Misplaced Priorities with Distractive Governance and the Fuss Over a National Anthem

Amidst the trending waves of cacophony of opinions and mixed reactions that greeted the recent swift revert to the old national anthem in Nigeria, a Forrmer Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, Dr.Babafemi A. Badejo Writes to Reapraise the Dynamics of Governance and the Fuss Over a National Anthem in Nigeria from an International, Global and Diplomatic Point of View. Readers will find great value for the time spent reading this highly informative treatise on the subject matter written by a most suitable qualified authority figure.

Jun 3, 2024 - 06:56
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Misplaced Priorities with Distractive Governance and the Fuss Over a National Anthem

By: Babafemi A. Badejo, Ph.D

A song associated with a nation only started when human beings started having the emotionally possessive idea of being organised in a territory or a span of territories united as one, with a strong feeling of competitive patriotism. In effect, such a song generally dubbed an anthem is not a fundamental need of human beings. At the core of fundamental needs of humanity, are having access to air, water, and food. Of course, other needs that human existence have come to accept as fundamental rights for being alive as individuals and collectivities are embodied in the universal declaration of human rights. A flag, and an anthem, as inspiring instruments do not provide air, water, nor put food on the table of people in a nation.

Nonetheless, with nations competing with one another either in wars, production, sports, etc., national anthems have become musical compositions that creatively express the identity and values of a nation for patriotism. Hence, national anthems have over time come to serve as rallying calls for nations but a national anthem is a means and not an end.

According to Wikipedia, there are claims that the oldest national anthem is that of the lyrics of the Japanese Kimigayo recorded in the Heian period (794-1185) as a poem but without music until 1880. The Dutch Wilhelmus was written in the period 1568-1572 has a claim of being the first even though it was a popular hymn over the years and only designated a national anthem in 1932. The French La Marsellaise that was properly designated a national anthem at the French National Convention in 1796 may snatch the pride of being number one over Great Britain’s “God Save the Queen,” that had been popular patriotic song used at royal ceremonies for a long while but only described as a national anthem in 1825. Nonetheless, the nineteenth century saw the spread of national anthems across Europe and the Americas, often in response to wars of independence, unification movements, and the establishment of new states. Many Asian and African countries upon independence from European powers were either bequeathed with or commissioned a national anthem abandoning “God Save the King or Queen”, as the case may be.

In this plethora, some countries have anthems without lyrics: Spain and Kosovo beinexamples. Some like Denmark and, New Zealand have at least two national anthems. Which anthem is played at an occasion are enunciated in protocols and both may even be played at the same occasion. A good number of countries have changed their respective anthems over time. Australia, in a pendulum manner changed from “God Save the Queen” to “Advance Australia Fair” from 1974-1976 only to re-embrace “God Save the Queen” from 1976-1984 and returned to “Advance Australia Fair” from 1984 to date. Canada in 2018 decided to change the lyrics of its national anthem in order to be gender-neutral.

African countries have not been left out on changes to the national anthem. Ghana’s first national anthem, “God Bless Our Homeland” aadopted n 1957 was changed to the current “Lift High the Flag of Ghana” when the country became a Republic on July 1, 1960. In 1997, South Africa changed its anthem to reflect the new post-apartheid era. The anthem combined parts of “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” and “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika,” representing unity and reconciliation among diverse cultures. In 1994, Zimbabwe abandoned its “Ishe Komborera Africa” anthem and adopted “Simudzai Mureza wedu WeZimbabwe”. The new anthem was inspired by the country’s aspiration to have a distinct national identity different from the pan-Africanist anthem adopted by many other countries. Thus, Zimbabwe left South frica, Tanzania and Zambia that continue to share anthems. In a slightly different situation, following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the country’s previous anthem was considered divisive and was dropped. In 2001, a new anthem, “Rwanda Nziza,” was adopted

In effect, Nigeria, by changing its national anthem, is a political decision that is not a big deal. But the question for Nigeria like in, other countries is on whether there are any cogent reasons for this swiftly sudden change? Put another way, the main issue remains why there was a change in Nigeria’s national anthem on May 29, 2024, when President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (PBAT) signed a bill that restored the old anthem Nigeria inherited at independence? The bill had been introduced at plenary on May 22, 2024 by the Senate leader, Opeyemi Bamidele of the ruling party and was quickly passed for first, second and third readings within minutes. Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, did not provide a convincing argument. He stated at the Senate plenary that: “You will also agree with me that those who were around in the 60s and the late 70s, would attest to the fact that the Anthem played quite a significant and crucial role in shaping Nigeria’s national identity and unity, as well as engendered a high sense of value and personal belonging amongst the citizenry. It was symbolic of Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage and nationhood. In retrospect, the anthem served as a regular and constant reminder of our journey, as a nation and provoked feelings of nostalgia and fond memories of the country’s early years”.

The speedy manner of the passage of the bill in the House and the Senate gives the impression of strong vested interests. PBAT had in the past advocated the adoption of the old national anthem in place of the current anthem. In 2011, Mr. Tinubu, as the leader of one of the main opposition parties, called for the re-adoption of the then old anthem in place of the current one. “Abandoning the post-independence anthem, which arguably evoked a strong spirit of patriotism and brotherliness, to compose a very drab replacement, is far less inspirational”, Tinubu said during a speech at the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Jos, Nigeria. During the Presidential campaign, candidate Tinubu also expressed the hope to return to the old anthem.

There is a strong position that the change is a result of a personal vendetta between PBAT and former President Olusegun Obasanjo that has informed the PBAT desire to want to erase one of the legacies of then General Olusegun Obasanjo - the newly changed National Anthem. With an executive pocketed legislature, the wish of PBAT is always a done deal and this is worrying for Nigeria’s future.

So, it is understandable when, in his normal cavalier style, Godswill Akpabio, the President of the Senate, while addressing PBAT as he prepared to address the joint session of the NASS to mark his first completed year in office, noted: “Of all the significant things you have done, I think one of the most important is to take us back to our genealogy; the genealogy of our birth. That though we may belong to different tribes, though we have different tongues, in brotherhood we must stand. Whether in the field of battle or politics, we must hail Nigeria. The best place to start this revolution is the National Assembly where we have the elected representatives of the people.” Akpabio seemed to have suggested that this was a first year in administration gift to PBAT.

Floating around on social media has been the justification being suggested that the 2014 national conference under President Goodluck Jonathan had called for a reversion to the old national anthem. If this were to be the case, the question is why PBAT is not prioritising many of the salient constitutional issues put forward at the time as needing changes. Maybe soon, the full pictures and reasons will unravel.

The yearning concern is whether the changing backwards to the old national anthem is our national priority at the end of PBAT’s first year in office. There is the concern on why this change was undemocratically rushed through the NASS in a week as if Nigerians, at large, do not deserve consultations because they have elected occupants of the NASS.

Would have been been great if the NASS was addressing Nigeria’s leadership deficit and the current inability to radically reduce corruption, repossess thefts from national patrimony with a boost on efficient gross national production. Which Nigerians complained to the NASS that a new national anthem is needed? Nigerians are facing serious socio-economic problems, corruption and insecurity challenges, and the NASS are prioritising, with a rush, a retrogressive move to reintroduce a colonial anthem. Change should be progressive and not retrogressive. Prioritising the change of one national song for an older one - does not show national seriousness. It does not demonstrate leadership.

Furthermore, there are words in the old anthem that are problematic. For instance, the Yoruba, Igbo, Fulani, Ijaw, Ibibio, Hausa, Tiv, Idoma, etc., are described as tribes. These are nationalities that are respectively bigger than many European states accepted as nations. It is denigrating and insulting to the national psyche to refer to Nigeria’s different nationalities as “tribes”. In Anthropology, a tribe is a band of people with rudimentary organisational structures though larger than a family. Are the English a tribe? Definitely, one cannot call the Yoruba who are of the magnitude of well over 50 million in the larger world with sophisticated pre-colonial structures, as a tribe.

If we have the luxury of wanting a change of anthem, it would have been useful to call on all Nigerians to compete on the lyrics and the tune for a new song. It is retrogressive to lazily and lackadaisically drop what Nigeria had since 1978 for some vague reasons and replace it with what colonial powers bequeathed. This is more so, when the teaming unemployed youth of Nigeria were born into the use of “Arise O Compatriots” that was not only written by Nigerians but recognises Nigeria’s history, including its unfortunate civil war that all agree should not be repeated. The “brotherhood” that PBAT is emphasizing in the colonial bequeathed anthem did not prevent the 1967-70 civil war that had tremendous loss of the lives of brothers and even sisters.

The jettisoned anthem did not produce the level of corruption ravaging our country and neither will the colonial anthem heal our land. It is the correction of our leadership deficit for it to radically reduce corruption and deftly handle the hostile external dynamics that can start to cure our underdevelopment and the failure in putting Nigerians on the path towards utmost freedom. Singing to a national anthem can be a rallying call on citizens to make sacrifices in the interest of all with respect to international competitions, including wars. But the patriotic zeal only evinces the desired loyalty of being ready to die for one’s country if governance is of a quality of performance that puts the core of material and human rights needs of people on the table.

*Babafemi A. Badejo, former Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia and currently a Legal Practitioner and Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Chrisland University, Abeokuta.

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