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President Bola Tinubu Sparks Debate with Bold Move: Restoring Nigeria’s Original Anthem to Rekindle National Identity

By Olusoji Daomi

As the fourth-largest economy on the African continent, Nigeria stands as a guiding light of cultural diversity, economic potential, and historical significance. Yesterday, an important occasion unfolded as President Bola Tinubu marked the completion of his first year in office. However, this milestone was eclipsed by an extraordinary and controversial decision: the reinstatement of Nigeria’s original national anthem, “Nigeria, We Hail Thee.”

To fully appreciate the gravity of this decision, one must delve into Nigeria’s storied past. In 1960, Nigeria achieved independence from British colonial rule, a historic moment that necessitated the creation of a new national identity. To symbolize this newfound autonomy, a contest was held to select a national anthem that would encapsulate the essence of the nascent nation. The winning entry was “Nigeria, We Hail Thee,” a composition by a British expatriate. Despite its colonial origins, this anthem served as Nigeria’s national hymn for 18 years, capturing the aspirations of a young nation striving to define itself amidst the vestiges of colonialism.

However, in 1978, during the military dictatorship of General Olusegun Obasanjo, the anthem was supplanted by “Arise, O Compatriots.” This change, enacted in an era of autocratic governance, sought to reflect a new national ethos. “Arise, O Compatriots” endured for nearly half a century, becoming deeply ingrained in the national consciousness despite its controversial beginnings.

On May 29th, 2024, President Tinubu’s administration reinstated “Nigeria, We Hail Thee,” rekindling a piece of colonial legacy at a time when the nation is grappling with profound socio-economic and security challenges. The timing of this change, coinciding with Tinubu’s one-year tenure, has not escaped public scrutiny. Critics argue that this could be a calculated diversion, a contentious move designed to shift public discourse away from more pressing national issues.

Prominent voices of dissent have emerged in the wake of this decision. Oby Ezekwesili, a former education minister, decried the revival of terms such as “native land” and “tribe” in the anthem, arguing they carry derogatory connotations in the context of modern Nigeria. Her critique highlights the anachronistic nature of the language and its potential to perpetuate outdated notions of identity. Former Senator Shehu Sani of Kaduna State, in a trenchant critique, likened the move to opting for a luxurious fragrance instead of a vital antibiotic in the face of an infection. His metaphor underscores the perception of misaligned priorities, emphasizing the dire security and economic challenges that remain unaddressed.

Indeed, the security situation in Nigeria is precarious. Just days prior to this announcement, a grievous security breach occurred, resulting in the abduction of over 150 individuals from a village in Niger State. This incident, emblematic of the pervasive insecurity, took place over two consecutive days without any preemptive action from authorities. Such instances starkly remind us of the terror wrought by groups like Boko Haram and bandit gangs, which have turned kidnapping for ransom into a thriving enterprise. Despite President Tinubu’s avowed commitment to national security, mass kidnappings persist, casting a shadow over his administration’s efficacy.

The security apparatus of the Nigerian state is beleaguered by inefficacies and systemic corruption, which exacerbate the already dire situation. President Tinubu’s government has made claims of significant achievements, such as the neutralization of over 9,000 terrorists and bandits in the past year. However, these claims are met with skepticism as the frequency of kidnappings and violent attacks remains unabated. On average, more than 20 people are kidnapped in Nigeria every day, a grim statistic that underscores the urgency of addressing these security lapses.

Economic woes further compound the national malaise. Over the past year, Nigerians have grappled with a cost-of-living crisis, exacerbated by inflation soaring to approximately 34%. The president’s decision to terminate the fuel subsidy, though aimed at staunching financial hemorrhage, precipitated an immediate and severe economic backlash. Fuel prices surged, triggering a cascade of inflationary pressures. Concurrently, the devaluation of the Naira rendered imports prohibitively expensive, further straining the populace. The policy shifts, while economically rationalized, have been implemented without adequate mitigating measures to cushion the populace from their adverse impacts.

In the face of these formidable challenges, Tinubu’s reversion to the original anthem might be perceived as a calculated maneuver to divert public attention from substantive policy failures. By reigniting debates over national symbols, the administration may be attempting to deflect scrutiny from its handling of economic and security crises. A national anthem, while a potent symbol of collective identity capable of evoking profound emotional responses, can also be manipulated to obscure more pressing concerns.

The implications of this decision extend beyond mere symbolism. It touches on the very fabric of Nigerian society, where issues of national identity and historical legacy are deeply intertwined with contemporary governance. The anthem debate, while significant, should not eclipse the critical discourse on Nigeria’s economic resilience and security apparatus. As observers and stakeholders, we must advocate for comprehensive and transparent governance that addresses the core needs of the Nigerian populace.

Furthermore, this decision raises important questions about the role of historical narratives in shaping modern national identity. By reinstating an anthem with colonial roots, President Tinubu’s administration has sparked a dialogue about the legacy of colonialism and its enduring impact on post-colonial societies. This move compels us to examine the ways in which national symbols are used to construct and reconstruct collective memory and identity.

Moreover, the timing of this decision cannot be ignored. Coinciding with the president’s one-year anniversary in office, the reversion to the original anthem could be construed as a tactical ploy to consolidate power by invoking a sense of nostalgia and patriotism. This strategy, while effective in the short term, risks undermining the substantive progress required to address Nigeria’s multifaceted challenges. The invocation of nostalgia for a colonial past, whether intentional or not, may evoke mixed sentiments among a populace still grappling with the vestiges of colonial exploitation.

The economic policies enacted under Tinubu’s administration, particularly the removal of fuel subsidies and the devaluation of the Naira, have been met with widespread discontent. These measures, although theoretically sound from a macroeconomic perspective, have precipitated a cascade of adverse effects on the common populace. The abrupt removal of the fuel subsidy led to an immediate surge in fuel prices, which in turn escalated the cost of goods and services across the board. The devaluation of the Naira, while aimed at stabilizing the foreign exchange market, resulted in a significant increase in the cost of imports, further straining the already beleaguered economy.

In conclusion, while the restoration of “Nigeria, We Hail Thee” may stir patriotic sentiments, it is crucial to keep the larger national narrative in perspective. The anthem debate, though emotionally charged, should not detract from the substantive issues that demand urgent and sustained attention. Nigeria’s journey towards a secure and prosperous future requires more than symbolic gestures; it necessitates a steadfast commitment to addressing the underlying challenges that beset the nation. As we navigate this complex landscape, it is imperative to ensure that the discourse remains focused on the fundamental issues of governance, security, and economic stability, which are essential for the well-being and progress of the Nigerian people.

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