that cannot be held parallel or heavens forbid equivalent to the study of STEM fields i.e. science, technology, engineering and math, this cannot be overstated. 

Many today share this sentiment. The last time I checked, history is not even part our secondary school curriculum. Let us all begin to disabuse our minds of this dangerous idea that the study of the humanities is irrelevant. When we think about subjects such as history we mostly think about memorizing facts and figures but we should think about the humanities as a solution to a myriad of problems both private and public. Each of our individual and collective stories are colored with events which history can help give us some perspective on.

In the words of Michelle Obama, “the arts and humanities define who we are as a people. That is their power ― to remind us of what we each have to offer, and what we all have in common. To help us understand our history and imagine our future. To give us hope in the moments of struggle and to bring us together when nothing else will.”