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On return of the old national anthem

On May 29, 2024, his first anniversary in office, President Ahmed Bola Tinubu  signed into law an executive bill,  amending the National Anthem Act, cancelling…

On May 29, 2024, his first anniversary in office, President Ahmed Bola Tinubu  signed into law an executive bill,  amending the National Anthem Act, cancelling the 1978 national anthem: Arise o Compatriots’’ and returning the old national anthem: “Nigeria We hail Thee’’.

The president’s action raised a storm of controversy as expected with opinions sharply divided among Nigerians on the matter. Citizens, who were born around the 1960s right up to the early 1970s would recall with fond memories that the now restored national anthem in many ways reflected the hopes and aspirations of a Nigeria that was emerging from a long drawn colonial experience. The lyrics of the anthem spoke to the diversity of Nigeria, the challenges the country faced in achieving its manifest destiny and the ringing call for all Nigerians to rally round to build a nation where “no man is oppressed’’.

The lyrics of the anthem were written in 1959 by Lillian Jean Williams, a British expatriate who lived in Nigeria and the music was composed by Frances Berda, another British expatriate. Indeed the anthem resonated with the mood and atmosphere in Nigeria, when it was adopted and still does, especially with the agitations for secession in parts of the country. However, the problem is the timing of the return.

We admit that the wordings of the now returned anthem are profound and good for nationhood, but there should have been wider consultations and there was no need for the rush. Although, there are some Nigerians who will be inclined to feel that certain words like “tribe, native and fatherland’’ in the anthem are pejorative in reference to the Nigerian people and anachronistic in terms of gender sensitivity, generally, Nigerians are not averse to the anthem. But there ought to have been wider consultations across the country and sensitisation to get the buy-in of all citizens.

At a time when most Nigerians are battling hardship caused by the subsidy removal and the floating of the Naira, many had expected that efforts will be focused on addressing those issues, rather than a national anthem.  It is also curious that the bill was treated with so much urgency as though it was a major problem in Nigeria. In less than a week, it was introduced, passed and signed into law.  This development caused many Nigerians to assume that it was intended to distract them from the current harsh social and economic conditions being experienced.

On that historic day, which marked the president’s one year anniversary in office, Nigerians were waiting to him speak of his achievements and possible steps to alleviate the suffering caused by some of the policies, not the re-introduction of an anthem. It must be stated that of all the myriad of issues that are affecting Nigerians today the issue of national anthem is the least in priority. It is at best a matter for national orientation which the Ministry of Information and the National Orientation Agency are expected to sensitise Nigerians about in the course of their normal duties and responsibilities. It is hardly an issue that should be raised beyond that level.

The federal government needs to read the mood of the people at all times so that its messages, no matter how good they are, are not lost on the people due to the timing.  The government’s action is an indication of detachment from the harsh realities that the administration has brought on the people and amounts to insensitivity on the part of the leadership.

Going forward, it has to be said that President Tinubu needs to be tactful on how he handles issues of this nature. The process he adopted in reintroducing the national anthem is similar to how he has handled some other issues of national import. The president should always read the room and take the people along.  Now that the anthem has been re-introduced, we urge all Nigerians to embrace it and take the wordings seriously, as a way of uniting the country. Anything to unite the country should be embraced and given all the seriousness it deserves.

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