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The National Assembly’s meaningless nostalgia for the old National Anthem

This week, the National Assembly was said to have taken through a second reading, a bill to revert to the old National Anthem. The bill…

This week, the National Assembly was said to have taken through a second reading, a bill to revert to the old National Anthem. The bill is being sponsored by Opeyemi Bamidele, Leader of the Senate, and it reportedly received “overwhelming support.” The report in the media asserted that the same bill “swiftly passed the first, second, and third readings within minutes” in the lower chamber of the National Assembly, the House of Representatives. 

Supporters of the bill stated that the old anthem promoted peace, unity, and prosperity more effectively than the current one. On a further disingenuous note, the lawmakers also asserted that the current anthem, introduced during military rule, does not fully reflect Nigeria’ democratic values and commitment to nationhood.

How the old anthem “fully reflect Nigeria’s democratic values and commitment to nationhood” was not sufficiently canvassed, but the all-knowing lawmakers are moving with the speed of a jet propulsion engine into a nostalgic embrace of the past, to replace the National Anthem with the one that came from Independence in 1960. If only our lawmakers would speedily move to resolve the far more serious problems that the Nigerian people face!

I was a delegate during the 2014 National Conference, and I recall that the issue of reverting to the old anthem was canvassed and enthusiastically backed by the nostalgic old men from the past, at the Conference. These old men were also the group pushing that we should revert to the 1963 Constitution and the regions of old; except that they didn’t want the old Northern Region to be reconstituted! 

That old anthem stated somewhere that: “though tribes and tongues may differ…”. How on earth can we accept an anthem that is still talking about  “tribes” in the 21st century? It’s an unacceptable, racist characterisation of colonised people that emerged from 19th-century colonial anthropology. 

Yet, such an insultive and colonial characterization is either acceptable to Opeyemi Bamidele and his colleagues, or they are actually very ignorant of the absurd colonial and racist content of “tribe” that should ordinarily revolt any truly patriotic Nigerian and African. What would be the relevance of having fought for independence if our lawmakers would be hankering for an empty and meaningless return to a past anthem that’s steeped in a very colonial anthropological source? Don’t they know? Can’t they see? Are they not thinking? 

The excessive embrace of the past is part of the metaphysical nostalgia that refused to appreciate the political economic choices and wrong leadership recruitment processes that led us to the deep pit we have been dug into. Instead of searching for far more rational and scientifically relevant instruments of problem solving, our lawmakers think an empty gesture of nostalgia offers an easy route. 

But they are mistaken in their empty gestures. Wasn’t the old anthem in situ when Nigeria went through the various crisis phenomena of the 1960s? These included the Census Crises; the Western Nigeria crisis; the serious problems associated with the 1964 General Elections; the emergency in Tivland which led to the deployment of the Nigerian Army in an internal pacification operation for the first time, and the culmination of all these problems in the 1966 coup and counter-coup; and finally, the Nigerian Civil War that led to the death of millions of our compatriots. Where was their much-vaunted old National Anthem in those spaces of crisis and killings?

There is also an unacceptable demographic tyranny that Opeyemi Bamidele and his colleagues are attempting to impose on Nigeria, with the plan to revert to the old National Anthem. It is an anthem that would resonate with the generation born before independence and maybe, immediately after. Let us unpack the facts. 

In 1960, Nigeria had a population of 44, 928, 342 people. When the military introduced the present anthem in 1978, the population was still less than 70 million. As of Thursday, May 23rd, 2024, Nigeria’s population stood at 228, 539, 295. The median age today is 17.2 years; and those who are under 30 years are 70% of our population, while 42% of that population is under 15. Those who are between 50 and 59 years constitute 4.50% of our population; and those over 60 years are just 2.56% of Nigeria’s population. These are statistical estimates from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.

The mass of the Nigerian people today are under the age of 30. The old National Anthem has no relevance to them and their aspirations to live in a properly- governed, decent and democratic country, which offers them the opportunity to actualise their ambitions and positively engage their talents. Today, the majority of Nigerians, 53.9% of these, are also now  living in the urban areas of our country. Nigeria has shifted away irretrievably from  a country of the rural folk or of the peasantry. It’s a country of mainly urban dwellers. It means that the emphasis on “tribes and tongue” that “may differ”, in the words of the old anthem, is very meaningless to them. The urban youth have a generational aspiration that “tribes” cannot convey. The old anthem is irrelevant to the youth who form the majority of the Nigerian people!

Opeyemi Bamidele and his colleagues in the National Assembly have no right to impose their empty nostalgia on Nigerians with their effort to reinstate the old National Anthem in our country. Let them give themselves the pause and genuinely reflect on the problems that the Nigerian people are grappling with today. These are located in the serious economic crises associated with the near-religious embrace by the Nigerian ruling class of the disastrous neoliberal capitalism that’s been on rampage throughout the years of civil rule from 1999; the unjust appropriation of national resources for ruling class comfort and to the disadvantage for the mass of the people; a political process that is by its nature and form, very undemocratic and which has promoted a culture of prebendalism; and a political party system totally devoid of inner-party democracy; plus a state structure that exists today just to foster the transfer of national resources into private pockets; an educational system in severe decline and deep crisis; and finally, an economic infrastructure that is not creating the jobs to absorb millions of youth in despair and has increasingly become alienated from their country.

Opeyemi Bamidele’s bill to return to the old National Anthem won’t assist us to solve these problems. It probably would satisfy the empty nostalgia of the old generation who frankly, have no meaningful relevance in the contemporary realities of Nigeria. It’s a reflection of how far removed our lawmakers are from the felt needs and lived realities of the Nigerian people.

Let us be clear about it. No matter how hard they try, Opeyemi Bamidele and his colleagues at the National Assembly cannot return to the past. Heraclitus was right. We can’t step into the same river twice! All things give way, and nothing remains as they used to be. Marx also asserted that everything solid melts away. We need far more rational tools to solve contemporary problems. The old national anthem is not fit for meaningful purposes. It is an object of meaningless nostalgia for those born when Nigeria had a population of less than 50 million people. Today, as I had earlier noted, we are a country of over 228 million people.  How can the new generation connect with the colonial description of our people as “tribes”, celebrated by the old anthem? That’s an unacceptable travesty in the 21st century! The National Assembly should wean itself from its meaningless nostalgia for the old National Anthem and face the task of solving serious national problems. 

Kawu, PhD; FNGE, is a broadcaster, journalist and a political scientist; wrote via [email protected] 


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