National anthem or national issues?, By Toyin Falola


By Adadareporters

Nostalgic feelings, memory nodes, and reverberations have often spurred me into euphoric celebrations, bursting out to retrace the relics of history resurrected by the Nigerian leaders: The National Anthem of Independence. I must confess that people of my age bracket and those born and weaned before 1978 must be basking in the euphoria of the lyrics and rhythms of the old anthem, like listening back to the songs of your old juju singers in the 70s and 80s. You cannot deny the nostalgic feelings. I am older than Nigeria, which obtained its independence in 1960.

The Nation is a dynamic and unique society with many bitter experiences that have held it to its throes. Nevertheless, it keeps going, even if not thriving. Its citizens are, without doubt, resilient in every sense of it. This is a nation that is deeply rooted in its enriching culture and tradition with an in-depth history of the good, the bad, and the ugly. I believe that following this, an anthem should capture the general depiction of the people well, and the reintroduced anthem, as our anti-democratic leaders told us, will promote patriotism.

Back then, the ideology and conceptual predominance in this anthem reflected the colonial experience and struggles that the nation had to endure, as well as the long history of denial of sovereignty and freedom of persons. It came in as evidence of hope for the unknown future of self-governance and the expectation of what would occur in the country that just got its independence.

Well, I may not say anything different about the semantical relevance of the reintroduction. It captures the long years of pestilence and struggles of Nigerians from independence to date and seems to come as a herald of hope and courage to face another uncertain future. So, the expectation now is that every time the anthem is sung, there seems to be some form of renewal of hope for a brighter future, a pride that sits deep in the realization of the strength and wealth of the nation alongside the revived patriotism and passion to develop and establish a working society. Bearing in mind the current situation and your suffering, I am convinced that you will agree with me.

Our citizens have been passing different analyses and criticisms on the reintroduction of the “Nigeria, we hail thee” anthem. This anthem was written by Lillian Jean Williams and composed into a song by Ms. Frances Berda, a British expatriate at that time. PA Odiase wrote the “Arise O Compatriot” anthem, and the import of the change at the time was supposed to be that to really feel the cultural and historical significance of the national anthem, it should be composed by Nigerian citizens, rather than the British, who colonized the nation. The anthem was written with the entire nation bearing in mind what it had been through, including a Civil War, and this is evident in all the verses of the anthem. Well, the two pretty much speak the same message against the background of historical circumstances.

Anyway, the conversation today is not on whether the nation should have retained the existing anthem or whether the lyrics of the reintroduced one should be revisited. It is on whether changing it at all is of such priority that it faces this level of urgency. Why the haste? Is it that President Tinubu just wanted something to be penned as an accomplishment during his tenure or the desperate need to ensure that the 29th May celebration is marked as something different?

The period within which the reintroduction of the anthem is passed is at the speed of light: motion moved, passed through all stages, rushed public hearing, and the President entered the chamber to put pen to paper. You would think the bill is an urgent pre-condition for something that would change the lives of millions of Nigerians from the current regrettable state of the nation.

Nigeria is in a very tough time, with so many issues ranging from insurgency, insecurity, kidnapping, hardship, and outrageous cost of living, coupled with so many other issues. You would agree that the swapping of the National Anthem is supposed to be the least focused priority of the Nigerian lawmakers at this point.

Many bills of urgency and benefits, touching on the change of situation of the nation, still get perpetually delayed before the lawmakers as many have not passed their first reading for many years. Yet the lawmakers showed their efficiency and effectiveness in passing the bill for the reintroduction of the old National Anthem in such a short time. They can be efficient in matters of irrelevance. Some of the pending bills include beneficial amendment bills to the Nigerian Constitution, the Nigerian Police Act Amendment Bill to include state police, the Nigeria Shipping and Port Economic Regulatory Agency Bill, the National Health Act Amendment Bill, Bills on human rights, and many other bills that ensure the right and representation of women, among many others. What about the different progressive recommendations before the National Assembly? What about the National Confab?

The haste in the enactment of the reintroduction bill presupposes that the National Assembly can be this committed to defining laws and making decisions paramount to the country at the appropriate time. The nation will not remain the same if the current expediency is attached to very important and pressing issues of national interests within relevant times.

Nigeria is currently battling one of the worst financial downtimes in the nation’s history, with heavy debts hanging and dangling its neck. The average Nigerian strives to survive this economic crisis as it has deeply affected all sectors. The businesses of both the “market people” and the companies have been badly affected by the recurring depreciation of the Naira, scarcity of resources, and other defining situations. Everybody “dey chop breakfast,” right and left.

Many international companies have exited the nation, and some others laid off thousands of Nigerians, further dominating unemployment and poverty. Four out of ten Nigerians are in abject poverty as of today. There is an unarguable urgent need for economic reforms and other laws that would aid the state of things rather than the frivolous spur of the attention of the lawmakers. The government should first focus on how to get its citizens out of this ravaging poverty, and to get us to this place, there are several amendments to current laws and enactments that need to be done.

Amid this hardship, the level of bribery and corruption has skyrocketed and eaten deep into every stratum of the country, from the grassroots to the top. Since this issue is not a recent development in the nation, this goes to say that the laws are either ineffective or inactive. A review of anti-corruption laws and policies will suffice and go a long way in easing this tight-fitted and age-long burden in Nigeria.

The educational institutions do not have it any better with the life-threatening lack of resources and incessant strike actions crippling the vitality of the educational system. The government, especially the National Assembly, needs not to be told that many actions need to be taken to salvage the current state of the educational sector. There is a need for drastic steps to provide sustainable solutions to the problems faced by the country’s educational sectors. So, my amazement at the rush toward the reintroduction of the anthem would be understandable.

The federal hospitals are recording high mortality rates due to the shortage of staff, insufficient equipment, epileptic power supply, few or no materials to cater to the influx of patients, and an alarming rate of brain drain in the medical sector. The citizens find it difficult to pay the bogus medical bills that have arisen from the lack of government funding. So, why has the health sector or its related bills not received rapt attention like the Anthem reintroduction did? Which is life-threatening? The Anthem or health challenges?

Political instability and social unrest are other issues that require urgent attention. Some parts of Northern Nigeria, sorry, the whole nation, are almost in shambles from the recurrent insurgency. The causes of insurgency and instability are extremely glaring, and although regulations may not be enough to enhance the required change, it will be a step in the right direction and at least an opportunity cost on the scale of preference of the issues that require the urgent attention of the government, especially the lawmakers.

It is unnecessary to go on as the list is inexhaustive, touching on different national issues Nigeria is facing that require reform and amendment of laws and regulations. It is rather surprising that the National Assembly chose to pass a bill for the change of the national anthem at such speed of light, with fire burning their roofs. I mean, who sings choruses when his or her child is in flames? It begs the question of whether the government understands the extent of the rot of the society and its insensitivity to the range of damaging situations in which the nation has found itself.

The National Assembly must understand that it is a direct representation of the people from different strata and must be sensitive to their needs. This is not the time to engage in frivolous activities when millions of Nigerians are suffering. The same urgency attached to the bill should be attached to the different challenges rocking the boats of the nation. Otherwise, only a few people will be left to say, “Nigeria We Hail Thee!” As hunger bites and depression follows, the first line will become:

Nigeria, We Hate Thee!

An anthem does not build patriotism and nationalism. It is the commitment to the needs of the weakest members of society and the social contract between the state and its people that builds patriotism and nationalism. You don’t wave the flag and recite the anthem on an empty stomach. Nostalgia for an anthem will not bake your bread and fry your eggs. Nostalgia for a stable society, corrupt-free values, and the ability of those in rural areas to live in peace and not be afraid of the bandits are more important than an anthem based on “tribal” illusions. I cannot stand in “brotherhood,” as the old anthem requires, with corrupt politicians, with judges who collect bribes, and the police who harass people on the streets. I am a citizen, not a tribal man. And as a man, my gender does not represent the entire nation in the archaic line: “Where no man is oppressed!” Contrary to the wish of the old anthem that we began to use in 1960, not to hand over to our children a “banner without stain,” we have already done so, remarkably so well that the next generation of politicians, inheriting the degraded values of the current, will be Yahoo-Yahoo boys, Yahoo-Yahoo Plus, mannerless social media influencers, ritualists and thieves. I hope the time does not come when the innocents will begin to ask: What are you hailing?

Toyin Falola, a professor of History, University Distinguished Teaching Professor, and Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at The University of Texas at Austin, is the Bobapitan of Ibadanland.


Adadainfo is an online newspaper reporting Nigerian news. Email: Phone: 08071790941

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