Nigeria’s rushed reversion to old national anthem met with incredulity

Estimated read time 3 min read

Nigeria has reverted to a national anthem it dropped nearly 50 years ago after lawmakers replaced the current one, prompting widespread criticism over the lack of public consultation on the change.

The country’s president, Bola Tinubu, confirmed the law on Wednesday, a day after it was approved by both chambers of Nigeria’s national assembly, which is dominated by the governing party. The federal lawmakers introduced and passed the bill in less than a week – an unusually fast process for important bills that usually take weeks or months to be considered.

Nigeria’s economy has plunged during Tinubu’s first year in office, with inflation reaching a 28-year high of 33.2%, and the change of anthem was dismissed by some as a cynical distraction from an escalating economic crisis.

The reintroduced anthem was played publicly for the first time at a legislative session attended by Tinubu. Titled Nigeria, We Hail Thee, it was introduced in 1960 when Nigeria gained independence from Britain. It was written by Lillian Jean Williams, a British expatriate.

It was replaced in 1978 by Arise, O Compatriots under the military government of Olusegun Obasanjo. That anthem was composed at a time when the country was reeling from a deadly civil war and calls on Nigerians to “serve our fatherland with love and strength” and not to let “the labour of our heroes past [be] in vain”.

The change was met with incredulity by some Nigerians as the country reels from the economic crisis and deteriorating security.

“It is a waste of time,” said Cheta Nwanze, lead partner at SBM Intelligence. “What is more important are inflation and security problems: that is what the government should squarely be looking at.”

Oby Ezekwesili, a former education minister and presidential candidate, said the law showed that the country’s political class did not care about the public interest.

“In a 21st century Nigeria, the country’s political class found a colonial national anthem that has pejorative words like ‘native land’ and ‘tribes’ to be admirable enough to foist on our citizens without their consent,” Ezekwesili posted on X.

Supporters of the new anthem argued it was wrong for the country to use an anthem introduced by the military.

“Anthems are ideological recitations that help the people to be more focused. It was a very sad development for the military to have changed the anthem,” said the public affairs analyst Frank Tietie.

Associated Press and Reuters contributed reporting


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