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Public Outcry Follows Nigeria’s Return to 1960 National Anthem

By Ezinwanne Onwuka

On May 29, 2024, Nigeria took a nostalgic trip back in time as “Nigeria, We Hail Thee” was reinstated as the national anthem. President Bola Tinubu signed off on the bill that brought back the anthem, which had been dropped by a military government in 1978.

The New-Old Anthem

Originally adopted in 1960, right after Nigeria gained independence from British colonial rule, the old — now current — anthem was penned by Lillian Jean Williams, a British expatriate, and composed by Nigerian musician Frances Berda.

In 1978, “Arise, O Compatriots” (lyrics here) took over. This anthem, composed by the Nigerian Police Band under Benedict E. Odiase, was seen as more modern and inclusive. It has been the soundtrack of Nigeria’s journey through military rule and democratic transitions.

Yet, many Nigerians have held a deep-seated affection for “Nigeria, We Hail Thee,” (lyrics here), which resurfaced with the quick decision of the Nigerian parliament to bring it back — the passage of a bill typically takes several months in Nigeria, but the national anthem bill was passed within a week.

Public Reaction

Not everyone is thrilled. Many Nigerians are furious, questioning the government’s sense of priority given the country’s pressing issues.

“With all of the multifaceted issues we face,” said socio-political analyst Reno Omokri, “it seems like we have a lack of priorities when we major on such a settled issue as an anthem.”

Omokri expressed the thoughts of thousands of Nigerians who wonder why President Bola Tinubu and his team would busy themselves by adopting a new national anthem for Nigeria while inflation and security crises roar.

Social media has been ablaze with criticism. “Changing the Nigerian national anthem written by a Nigerian, to the song written by colonizers is a stupid decision,” tweeted media communications specialist Fola Folayan, “And it’s shameful that nobody in the National Assembly thought to stand against it.”

The protest goes beyond tweets. Influential figures like activist Aisha Yesufu and a former minister of education, Oby Ezekwesili are determined to keep singing “Arise O Compatriots” at public events, using the hashtag #NotMyNationalAnthem on X.

“The lawmakers and the President grievously breached the constitutional provisions and process for amendment of legislation and therefore cannot foist another national anthem on us,” said Ezekwesili. “I refuse to join them in the kangaroo act of violating the constitution.”

Government Officials Applaud Move

While the response from the public has been overwhelmingly negative, government officials appear more welcoming towards the change. They argue that the old anthem brings back a sense of national pride and unity reminiscent of Nigeria’s early years of independence.

Tahir Mongunu, chairman of the parliamentary committee which pushed the bill through, defended the change, saying it was “apt, timely and important”. “It will undoubtedly inspire a zeal for patriotism and cooperation. It will promote cultural heritage. Changing the national anthem will chart a path to greater unity,” he added.

The director-general of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Lanre Issa-Onilu, echoed these sentiments, describing the old song’s lyrics as “more impactful and more meaningful than the one that we just dumped.” 

President of the Nigerian Senate, Godswill Akpabio, even hailed the readoption of the old anthem as one of President Tinubu’s significant achievements in his 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,” Akpabio said. “Whether in the field of battle or politics, we must hail Nigeria.”

This decision to resurrect the forgotten anthem comes at a time when Nigeria is grappling with severe economic, security, and political challenges. Many citizens are shocked that the National Assembly prioritized this bill amid such crises whose solutions are not yet in sight.

However, the Nigerian government is approaching the situation from a different perspective. Officials believe that reinstating the old anthem will reignite national pride and unity. President Tinubu said the anthem captures Nigeria’s diverse beauty. He also teased critics who questioned his priorities, saying that bringing back the 1960 anthem was his priority.

Ezinwanne Onwuka reports for TruthNigeria from Abuja.

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