Did We Lose Tomorrow Yesterday? -By Simbo Olorunfemi

Filed under: Forgotten Dairies |

Simbo Olorunfemi


I know this might be seen by some as self-glorification, but what does it matter? I don’t do self here or anywhere, but where there is a much-needed context. I started buying, not just reading, newspapers as a secondary school student; just as I also started going to court, on my own, to witness cases. By 15, I started buying news magazines, and by 16 I got published, not in the youth section of a newspaper, but as another contributor on the state of the nation. That is why one is able to recall facts and incidents in our political history that could have been beyond one’s immediate reach. But I know quite a few people of my generation who also got so civic-minded that early. That is as it should be. But is that still the case today?

With the passage of time and how events of today are increasingly interlocking with those of yesterday, one begins to realise that the key to unlocking a part of tomorrow might actually be in the hands of yesterday. But how do you do that when we have some who only know today, rejecting the authentic yesterday, simply because it does not suit their history-bereft understanding of today’s ever-shifting narrative of what tomorrow should be like. But how do we navigate tomorrow successfully when we cannot recall or accurately situate yesterday? How do you properly place the ancient of days seeking to take hold of your tomorrow when you have no knowledge of their yesterday?

Yet sadly, increasingly, some shallow and intemperate voices are beginning to dominate discourse in the polity, especially in the social media space, as it appears that some of the sane and moderate voices are beginning to tactically withdraw from this space as it increasingly becomes polluted by shallow partisanship, impolitic conduct and discourteous engagement. Some are so unbelievably loud, yet empty, that one cannot but fear for tomorrow as they pollute the space, even when they have no knowledge of history or context to properly situate their speech or writing.

They ask for ‘link’ as if life started only yesterday, and as if there was no life before the internet that is only a few decades old. With them, you will almost find it difficult to believe citizens did not engage the birth of Facebook or Twitter only a few years back. Make available the link, they cannot even tell the real from the fake, as they are not well-gounded in history to be able to do so. No knowledge of who, what, when, where, what, how or why, yet they engage you, insisting they know it all.

Only yesterday, in one of my increasingly reluctant public interventions on one of the social media platforms, seeing another needless debate going nowhere, I had to help shed light on the history of a particular website, to help contextualise the engagement, but a fellow there, whose only sense of history is founded on now would not have it, mixing up facts with alternative facts, as he would rather have his version of history to be the authentic one. But it cannot be his fault. He wanted direct links to popular Nigerian newspapers, but where are the links? Where are the links really?

Now, this was a debate, an ongoing one triggered by one of the major political actors, about what happened in 2009, and we do not have direct links to our newspapers to validate the claims put out. The link is to a site owned by a foreign entity that started archiving news materials about Africa in the 90s and as our friend has no knowledge of the history of that site, he disputes it as a source, even where it lists the primary source of its story as a Nigerian newspaper, as it should.

I remember when this foreign news aggregator and archive approached one of the leading news publishers here for the right of access to it stories. Now, it has built up such a massive chest, while the original content providers have no archives. Now, we have to subscribe to this foreign platform in order to have access to our own history, and not many have enough interest in readily accessible content, not to talk of unlocking that which is locked. But if only the links are there, then they can be easily cited.

My guess is that our newspapers lack adequate resources or sufficient interest in properly archiving the content they invested in generating. But how do we navigate tomorrow without the knowledge of yesterday? Here, we are talking about only 2009, and we do not have direct links to our newspapers to validate claims and check facts being put in the public domain to influence tomorrow. If we cannot fact-check our immediate yesterday, what do we do with the yesteryears?

If we cannot readily access the 2000s, how do we have access to just before then? How do we retrieve the writings of the 60s, 70s, and 80s? How do we access the Tai Solarin writings for Tribune? How do we bring back the writings of the Ayekooto and the giants of then? How do we create access to the engaging and robust debates of the 80s and 90s in The Guardian? What has happened to the great investigative and sacrificial work by Tell, TheNEWS and Tempo? What has happened to the Daily Times and Newswatch libraries? What has happened to all of those newspaper cuttings that the librarians would dutifully pull out? Where are all those photographs and cartoons? Beyond the heaps of newspapers and magazines in the private libraries of our fast-disappearing ‘dinosaurs’, what do we have? Where is the digital archive and library of our recent history?

If we cannot readily access 2009 in 2017 and we cannot tell authoritatively what happened less than ten years ago, what happens ten years into tomorrow? Here, the focus is on the media, it is even worse in other areas as we still do not have a reliable database of our citizens and crime record, making forensics a stranger in our land, even in this age.

What is the fate of our tomorrow when we de-link it from yesterday and today? Is there a link between this de-linking of today and yesterday in the increasingly shallowness of our thought and discourse? Is there a link between this and the ever decreasing attention span of us, as a people, as we bumble from one distraction to the other?

Ominous as it might seem, it does appear that we might have not only lost yesterday, but also lost tomorrow to yesterday. But then, can it ever be too late to recover tomorrow from the hands of the same yesterday? Perhaps, there is a sense in navigating without the benefit of hindsight, who knows? Perhaps, there is a tomorrow beyond yesterday, even if we cannot see it. We can create it. We should create it.

Simbo Olorunfemi works for Hoofbeatdotcom, a Nigerian Communications Consultancy and publisher of Africa Enterprise. Twitter: @simboolorunfemi