Every Line, A Lie: An Anathema Of An Anthem, By Vitus Ozoke, PhD

By Vitus Ozoke, PhD


If a country’s national anthem is conceptualized and composed as a solemn, rousing, uplifting, and patriotic song used in the expression of its national identity, then Nigeria’s reversal and regression to her 1960 independence anthem is a complete anathema. It is not just lacking in historicity; it is completely ahistorical.


“Nigeria, We Hail Thee” fitted perfectly the historical context and realities of a newly-born nation, one that held boundless and endless hope, promise, and future. The new Nigeria of October 1, 1960 was a bright and brimming nation that was so richly and vastly blessed with patriots and compatriots, statesmen and statecraft, energy and synergy, sources and resources. It was a nation heady with potentials and headed for so much greatness that even colonial Great Britain was unabashedly and shamelessly reluctant to let go.


The green in our accompanying national flag represented our vast fertile and arable land – land so rich and resourceful that it yielded palm produce in the East, cocoa in the West, groundnut in the North, and crude oil in the Delta – all in bountiful commercial measures. And the sandwiched white represented the peace, unity, and innocence of a nation born out of a bloodlessly and diplomatically negotiated emancipation and independence. That was 1960 Nigeria. That was the historical context of the 1960 Nigerian national anthem. It was a triumphant nation. A nation with such strong hope, promise, potential, and future was a nation to be hailed; hence, “Nigeria, We Hail Thee”.


Sadly, and ironically, however, barely six years into her young existence, that nation that was conceived and birthed in bloodless immaculacy would suffer extreme violation and loose her innocence in bloody coup, counter-coups, and, ultimately, a civil war. The entire second half of the 1960 decade shook a young nation to her core. To stabilize and restrengthen that wounded and openly bleeding nation, an introspective and reconciliatory Nigerian leadership recognized that our national innocence had been battered and shattered; that we were deeply divided and derided; and that the force, appeal, solemnity, and integrity of the 1960 national anthem had been vilely violated – and had, therefore, vanished.


Thus, a new anthem was desperately needed, one that would be a solemn clarion call to national rebirth, rather than one that would sound triumphant and hailing. Nigeria was a broken nation in desperate and dire need of national renewal through collective renaissance. The task of rebuilding a fallen and faltering nation was so daunting and onerous that even jaded and slumbering compatriots needed to be awoken. Hence, “Arise, O Compatriots” was a fitting and suitable national anthem for a wounded nation on bended knees.

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Also, there was a strategic reason this new anthem was launched on October 1, 1978. That was not just some random date arbitrarily plucked out of the calendar to soothe the arrogant whims and impulses of a power inebriated egomaniac. October 1, 1978 was Nigeria’s 18th birthday; that was the coming of age of a nation whose innocence was sacrilegiously broken and taken at the unripe and sacred age of six. If you were going to make such a fundamental change to a salient national identity, you would want to tie it to a milestone. I am not sure the Obasanjo-Yar’Adua military administration thought of it that way, but it was a good and logical coincidence.


“Arise, O Compatriots” was a thoughtfully composed national anthem, one that recognized and responded to the mood and realities of the nation in 1978. It urged us to arise in service of our nation. It summoned our patriotic zeal and commitment to the rebuilding and restoration of a once bright, hopeful, and promising nation. It recalled with nostalgia and regrets the wasted and wasting labors of our heroes past, even as it admonished us to not let their labors be in vain. That was the 1978 Arise, O Compatriots Nigerian national anthem. It met its purpose and moment, both conceptually and historically.


But then came May 29, 2024.


Without any shred of doubts, in the year 2024, Nigeria is the worst it has ever been since its amalgamation in 1914 and subsequent emancipation in 1960. One would have hoped that 2024 was the worst that Nigeria could ever possibly be; but, with this gang of bumbling incompetents, one would be better advised not to. How did a motley gang of heavily remunerated people get into a room and decide that a triumphant and hailing anthem was what Nigeria needed at its worst time in national annals? Who are the buffoons who thought that returning to 1960, thereby wiping off the realities of 64 years of national history and existence like an etch-a-sketch, was an act of great national statecraft?

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How do you pretend that 64 years did not happen? That the coups and counter-coups did not happen? That the civil war did not happen? That military generals were not taking turn raping our nation and raiding our treasury? That June 12 did not happen? That MKO Abiola was not robbed and killed? That INEC is not a cesspool of corruption? That electoral tribunals and judges are not cash-n-carry? That the Supreme Court can no longer read and interpret the Nigerian Constitution? That votes no longer count in Nigeria? How do you pretend that the cost of living is not the highest and the worst it has ever been? That mass suffering is not the worst it has ever been? Insecurity? A worthless naira? How do you suspend disbelief? How do you play the ostrich policy with your national history?


Seriously, you would have to suspend disbelief to be able to ignore the present sad and grim realities and return to the triumphalism of 1960’s Nigeria, We Hail Thee. Otherwise, how do you hail a failed nation? Nigeria, We Hail Thee made great sense at a time a great nation gained her independence with strong and sustainable hope and promise. How do you return to Nigeria, We Hail Thee at a time the country is most dependent? We borrow every morning; we owe every country; we are indebted to every international financial institution; our crude oil is shipped overseas for refining and reimportation; we import our staple food; our once booming palm produce, cocoa, and groundnut plantations that once accounted for 70 percent of our total exports are all withered and gone; we are one gigantic dependent, consumer nation.


If Nigeria is “our own dear native land”, why is every Nigerian eager to get out of the country – and not return? In what brotherhood do we stand, even though tribes and tongues differ, when a particular tribe and tongue has been conspiratorially schemed out and marginalized from collective patrimony? When you say that all Nigerians “are proud to serve our sovereign motherland”, my question is in what forms? How do all Nigerians proudly serve our sovereign motherland when they have no jobs? If “our flag shall be a symbol that truth and justice reign…”, where is the truth? Where is the justice? Where is the truth in a man who is nine years older than his daughter? Where is the justice in daylight electoral riggings and willful misinterpretations of clear and unambiguous provisions of the Constitution?

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Every line of “Nigeria, We Hail Thee” rang so true in 1960, but a bold screaming lie in 2024. To hand to our children a banner without stain? What children? What banner? The same children who were shot and killed pointblank by Nigerian armed forces on the night of October 20, 2020, while singing the national anthem under the banner of the national flag at Lekki tollgate? Are those the same children you hand a banner without stain? Is Jennifer Efidi one of our children you hand a banner without stain? How do you do that? Your hired and paid thugs stabbed young Jennifer in the face with a broken bottle while she tried to cast her vote on February 25, 2023 at her Nuru/Oniwo ward (Polling Unit 065) in Surulere, Lagos. The banner of Jennifer’s voter’s card is permanently stained by her own blood. So, every line is a lie.


Let me be clear: if we believe that Nigeria needs a new national anthem, by all means, let’s give it one. If we believe that the reason the economy is cratering and careening into a ditch is because it needs a new song, then let’s compose and sing a new song. If we believe that what terrorists and bandits and kidnappers need to go to sleep is the lullaby of a new song, then, let’s hum away. If we believe that corruption in INEC will be remediated by a melodious new verse, let’s sing on. If we believe that electoral tribunals and judges and Justices will prefer the soothing sax to the sacks, then a new saxophone it is. But, are we so lazy and uncreative that we cannot even sing a new song? Do we have to live the lie and denialism of an old song? Look, we can lie all we want about our age; we can recycle deadwoods in Aso Rock all we want; but we cannot recycle an old anthem into a new anthem. A ‘new old’ anthem is not just absurd, it is an anathema.

Dr. Vitus Ozoke is a lawyer, human rights activist, and public commentator based in the United States


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