Nigeria Reverts to Old National Anthem: A Step Towards Heritage or a Misplaced Priority?

In a surprising move, President Bola Tinubu has signed into law a bill that reinstates Nigeria's old national anthem, "Nigeria, We Hail Thee." This decision was announced by Senate President Godswill Akpabio during a joint sitting of the Senate and House of Representatives, marking the anniversary of Tinubu's first year in office and the Silver Jubilee of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic. The reinstatement of the anthem, originally composed by British expatriate Lillian Jean Williams, has ignited a wave of reactions across the nation, sparking debates on its significance and timing amidst Nigeria’s pressing challenges.

The Lyrics of "Nigeria, We Hail Thee"

The three stanzas of the old national anthem, now once again Nigeria's official anthem, read:

Nigeria, we hail thee,

Our own dear native land,

Though tribe and tongue may differ,

In brotherhood we stand,

Nigerians all, and proud to serve

Our sovereign Motherland.

Our flag shall be a symbol

That truth and justice reign,

In peace or battle honour’d,

And this we count as gain,

To hand on to our children

A banner without stain.

O God of all creation,

Grant this our one request,

Help us to build a nation

Where no man is oppressed,

And so with peace and plenty

Nigeria may be blessed.

Reactions to the Act

The reinstatement of the old anthem has been met with mixed reactions, reflecting the diverse opinions within Nigerian society.

1. Government's Perspective

President Bola Tinubu and supporters of the bill argue that the old anthem is a significant part of Nigeria’s heritage. They believe that reinstating "Nigeria, We Hail Thee" will foster a sense of patriotism and unity, harking back to the country's early post-independence years. Tinubu emphasized that the anthem symbolizes the values of truth, justice, and unity, which are essential for national cohesion.

2. Public Criticism and Outrage

However, many Nigerians have criticized the decision, seeing it as a misplaced priority in the face of the country's current socio-economic issues. Veteran Nollywood actress Kate Henshaw expressed her dismay on social media, criticizing the government for focusing on the anthem amidst widespread hardship and governance failures. She pointed out that the anthem was created during the colonial era, questioning its relevance in modern Nigeria.

3. Social Media Reactions

The debate has been intense on social media platforms like X (formerly Twitter). Comedian Otaghware Otas Onodjayeke sarcastically suggested that if the government is reverting to the old anthem, they should also revert to the old prices of petrol, the dollar exchange rate, and better security standards. This sentiment resonates with many who feel that the government should prioritize economic stability and security over symbolic gestures.

4. Political and Cultural Commentary

Former Presidential aide, Reno Omokri, labeled the move as a "big mistake," arguing that it signals a step backwards. He criticized the adoption of an anthem written by a foreigner, suggesting that Nigeria should instead embrace an anthem that reflects its own cultural and musical heritage. Omokri’s commentary underscores a broader concern about the colonial legacy and the need for a more indigenous national identity.

The reinstatement of "Nigeria, We Hail Thee" as the national anthem has undeniably stirred strong emotions and debates across Nigeria. While some view it as a reconnection with the nation's heritage, others see it as an irrelevant distraction from more pressing issues. This decision, like many in Nigeria's complex political landscape, highlights the tension between honoring historical roots and addressing contemporary challenges. As the nation moves forward, the anthem's reinstatement will remain a topic of discussion, reflecting the diverse perspectives of its citizens on identity, governance, and national pride.