By Kenneth Osakwe
A few days ago, a petition signed by Mrs. Fatima Mahmud-Oyekan, Head of Crescent schools, and Alhaji Aliyu Gudaji, Chairman, Parent-Teacher Association of the school was submitted to the Federal Ministry of Education asking that a few books that I haven’t read and one that I have read, InDependence be removed from NECO and JAMB’s list of recommended books. Their reasons? They found them to be “morally distasteful” and to have “negative effects” on their wards. Upon reading the petition, you cannot but fail to notice that evidence for the inappropriateness for the first two books were based on direct quotations from the texts. However, evidence for In Dependence is based on the last two lines of the blurb at the back of the book: a story of passion and idealism, courage and betrayal, and the universal desire to fall, madly, deeply, in love.” Here is the full blurb:
In the early-sixties, a young Tayo Ajayi sails to England from Nigeria to take up a scholarship at Oxford University. In this city of dreaming spires, he finds a whole generation high on visions of a new and better world. And it really does seem as if the whole world is ablaze with freedom movements. The post-colonial fires are burning brightly back home in West Africa, fuelled by the politics of Pan Africanism and financed by a fortuitous economic boom. On the other side of the Atlantic, the US Congress is about to pass the Civil Rights Act and Che Guevara is busy trying to export the Cuban Revolution. Meanwhile, across the West, the first tremors of the counter cultural and sexual revolutions are about to be felt.
It is in this heady atmosphere that Tayo meets Vanessa Richardson, the beautiful daughter of an ex-colonial officer. Their story, which spans three continents and four turbulent decades, is that of a brave but bittersweet love affair. It is the story of individuals struggling to find their place within uncertain political times. Its a story of passion and idealism, courage and betrayal, and the universal desire to fall madly, deeply, in love.
Of course, it makes perfect sense for parents to be concerned about the content of their children’s education and judging from the citations of the other two books, I will also be concerned about their suitability for junior secondary school. However, if the full blurb of In Dependence is the only thing you read, it is possible to see why the JAMB assesors may have selected it. It may have been more helpful for the petitioners to provide citations from the actual book as they have done with the other two books to substantiate their position. That they have not done so, raises suspicion about the real reason for asking for the discontinuing use of the book.
Yes, InDependence is a beautiful way to introduce young people to a love story that also explores the searing and brutally honest account of modern Nigeria. In a country where history has been expunged from the curriculum, what better way to understand how we move from that initial promise and optimism of independence to the dysfunctional and closed minded society we have become than through literature? Through the enlivening power of literature, young people have access to the past and can use it as a resource to fashion a new present
Since publication, I cannot help but notice that this snapshot into our murky colonial past and post-colonial present, of hopes and failed dreams has resonated beyond the shores of Nigeria. Given the big themes it explores, it is not surprising that it is on the reading list of so many universities in Nigeria, South Africa, India, UK and the US. My research shows that it was also a core texts for A-Level students seeking entry into universities in Zimbabwe. In the same year it was published in the U.K., In Dependence was named by Waterstones, the largest booksellers in the country, as its book for black history month, enjoying a nationwide campaign. JAMB assessors therefore joined a long list of educationists and booksellers the world over to judge In Dependence as important text for their students. These opinion shapers did not find it morally reprehensible, so why then is Crescent Schools raising alarm?
I am pleased that JAMB selected a book such as In Dependence. Nigerian students are privileged to have been given access to a book that confronts our past and present while painting a realistic picture of love and trouble. Rather than asking for censorship of such a book, our educationists should be championing its inclusion and ensuring that more books of such quality are introduced to students. In addition to In Dependence, I would suggest that Kole Omotoso’s book, Just Before Dawn, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi Half of the Yellow Sun and Max Siollioun’s Soldiers of Fortune are books that JAMB and NECO and WAEC should consider as compulsory text for our children in subsequent years.
Educators and parents, don’t forget that these children you are trying to protect from the apparently morally depraved books will be going to university to encounter these same texts. Will you also ask universities to expunged books like In Dependence from recommended list of universities too? Do you want your children to be in denial of reality and history because of our own bigotory?