BY SOLA EBISENI
LAGOS (VANGUARD) -- THE question has always been asked by lovers of this column why our views herein are always capped with the first line of the original Nigerian National Anthem: Nigeria, we hail thee! Some have queried sarcastically what is worth hailing about a state that appears doomed to fail.
Some have even linked hailing what they consider the carcass of a nation to their perception of the preference of the Afenifere for restructuring to the undiminished passion for the Oduduwa Republic.
For my family, relatives and childhood friends, Nigeria and I share the same umbilical cord as twins to whom October 1, 1960, is of equal significance. We grew up to know “Nigeria, We Hail Thee” as the Nigerian National Anthem and every child in school was supposed to learn it by heart and render all three stanzas with relish.
We later learnt that the wordings were written by British Lillian Jean Williams, while Rances Berda developed it into the beautiful melody it is. If an anthem is meant to reflect the history, culture and identity of the people it represents, Nigeria we hail thee it is. It spoke of our nativity, cultural diversity and the imperative of unity and the concomitant federal structure in the land in which truth and justice reign and no man is oppressed.
Permit to bring the lyrics to your remembrance and memory:
Nigeria we hail thee
Our own dear native land
Though tribes and tongues may differ
In brotherhood, we stand
Nigerians all, are 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 shall be blessed.
The first stanza recognised our nativity and entrenched nationalities. Those who eventually saw the change of the anthem to the present one said they did not approve of the reference to us as native people and tribesmen. They reasoned deceptively that after 18 years of Independence by 1978, our anthem should not be heard reminding us of our diversity. Such reasoning is an ideal that is rather at variance with the reality of the history and structure of the Nigerian State.
The military distorted the federal structure and the Murtala/Obasanjo regime which pandered to some radical nationalist and patriotic inclinations felt it was part of shedding the toga of colonialism that the National Anthem should be rid of all the colonial relics. Thus, a made-by-Nigerian new anthem should be evolved supported with a National Pledge of loyalty to the country. However, the very essence of an anthem was lost as the lyrics were stripped of the story of how we evolved. A look at the second and new anthem will reveal the difference.
Arise, O compatriots, Nigeria’s call obey
To serve our fatherland With love and strength and faith The labour of our heroes past Shall never be in vain To serve with heart and might One nation bound in freedom, peace and unity.
Oh God of creation, direct our noble cause Guide our leaders 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.
The clamour for the restructuring of the Nigerian State is an acknowledgement of the reality of our existence. The reality of our situation as a nation of entrenched nationalities cannot be wished away and the consciousness of that reality does not make anyone less patriotic or loyal to the state. As a matter of fact, it is a patriotic search for the ideal in blending the groups without which the health of the nation is impaired just as it is presently.
Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto and the indefatigable leader of Northern Nigeria then appreciated this reality when he told his fellow statesman and nationalist of unequal status, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, that it was better to discuss the differences among the various nationalities and religions so that we would understand one another and engender mutual respect. The nation is better, united and healthier thereby. Obafemi Awolowo, the indisputable author of Nigerian federalism, aptly described the country as a mere geographical expression that metamorphosises into nationhood was unrealised and remained still in the incubator.
Rather than pander to loyalty either as part of the National Anthem or Pledge, or relish in the labours of our heroes past as assumed by the new anthem, the old edition was persistent in the struggle for truth and justice reigned which symbol shall be our flag which we shall hand over to posterity a banner without stain.
It is the enthronement of truth and justice among the various peoples, as legendary Reggae star, Peter Tosh, sang that peace is birthed, nurtured and matured.
Do not misunderstand me as advocating a return to the old anthem. My thesis is simply that it better comparatively describes our situation. Even if I do, I am only abiding with one of the resolutions of the 2014 National Conference, of which I was a delegate, which recommended a return to the original national anthem.
Lest I forget, just like Chief Olu Falae said in his most illuminating interview over the weekend as part of the unending reactions to Chief Bisi Akande’s controversial memoirs, I was not a delegate of the Afenifere or the Ondo State Government to the Conference. I was a delegate of the Federal Government in the category of the former local government chairmen. We were six each representing the geopolitical zones of the country.
My nomination exposed the hypocrisy of the APC which posed in the public as being not interested in the Confab but engaged in high tech politics to ensure the party is fully represented. All the APC states sent their official delegates and they were not men and women of average age as Chief Akande erroneously portrayed in his book. If receiving allowances at the conference was a point of denouncement, I couldn’t remember any of the APC delegates that turned down theirs.
Mine was a very interesting story. Ours was the second to the last on the list of the category of Federal Government delegates. The last is the powerful list of six Addendum delegates in which icons like Mike Ezekhome featured. The APC had insisted that being the dominant party in the South West, the only slot of former local government chairmen, among the elected chairmen though, must be given to the party. Without informing me, my Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, had submitted my name and profile.
He had argued for merit and precedents. I was not only an elected local government chairman but since 1990 on the platform of the Social Democratic Party when leading political actors in Nigeria today also joined politics. I was in the dark. He did not want to involve me for reasons best known to him, principal of which was the assignment of leading the campaigns in my Ilaje/Ese Odo Federal Constituency bye-elections for the House of Representatives which won for the Labour Party. The rest is history.
Reflections on 2022.
This year will be the most decisive year for Nigeria. I am still compiling my revelations and thoughts which will mature on the page next week. I thank those who found time to share in our thoughts on this page. I can, however, safely say that most who believe that once elections set in, agitations for change through restructuring will subside will be snoring in a fool’s paradise. In like manner, those who feel incarceration or murder of separatist agitators will deter the proponents without enthroning justice among the nationalities should say that to the marines.
Till next week, Nigeria, we hail thee.