‘I came to UI just to get a degree, any degree but…’
The History Department of the University of Ibadan (UI) never produced a First Class graduate in its 69 years of existence – until 29-year-old Ozibo Ekele Ozibo from Ebonyi State rewrote that history.
What can we know about Ozibo Ekele Ozibo?
I am a native of Agba Ezekoma in Ishielu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. I am 29 years old and a second child in a family of six.
You emerged the best History graduate the great University of Ibadan has ever produced in its 69 years of existence. How does this feel, surreal?
Being the first person, living or dead, to make First Class Honors from the Ibadan School of History is by accident, not by design. When I left University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) in 2013 in frustration to the University of Ibadan and specifically to the Department of History, I was not looking forward to breaking any record whatsoever. Rather, my mind was fixed on getting a degree, any degree. To that extent, I can say that the feeling on realizing that I have broken a 69-year-old record is nothing extraordinary. I see it as a journey, not a destination.
Now, the way you see it, why did it take so long for that department to produce a First Class graduate?
Well, this question can be best answered by the authorities, especially those at the helm of affairs in the Department of History, University of Ibadan. You know, the Ibadan School of History is renowned as the pre-eminent custodian of African history. Once you talk of African History, you are directly referring to the Ibadan School of History. This is to tell you that the standard here is quite high, at least considering the names associated with the Department. You can talk of people like K.O. Dike, J.F.A Ade-Ajayi, A.E. Afigbo, C.C. Ifemesia, J.C. Anene, E.A. Ayandele, J. A. Atanda, G. O. Oguntomisin, Tekena Tamuno, Okon Uya, B. A. Mojuetan, C. B. N. Ogbogbo, etc. These are prominent men within the Nigerian intellectual circle. So, let me say that until now, the department had not found anyone suitable to wear the crown. I thank them for finding me suitable to wear it after 69 years.
Did you actually set out to break (or create, as it were) this record at UI?
It is important to point out here that I never learnt of any unbroken record in UI History Department until my graduation in 2016. So, getting a degree, not breaking a record, was uppermost in my mind.
You chose to study History at a time the subject had somehow lost its ‘relevance’ in Nigeria (it’s only just returning to the school curriculum after tremendous pressure on policy makers). Did you actually opt to study History or you settled for it when you couldn’t get what you wanted or actually wanted to be a historian?
We must acknowledge the fact that education has undergone tremendous transformation in the 21st century. Education has become more flexible than it was some centuries back, not a garbage-in-garbage-out phenomenon. My point is that, henceforth, people should begin to see education more as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. In the 21st century, what you study in the university is no longer the determinant of what you become in future. You can keep what you study aside; the most important thing is adaptation; I mean the ability to synergize what you study with the magic of information and communication technology (ICT). Once you have that magic, you can go places irrespective of what you study. So, a student of History as a discipline can go places in the 21st century provided he/she synergizes his/her study with the magic of information technology, the current driver of the world economy. That does not only apply to History; it also applies to other areas of study – even the highly revered professional courses like law, engineering, architecture, accounting, etc.
For me, History has been and is still my first choice. I put it as my first choice and I was one of the highest scorers in the Faculty with 80/100 score; which means I would have gone for any other course but I decided to go for History.
History is not like mathematics; no formulae to memorise. Still, there must be success tips you can offer. From your experience, are there areas you would advise people who aspire to achieve your kind of success to avoid or things they should focus on?
I believe with you that History is a subjective discipline whose assessment depends, to a large extent, on the whims and caprices of the lecturer. Still, there are basic things required of a good historian or would-be historian. That is analysis, at least in the context of the Ibadan School of History. Ibadan emphasizes analytical history over and above narrative history. The point is that analysis is the cardinal ingredient that distinguishes one historian from another. On narratives, the questions “who”, “what”, “where” and “when”, the answers to most questions are uniform but in analysis that borders on the question “why”, the answers to a given question differ remarkably. That is what distinguishes a good historian from the rest. A good historian is an analyst that sees an event from diverse points of view. There is no mono-causal event; rather, events are caused by a multiplicity of factors, some major, others minor; some remote, others immediate. For a student to do well in History, and in fact in any discipline, that student must have passion for the discipline; he must also be diligent; and finally, he must embrace the indispensability of the internet and other new media.
How do you feel to know that History is returning to schools? Why, in your opinion, is the subject so important?
I feel great. The subject of History is a very important one and that is why advanced societies like the UK and the USA do not joke with their history. At this point, I must commend the Historical Society of Nigeria led by Professor C.B.N. Ogbogbo for its giant stride in making sure that History returned to our schools. It’s high time that our pupils, and indeed all Nigerians, were taught our history. Why are we called Nigerians? People need to know that although the Nigerian project was a colonial experiment, none of the component groups was isolated or self-sufficient in the pre-colonial period. Therefore, we need one another to survive and that calls for meaningful inter-group relations, nation building and national integration.
What’s your plan now that you’re a graduate of History – an outstanding one at that?
My plan is to continue in the line of journalism, which is my first love and then to branch off into academics later. I would like to become a teacher of History soon.