Nigeria and the Art of Going Backwards

by Tony Ogunlowo
nigeria flag

I liked the ‘old’ [new] national anthem, ‘Nigeria we Hail Thee…’ written by a foreigner,
Lilian Jean Williams to rhyme with the about to be independent nation of the Federal
Republic of Nigeria, in 1959. It was drummed into our tiny craniums as kids and we
had to memorize it word for word. We sang it at assembly before school began. It
was played before NTA began its transmission for the day and at every special

With the country back on its feet after a disastrous civil war that nearly ripped it
apart, it was time to finally ditch all ties to our former colonial past and re-brand.
Along came our own very national anthem ‘Arise O Compatriots’ written by five
Nigerians led by B.A. Ogunnaike in 1978. Again, we had to learn our new anthem
and sing it all the time.

So, now we’re going backwards to resurrect an anthem already consigned to the
dustbin of Time, which, by today’s standards, sounds cheesy and patronising anyway.
I know that when you get to a certain age you start feeling nostalgic (- I know, I’m
that old!) but you can’t bring the past back however hard you try: you have to let it go
and embrace the future.

A national anthem describes a nation’s identity and sovereignty: there’s no way the
Americans are going to replace the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ with ‘God Save the King’.
They severed all ties with Great Britain more than 250 years ago and are not going
to go backwards. That’s history.

In Nigeria we always seem to be going backwards. Amidst all the problems in
modern day Nigeria it seems changing the anthem – not even for a new one – takes
precedence over everything else because the President deems it so. Is he going to
revert the Naira back to its heyday when it was $1=N1? No! Is he going to make the
country trouble-free like it was in the 70s and 80s? No! Is he going to make the cost
of living go down to what it was during the oil boom years? No! Only the anthem
needs changing because that takes precedence over everything (???). and the over-
paid and over-fed legislators couldn’t wait to rush it through! And I’m quite sure if you
don’t sing, play the new – old – anthem (- I’m getting confused here!) you’re likely to
be arrested and fined (- as if the police don’t have anything better to do with their

There are a lot of things that need changing to be even better than they were in the
past but as long as this administration keeps on focusing on frivolities nothing will be
done: Tinubu will spend four years in power, probably be re-elected for another term
and the country will still be at the starting point, where Buhari left off, and not moved
an inch forward. Already we’ve seen this administration going backwards and
forwards on its policies. We’ve seen the oil subsidy removed with nothing to fill the
vacuum, Air Nigeria, the new national air carrier is still a dream and the emergence
of a new white elephant called the Lagos – Calabar Highway – which will never be
completed in our lifetime! Foreign investors are being driven away because of short
term ‘tolotolo’ policies which are likely going to revoked by incoming future
administrations (- as might be the new/old anthem), the crude oil market is not
bringing in the much-needed cash and insurgency and uncertainty is flourishing as
the country goes abroad for more-a-borrowing.

Anybody else want to ‘japa’ before the proverbial hits the fan? It makes you wander
who’s driving the bus.

The bus driver, his conductor and team need to drive forward towards the future –
and not keeping on going back to the past. Nigeria is beginning to sound like Italian
tanks during World War Two : one gear to go forward and four to reverse! It’s
supposed to be forwards ever, backwards never.

So now the President has got his wish – again: first ‘emi-lokan’ and now a new/old
national anthem, perhaps he can now focus on the job at hand of reducing the
hardship in the country instead of coming up with things aimed at distracting
attention away from what really matters.

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