Still on the re-introduced old national anthem

Nigeria’s old national anthem, which was in use from 1960 to 1978, was recently re-introduced by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who signed the National Anthem Bill 2024 into law on May 29, 2024. PAUL OKAH looks at the implications, if any, of the scenario.

Last month, Nigerians were taken aback when the presidency hinted at the re-introduction of the old national anthem, which starts with the famous words “Nigeria, we hail thee,” which was in use from 1960 to 1978.

The old national anthem was originally adopted in 1960 during the celebration of Nigeria’s independence and was replaced in 1978 by the current one, “Arise, O compatriots, Nigeria’s call obey.”

Just as Nigerians were trying to come to terms with the reintroduction of the old national anthem, the All Progressives Congress (APC) member representing Owan Federal Constituency of Edo state in the House of Representatives, Prof. Julius Ihonvbere, who is also the chairman, House Committee on Basic Education, sponsored the National Anthem Bill 2024.

The bill was passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate and signed into law on May 29 by President Bola Tinubu, thereby making it compulsory for the re-introduced anthem to be sung in schools and official functions.

Expectedly, its re-introduction has sparked divided reactions among the citizens, with some seeing it as a misplaced priority and others believing it speak more to the Nigerian identity and nationhood.

Better for us

Speaking with Blueprint Weekend, a civil servant, Mr. Adolphus Aloh, said with the old national anthem, the president means well for Nigeria with its obvious advantages.

He said, “President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is not someone that will take action without thinking things through. Due to issues of patriotism, there were calls from some quarters for the re-introduction of the old anthem, which was sung to the tune of ‘Nigeria, we hail thee.’ So, Mr. President you had to look into it and the National Anthem Bill 2024 was passed by the National Assembly and signed into law by the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu on May 29.

“Of course, there are many advantages of the old national anthem. It is a call for uniformity among the citizens of Nigeria, to build a common interest and passion for the country’s well-being. It is a powerful symbol of national unity and identity, evoking feelings of patriotism and pride in citizens. The lyrics are rich in history and culture, referencing the country’s struggles and triumphs. Additionally, the anthem was a nod to the country’s British colonial heritage, acknowledging the impact of British rule on Nigeria’s development.

“However, the old anthem also had its disadvantages. Some Nigerians felt that the lyrics were too focused on the country’s colonial past, rather than its independent future. The language was also seen as elitist, with some citizens struggling to understand the complex vocabulary. Furthermore, the anthem was not inclusive of all Nigerian cultures, favoring the dominant British influence.

“In conclusion, both the old and new Nigerian national anthems have their advantages and disadvantages. While the old anthem was a powerful symbol of national identity and history, it was also seen as elitist and exclusive. The replaced anthem, on the other hand, is more inclusive and forward-looking, but may lack the depth and cultural richness of its predecessor. Ultimately, the choice of anthem reflects the complex and evolving nature of Nigerian identity and culture.”

Also speaking with this reporter, a human rights activist, Mrs. Jacinta Okoh, said the anthem has many advantages, but will be receiving resentment from women as a result of its gender biased nature.

“The replaced version of the Nigerian national anthem was introduced in 1978 as part of the transition from military rule to civilian government. The old anthem was a part of Nigeria’s history, representing the nation’s struggle for independence and democracy. It emphasised the unity of Nigeria’s diverse peoples and cultures, which was an important part of the nation’s identity.

“However, the now replaced anthem was relatively simple and easy to sing, which made it popular among schoolchildren and at public events. It evoked strong emotions and a sense of pride in Nigeria’s history and culture, making it a symbol of national unity. It had achieved iconic status in Nigeria and had become a symbol of national unity and pride, which many people were reluctant to give up.

“The old anthem contained references to colonial institutions and symbols, such as the British Union Jack, which some saw as a reminder of Nigeria’s colonial past. The old anthem focused on Christian and Muslim unity, which may have excluded other religious groups and marginalised communities. It had a limited musical range, which made it less suitable for orchestral performances and international events. The lyrics were written in a style that was more common in the 1960s and 1970s.”

On his part, an entrepreneur, Michael Adekunle, said the re-introduced anthem would go a long way in educating Nigerians on “our colonial past and way forward.”

He said, “The national anthem has a means of reminding us of how we got to where we are, and the importance of independence. It also brings out the companionship of the Nigerian citizen. It promotes hard work and diligence. It reminds us of the benefits of our motherland as we all know the importance of a mother. Also, it promotes loyalty to the country and reminds us that not minding the multi-diversification of tribes, we are one.

“However, I join those who believe it is the wrong time to enact such an anthem in a country that’s suffering from political and economic instability. Many citizens may find it difficult to recite it as they are still unable to recite the former, inasmuch as it’s being sung every day. However, the implication is that, whether we like it or not, everyone must learn the introduced anthem as it is now the official anthem.”

Similarly, a businessman, Abubakar Musa Bello, said he prefers the re-introduced old national anthem to the replaced version as it makes more meaning, despite some notable disadvantages.

Bello said, “The re-introduced national anthem is a powerful symbol of national pride and unity, evoking feelings of patriotism and loyalty among citizens. The lyrics celebrate Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage and its struggle for independence, serving as a reminder of the country’s history and resilience. Additionally, the anthem is a unifying force, transcending ethnic and linguistic divisions and promoting a sense of shared identity.”

Many things better

Giving an analysis of the re-introduced national anthem, a scholar, Peter Akpan, said it is far better than the replaced version in many aspects.

“I’ll start by picking verses of the national anthem. ‘Though tribes and tongues may differ in brotherhood we stand’. It shows that even though we all transcend from different ethnicities (per accident of birth), we should all be bound by brotherhood, we should all be one not minding cultural difference; ‘to hand unto our children a banner without stain’ from our forefathers. By forefathers, I mean the likes of Anthony Enahoro, who moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence, had a foresight of what likely our future held. No wonder they fought the good fight of faith although their dream never came to limelight.

“‘O God of all creation grant this our one request, help us to build a nation where no one is oppressed and so with peace and plenty Nigeria would be blessed.’ This verse clearly gives an insight of freedom and living right after being under the torture of colonialism our fathers never wanted us to remain in bondage. Not only did they talk about emancipation, they fought for it.

“As Africans we give a great deal of respect to those who sacrificed a whole lot to take Nigeria to the promised paradise. If not for our heroes past, maybe Nigeria wouldn’t be born yet. It’s time we changed our story for the best enough of the ‘l don’t care attitude’. If no one wants to do it, then we all and our generation to come would suffer most. It’s our fight as compatriots, please I urge us all.”