Nigeria: Change the National Anthem

Dr Promise Adiele

By Promise Adiele

Not many people are familiar with French thinker and philosopher Jacques Derrida. But those immersed in the intrinsic endeavour of literary analysis remember the enigmatic French man for his postulations on Deconstruction – a critical armament which collapses the boundaries of the meaning of any text, laying it bare for further interpretations and also revealing alternative meanings. The deconstructive process shuns bias but validates a self-convincing attitude sustained by reason.

To a layman, deconstruction means to destroy. Far from it, for distinguished core members of the literary fraternity, it establishes a new territory over a text hitherto unthought-of and unconsidered by those who love to call themselves experts. In the spirit of deconstruction, I have taken a second look at Nigeria’s national anthem and found it deficient in the country’s psycho-social and political revival. The Nigerian national anthem is torpid, moribund, unnerving, and outdated therefore has to be changed. The Presidency and the National Assembly should immediately embark on a search for a replacement. Renowned poets – Wole Soyinka, Odia Ofeimun, Niyi Osundare and Hope Eghagha please go to work.


Given Nigeria’s fractured, regrettable identity – a killing field for bandits and terrorists of every hue, where people in government barefacedly pillage the exchequer without shame, where political office holders steal even what they do not need, where the dislocation of the educational calendar is as assured as the continuity of day and night, where citizens have completely lost every sense of belonging and love towards the country, then a change of the country’s national anthem is perfectly in order. A country’s national anthem constantly establishes a sublime connection between the citizens and the soul of the country. It renews the unending love of the citizens towards the country taking into account its diverse protective, provisional shield for the citizens in return.


The national anthem symbolizes a country’s values, traditional and cultural ethos, historical victory, and dogged march to nationhood. Citizens of countries love their national anthems because it elicits patriotic feelings and animates the urgency to respond to national calls. Anthems lubricate the wheels of a country’s heritage and glory, the unflinching march to the hills of freedom and liberation, the desire to defend the fatherland despite ethnic and religious differences, and the abiding love to remain one indivisible country. The anthem of any country is sacrosanct.

When it is sung or relayed through the media, citizens respect it by standing at attention, removing caps or performing other obsequious gestures to show attachment and reverence. During sports competitions across the world, players and participants show a great sense of patriotism when their national anthem is played in the background. Some sportspeople shed tears during such moments. Indeed, the national anthem is a spiritual araldite that glues citizens of a country together. The world’s oldest national anthem is the Wilhelmus of the Netherland written during the Dutch revolt from 1568 to 1572. It has stood the test of time, serving as their greatest symbol of unity and nationhood.


The Nigerian national anthem is an octave – a song/poem of eight lines – written by the following five distinguished Nigerians – John Ilechukwu, Eme Akpan, B. A Ogunnaike, Sota Omoigui, and P.O Aderibigbe in 1978. Although it has two different stanzas, only the first stanza is popular and generally used across the country. However, it is contestable that ninety per cent of Nigerians can sing it fluently and effortlessly. School children these days mangle the anthem into an incoherent, meaningless group of words. I doubt if the leadership of this country can successful render the national anthem correctly.

The same applies to all the members of the National Assembly, Ministers, Governors, Directors and top Civil Servants. How many of these people can correctly sing the anthem? Bet your money and you lose it. It hardly appeals to the citizens and their demagogue rulers. Its essence as a reconciling factor for Nigeria which upholds the bonding tenets of nationhood is in the woods too. Line up all the presidential aspirants and ask them to sing the national anthem…hehehehe, a tsunami of a monumental proportion!

The first and second lines of the anthem read – Arise O Compatriots! Nigeria’s Call Obey! Those lines are a clarion call for citizens to serve the country willingly and honestly. Have politicians and many public officers answered the call and served the country willingly and honestly? Although we can profitably assert that a fraction of Nigerians has answered the call to obey, dedicating their lives to the country, ninety-eight per cent of those who should serve Nigeria are more interested in personal gains which reinforce the subtle annihilation of the motherland. For many Nigerians, the call is not to arise and obey Nigeria’s call, the call is to arise, obey your ethnic call, religious call, sectional call, bank account call and other multiple, invidious calls that are inimical to the growth and existence of the country.


The third and fourth lines read – To serve our fatherland, with love and strength and faith! How ironical those lines appear given that many of those in positions to serve the fatherland are doing so in the most dishonest way devoid of love, straight, and faith. For many public officers, the call to serve Nigeria is a call to enrich private pockets, pursue sectional interests, and even sponsor ethnic and religious hate where love does not exist. Some Nigerians in places of authority fare better when there is bloodshed and chaos in the country. It is almost impossible to see a public official, a politician that serves Nigeria with love, strength, and faith. Those lines have therefore become monumental caricatures of the motherland because they have been roundly abused and abandoned.

The fifth and sixth lines read – The labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain! Does anybody remember or relate to the labours of our heroes in the past? The question is – who are those Nigerian heroes of the past? At close critical scrutiny, those we call our heroes of the past were not heroes but sectional champions and ethnic jingoists who helped the British to dismember our land plunging the country into a fatal error of forced co-existence.

Mention one person we regard as a past hero and Nigerians will readily expose the person’s underbelly in playing roles that are responsible for our collective anguish today. At best, our heroes of the past were steeped in ethnic, sectional interests. They remotely became catalysts in vanquishing the young country. It, therefore, means that Nigeria does not have any past heroes unless we beam our searchlight to football where the signs of togetherness never cease. Perhaps we can say that Nigeria’s true heroes are the footballers that won the Nations Cup for the country in 1980, 1994, and 2013. Of course, the Olympic gold of 1996 is not forgotten.

The seven and eight lines read – To serve with heart and might, one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity! Ordinarily, these last lines go straight to the depths of the soul if it were in another country. This is because Nigerians that serve do not serve with heart or might. Although many people desire one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity, the reality in the country is ‘them and us’. A section of the country bears an arrogant sense of entitlement to leadership which negates the one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity, an insult to our humanity and civic beings. Therefore, those sections of the country that feel alienated are relentlessly calling for a separate country where they can freely pursue and perhaps achieve self-determination.

From all of the above, it is obvious that Nigeria’s current national anthem has lost its glory, therefore, should be changed immediately. Looking at Nigeria’s journey over the years, one would be forced to ask, what purpose does our national anthem serve in the present dispensation? At every public gathering, before any government function takes place, the anthem is hummed rather than sang and people hurriedly sit down as if the song was a bitter pill forced down their throats. Some pastors preach disunity and hate, many Imams preach bloodshed and carnage, many politicians spew abominable loathsomeness in the polity and the country is inevitably caught in a disconcerting slippery slope of intense eventuality.

Two weeks ago, I was invited to a workshop in Ikoyi Lagos to speak on the possibility of a New Nigeria. Many eminent speakers shared their thoughts but from what I gathered, while some people believe that a New Nigeria is possible, many others think that it is not possible as long as old human machinery is in place. The national anthem is one of the old machinery which should be changed if we are thinking in the direction of a New Nigeria. Old things must pass away. New things must come on board. Old politicians must give way for a New Nigeria to emerge. Although a new national anthem will not solve all the problems in the country, it will be a take-off point to reconfigure our battered consciousness and initiate a recovery process towards a new country.

Promise Adiele PhD