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Galvanising a new Nigeria with an old anthem

Lagos Island street scene in 1950s

Battered on several fronts by a litany of worries, prominent among which is economic hardship, and ebbing quality of life, the National Assembly, working hand-in-glove with the executive arm of government thinks that reverting to the old national anthem is good enough an elixir for national rebirth and economic rejuvenation. This is at variance with what Nigerians of diverse creeds and religions believe. Consequently, they want the government to get serious with governance and jettison folly if it truly desires a new Nigeria, where patriotic verve among citizens pours out naturally without compulsion, KEHINDE OLATUNJI reports.

Judging from the alleged below-par performance tag placed on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s first 365 days in office, as well as a string of scathing criticisms that have continued to pour out, some Nigerians appear convinced that the administration has been of little or no consequence to their wellbeing.
This is further evidenced by the volume of lamentation by groups and individuals from all corners of the country regarding the magnitude of storms that they will continue to weather, as the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government sustains its call for understanding as things continue to go south.

It was amid the gamut of challenges that the country is facing, but with no clear solution yet in sight, that many were jolted by the decision of the National Assembly to, with military alacrity, pass the National Anthem Bill 2024. An even bigger surprise followed in toe when President Bola Tinubu immediately assented to the bill, a development that effectively saw the restoration of the old national anthem “Nigeria, we hail thee,” and jettison the much loved, “Arise O’ Compatriots.”

Like other policies, which the government has an immense interest in, and is ready to push to whatever extent irrespective of the wishes and desires of the people, barely 24 hours after Tinubu signed the bill into law, the National Orientation Agency (NOA), yesterday, directed all community orientation and mobilisation officers in the 774 local councils to commit the reintroduced national anthem to memory by June 3, as they “would be the grassroots marshals for the implementation of this new policy of the government.”

It added that it is working “closely with the National Union of Teachers (NUT) to ensure that schools all over the country are mobilised to start using the current national anthem,” in schools.

The NOA’s Deputy Director of Press, Paul Odeniyi, quoting the agency’s director general, Lanre Issa-Onilu, said that the directive is part of NOA’s efforts to ensure a seamless transition to the new national anthem.
Issa-Onilu claimed that reverting to the old anthem was part of a national identity project aimed at promoting cohesion and patriotism within the citizenry.

“We are excited to embark on this new chapter in our national history…We believe that this new national anthem will inspire a sense of pride and unity among Nigerians, and we are committed to ensuring that every citizen has access to it.”

The NOA boss is not the only high-ranking government functionary who sees things through that prism.

Shortly after the bill was signed into law during a joint session of the National Assembly commemorating the Silver Jubilee of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, and the “latest” anthem rendered for the first time, the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, shocked Nigerians when he described the move as one of the most significant things achieved during Tinubu’s first year in office.

“Of all the significant things you have done, I think one of the most important is to take us back to our genealogy; the genealogy of our birth. That though we may belong to different tribes, though we have different tongues, in brotherhood we must stand. Whether in the field of battle or politics, we must hail Nigeria. The best place to start this revolution is the National Assembly where we have the elected representatives of the people,” Akpabio told Tinubu.

Cycling back to the past with old national anthem
LIKE other national symbols, the national anthem represents the tradition, history, and beliefs of a nation and its people. Hence, it helps to evoke feelings of patriotism among Nigerians and reminds them of their nation’s glory, beauty, and rich heritage.
Section 24 of the 1999 Constitution specifically states that it is the duty of every citizen to respect the national anthem because it helps “to enhance the power, prestige and good name of Nigeria, defend Nigeria and render it as may be required.”

“Arise O’ Compatriots,” which has been in existence since 1978, is making way for, “Nigeria, we hail thee,” which was composed when Nigeria gained independence on October 1, 1960. The anthem played a significant role in shaping Nigeria’s national identity and unity during the 1960s and late 1970s.

Section 24 of the 1999 Constitution specifically states that it is the duty of every citizen to respect the national anthem because it helps “to enhance the power, prestige and good name of Nigeria, defend Nigeria and render it as may be required.”

That’s why many were surprised when the National Assembly initiated moves to revert to “Nigeria, We Hail Thee,” inherited from the colonial masters.

The old national anthem was adopted during Nigeria’s independence from Britain on October 1, 1960. Its lyrics were written by a British expatriate and lyricist, Lillian Jean Williams, while Frances Berda, composed the music.

However, in 1978 it ceased to be the country’s national anthem because of the re-orientation efforts of the military government to shelve some of the vestiges of colonialism and preach patriotism after the Nigerian Civil War.

With the need to have a national anthem that reflected her cultural diversity and unity, the military administration of General Olusegun Obasanjo changed the national anthem to the one discarded by the Tinubu administration.

Tinubu at the National Assembly

The rested anthem was composed by Benedict Odiase, who served in the Nigeria Police Force between 1954 and 1992. He was also the Music Director of the Nigerian Police Band and the Midwest State Police Band.

According to the National Archive of Nigeria, the country adopted that anthem to, “promote national ownership, as the composer of the previous anthem was a British expatriate, stating that “Arise, O Compatriots,” was originally written as a poem by five different writers, but it was Odiase who was tasked with putting the poem to music.

The lyrics of the anthem were taken from five of the best entries in a national contest and the winners were P. O. Aderibigbe, John A. Ilechukwu, Dr. Sota Omoigui, Eme Etim Akpan, and B.A. Ogunnaike.
The National Anthem Bill 2024 sponsored by House Leader, Julius Ihonvbere, and Senate Leader Opeyemi Bamidele, simultaneously at both chambers was at the instance of President Bola Tinubu, who had severally expressed his preference for the old anthem during his campaign.

For instance, in 2011, President Tinubu, as the leader of one of the main opposition parties, called for the adoption of the anthem in place of the current one.

He had also during his speech at the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Jos, Plateau State said, “Abandoning the post-independence anthem, which arguably evoked a strong spirit of patriotism and brotherliness, to compose a very drab replacement, is far less inspirational.”

However, proponents of the old anthem have also argued that the 2014 National Conference adopted the latest anthem and regarded, “Nigeria we hail thee” as a better symbol of unity, peace, and prosperity.

But some lawmakers said the lyrics of the recently jettisoned anthem were vague and did not evoke the desired emotion, or reflect the aspirations of Nigerians. They also argued that the old (new) anthem would promote unity and progress in the country.

Dissent views from within lawmakers
IT is worthy to point out that while most national lawmakers scampered to please the president by fast-tracking a return to the old anthem, others begged to differ, including a member, representing Jere Federal Constituency, Borno State, Ahamad Satomi, who challenged his colleagues to convince Nigerians about the relevance of the law at this time.

His concerns highlighted the disconnect between legislative actions and the real-world problems faced by Nigerians.

He said: “I do not know how this national anthem will affect the wellbeing of the common man in Nigeria. Let’s be realistic. How will this stop hunger, banditry, or improve security? Satomi asked.

He emphasised the need for legislation that directly benefits the populace, rather than symbolic gestures, even as he urged his colleagues to prioritise development-oriented policies that would attract positive international attention and foster growth while expressing frustration over the focus on the national anthem while the world advances in technology and innovation.

He added:  “There is a saying that goes thus, ‘Countries that rely on prayers will rely on the ones that think.”

Before passing the bill for the President’s signature, the Deputy Senate President, Barau Jibrin, had suggested that the “motherland” in the anthem be replaced with “fatherland” because of religious perspectives.
Also, Senator Adams Oshiomhole argued that the “native land” in the anthem be replaced with either “motherland or fatherland”.

He also recommended that the “tribe” should be replaced with “ethnic,” but all the observations were jettisoned to achieve a purpose, which is yet to be known to Nigerians.

Majoring in minor
MANY stakeholders in Project Nigeria believe that reverting to the old anthem is simply a frivolous step that lacks merit, empathy, and good thinking.

Speaking with The Guardian, a former Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Somalia, Babafemi Badejo, alleged that the legislators wanted to erase one of the legacies of General Olusegun Obasanjo as again spurring any spirit of patriotism.

According to him, if the legislators wanted purposeful and beneficial change, they should facilitate the jettisoning of the military-foisted constitution that many Nigerians are unhappy about.

Badejo, who is a legal practitioner and professor of political science and international relations at Chrisland University, Abeokuta, asked lawmakers to explain when Nigerians complained to them that they needed a new national anthem when they are facing serious socioeconomic problems, corruption, and insecurity.

Insisting that, “Change should be progressive and not retrogressive,” Badejo added: “If we want to do away with what the military foisted on us, we should be talking about changing the Constitution, which I believe is our fundamental problem as a nation, and not one national song for an older one that does not show seriousness as a nation. It does not show leadership.

“There are words in the just-approved anthem that are problematic today. For instance, the Yoruba, Igbo, Fulani, Ijaw, Ibibio, Hausa, etc., are described as tribes in the old anthem, but they shouldn’t be. These are nationalities that are respectively bigger than many European nation-states. You cannot call people who are of the magnitude of 50-60 million people a tribe. Don’t denigrate the people. Why are we going back to the stupidity of the past?”

He added that if the country has the luxury of wanting a change of anthem, “then call on all Nigerians to compete on lyrics and the tune for a new song. We can select one. But it is retrogressive to drop what we have had since 1978 for some vague reasons and replace it with what colonial powers foisted on us.”

The National Publicity Secretary of the Youth Party (YP), Ayodele Adio, shares Badejo’s views, stressing that the Senate had to be constantly reminded that they were elected to represent various constituencies across Nigeria hence the need for extensive consultations before decisions like changing the national anthem are taken.

According to him, there should have been a certain level of public engagement to ensure that citizens consent to whatever changes are proposed before they are carried out.
“Unfortunately, and quite embarrassingly, they have carried on as shepherds without flocks. If they had engaged the people, they would have been reminded of their priorities given the socioeconomic realities of millions of Nigerians.”

He described the law as a misplaced priority, saying the government is either out of touch or cannot provide solutions to the challenges that Nigerians are grappling with, adding that it was utterly insensitive for the government to distract Nigerians with a change of anthem when the country itself is on the brink of starvation.

He said: “Hundreds of citizens are kidnapped weekly, and bandits and terrorists kill several. Food inflation is pushing at over 40 per cent, and several local manufacturing businesses are folding up. Still, one of the highest-paid legislative bodies in the world would rather debate an anthem that proffers solutions or sacrifice their perks as a mark of solidarity with their constituents.

“Without mincing words, no country can make significant progress with an overpaid, out-of-touch legislature that is insensitive to the plights of its constituents. A system that rewards a politician with wealth, but leaves his constituency in abject poverty is ‘clientelism’ and will never deliver progress and prosperity.”

Also, of the view that the anthem change constitutes a misplaced priority as well as a waste of time is Prof. Gbenga Okunlola, of the University of Ibadan.

He said given the many challenges yearning for attention in the country, the least thing that the government should be concerned about is reverting to an old national anthem.
He said: “There are lots of things that have to do with health, economy, and mining, among others, but these things are not taken into consideration. I think we should get serious as a nation. Are Nigerians that are on the streets demanding a new anthem? Is that what we need at the moment? There are so many issues that need to be taken seriously, let’s get serious please.”

For Kunle Okunade, a political analyst, the action of government is simply frivolous, as there are a million and one things that the president and legislators could channel their energies to, which would improve the lives of ordinary Nigerians.

“There’s the new minimum wage matter that is still hanging and moving at millipede speed. There’s the issue of insecurity that has refused to go to bed. You could channel your conversations and efforts towards lending more hands to our security architecture, and helping them towards consolidating on their efforts in fighting this menace,” he said.

On his part, a legal practitioner, Abasumo Bassey, said that the “fast track process of legislating ‘Nigeria We Hail Thee..’ back into the top echelon of our national songs not only reminds us about another speedy legislation passed in the same week, and which served to reinstall a previously dethroned first class traditional ruler, but it also serves as a sad reminder on how our national and legislative ethos has been so eroded even as the nation counts down to 25 years of uninterrupted civilian administration.
“Civilian administration, yes, but certainly not a democratic one. The past 25 years have seen Nigerians witness some of the most flagrant abuses of the foundations of democratic governance. Some of the most draconic military administrations in our history will recoil at the level of lawlessness, ineptitude, and incomprehensible disregard for the tenets of democratic governance. Whilst the executive has been known to exhibit excesses even in the most democratic of nations, the country has seen a downward trend in the quality of legislative debates and processes emanating out of the National Assembly.

“In giving what should be the most cogent justification for the Bill, the Senate Leader (who sponsored the Bill itself), said the old anthem aligns with the vision of President Bola Tinubu’s administration and will promote national unity. Really? So, the very symbol of our national cohesion can be circumscribed to fit into the political prism of a nascent political coalition, which has only been in power for the past nine years!”

Bassey added: “The advent of democratic governance is no basis to do away with everything done under a military government. For whatever it is worth, military governments are known to have benefitted from the experts’ opinions and professionalism of select civilian eggheads in the formulation, debate, and execution of most of its most laudable policies. The Highway Code, the National Youth Service Scheme, the concept of Federal Character, the Land Use Act, and even the foundations of our constitutional democracy have all been handed down by the military.”

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