Hail Nigeria, Arise Compatriots!, by Monday Philips Ekpe

Hail Nigeria, Arise Compatriots!, by Monday Philips Ekpe

President Bola Tinubu

The last one week has been saturated with arguments for or against the change of Nigeria’s national anthem from the one that had been in use since 1978 back to the one that heralded the country’s independence in 1960.

The public nays have clearly been louder that the ayes, for reasons ranging from the unsuitability of parts of the lyrics, the inappropriateness of the time chosen by President Bola Tinubu to railroad its legislation, to the rationale for the very idea of changing it. Persons who have been gathering proofs that this National Assembly is yet another rubber stamp institutionhavesince added the controversial ratification of May 29, 2024 to their arsenal.

When the President of the Senate, Senator Godswill Akpabio, described Tinubu’s latest contribution to nation building (old anthem resuscitation) as his “most profound act”, what exactly was he thinking? Shouldn’t it bother him how his own grand-children and great grand-children will rate his stewardship as leader of the nation’s federal legislature during a period this desperate for most Nigerians? The viral video that captured the president and his lawmakers struggling to hail their country at the event and making a wretched show of it may well indicate their current state of mind as they preside over the numerous challenges confronting us. The incoherence and shallowness were unmistakable.

This anthem reintroduction is clearly diversionary. No cogent, convincing explanation has been given for retrieving an obsolete material from the trash can of history and foisting it on a nation in urgent need of healing of all kinds. I’ve gone through the “Arise O Compatriots” anthem again with a stronger conviction this time that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with its letters and spirit. They would surely resonate more especially with the over three-quarters of the population who weren’t around when the reinstituted one held sway. It’s very hard to separate the old-new anthem, “Nigeria We Hail Thee”, from the milieu that produced it, with all its negative connotations.

Will the historical anomalies of slavery and colonialism ever be agreeable to their victims? Most of those who think highly of this national musical symbol, including the president, are driven by a certain nostalgia that is blind to the need for the people to wholeheartedly assume its ownership and be given ample time to learn and internalise it. No matter the level of obsession with the past, there’s nothing so urgent about the anthem that it couldn’t have waited for a couple of months to achieve those seemingly weightless but potent steps.

Better still, if Tinubu is so convinced about the desirability of giving his fellow citizens a surprise on the first anniversary of his government in the form of an anthem, it should have come by way of throwing open the composition of an entirely new one for an engaging and transparent competition, signalling a direly-needed embrace of the future instead of this retrogressive move. In addition to its potential originality, the outcome of that would have saved us the comical and cynical atmospherics that have ushered in the president’s private dream packaged as a national expediency.

Trust Nigerian content creators, particularly the young ones. Various art forms have been exuberantly deployed to feast on what is supposed to be accompanied by reverential moods and attitudes. Armed with hip-hop, rap, cartoon, comedy, skit, and the like, the youths have been handed a ready material through which to vent their frustrations with the system. It was this same generation of Nigerians that substituted their country’s name with ‘Naija’ long ago. They sometimes sang “Hail” before now but mainly to register their protest, defiance or humour themselves. Becoming official may not venerate it in any special way soon. We can only hope that the just adopted anthem will not attract to the country more ridicule locally and outside its shores from citizens who feel justified to distrust the intentions and competence of their leaders.

I foresee people of goodwill and conscience yearn for the return of “Arise!” The lexical, structural and semantic integrity of the anthem is not in doubt. Consider its second stanza: “Oh God of creation, direct our noble cause/ Guide our leader’s right/ Help our youth the truth to know/ In love and honesty to grow/ And living just and true/ Great lofty heights attain/ To build a nation where peace and justice shall reign.” As things stand, most of the country’s political leaders have continued to fail in their duties. And as people obsessed with religious activities, Nigerians turn to God too quickly whenever they’re short-changed by the persons who run their affairs. They often prefer that to pushing the rulers against the wall as practiced in many other places. If that is not cowardly, what then is? The newly jettisoned anthem was really tailor-made for intercessors.

“O God of creation!” Anytime pupils and young students sang that on assembly grounds, there were positive results, I believe. Pleas to divinity are not to be toyed with. One shouldn’t downplay the effects of such spiritual interventions in the sustenance of Nigeria. Apologies to non-believers. Some persons argue that but for God, the nation would have since been history, considering the predatory tendencies of majority of those on the front seats. It is probably for that reason that the expectancy of some people hasn’t gone into total oblivion.

Hope! That therapeutic, ennobling, innocent word. Despite its misuse by politicians over the years in attempts to sedate and shamelessly abuse Nigeria and Nigerians, the people haven’t completely lost its meaning. Sadly, many of them have already given up on the land of their forefathers which, ironically, holds so much promise. But others are clinging to that inner voice that assures them of a brighter, more rewarding tomorrow. Against mostly daunting odds! Even those on the opposing sides of this anthem debate can’t possibly contend with the titles, hence their mix as the headline of this piece. Meaning, this re-institution has inadvertently thrown up weapons that should be mobilised for achieving our badly needed socio-political re-engineering.

Hail and arise, or vice versa. One glaring and enduring truth about this country is that even without oil, it would still be among the stupendously endowed nations on earth today. Super-abundant human resources. Extravagant natural wherewithal. Many of the countries Nigerians have been emigrating to are not half as blessed as this sleeping giant of Africa. Part of the problems is endless whining instead of decisive actions. The citizenry may have succumbed to the intimidating forces of hunger and poverty but there must be a line below which no self-respecting person or group should descend. The docility of Nigerians has been exploited by selfish and greedy political office holders enough. The time to rise up and be counted for patriotic, lawful agitations is here. Any chance for non-violent protestations should be seized to jolt the occupiers of the three arms of government to reality.

At the moment, the key principles that make the democratic era tick elsewhere are non-existent here. Separation of powers and checks and balances have been forced under. The prime law of the jungle – survival of the fittest -is in operation in virtually all the states and Abuja. The priests at the altars of democracy are the ones leading the charge for its ruin, unfortunately. Let’s draw lines between our common heritage and the irresponsible leaders. The indifference of the populace serves as a steroid for the unconscionable opportunists who have turned the misery of a huge portion of 200 million human beings into a joke.

Ekpe, PhD, is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board.