• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Return to colonial anthem: Who are the real owners of ‘Nigeria’?

Nigeria is a product of two perverse rules. The first is colonial rule; the second is military rule. Virtually everything that exists structurally in Nigeria today was either created by colonial rulers or military dictators. Nigeria’s very existence and name are colonial creations. Then, Nigeria’s constitution, system of government (presidentialism), and governance structure—an overpowerful centre and 36 mostly unviable states—are military impositions. Nigeria’s national anthem was colonial, then military, and now it’s colonial again.

Look around you, nothing structural, even symbolic, is a true reflection of the collective will, or choice, of the people of this country. The implication is that colonialism and military rule produced a captive people called “Nigerians” who have absolutely no direct input in the creation, name, structure and even symbols of the geographical entity they call their country. “Nigerians” are like internally displaced people put in a big tent by a dominant power and given a name, an attire and a song they must sing.

Read also: Manifesting unity and progress: An analysis of Nigeria new national anthem!

Sadly, owing to a phenomenon known as path dependency, Nigeria is trapped in carriages of the past, and has refused to disembark and make the critical path-switching decision to restructure and transform itself. That path dependency, that atavism, drove Bola Tinubu, Nigeria’s arrogant and self-aggrandising president, to corral the National Assembly to reintroduce the colonial anthem last sung about fifty years ago.

Essentially, Tinubu and the compliant National Assembly chose between two perversities and decided that colonial vestiges are better than military vestiges. Furthermore, they took the decision dripping with colonial and military mentalities. Under colonial and military rules, Nigerians were treated as idiots who must take whatever was handed down to them like mediaeval serfs. That’s exactly how Tinubu treated the people of this country.

For the legitimacy of any decision, process and substance matter. Even if a decision is right but the process is flawed, it would lack legitimacy. Equally, if the process is right but the substance is unfair, unjust or unreasonable, the decision would lack legitimacy. And if a decision or a law lacks legitimacy – either process or outcome legitimacy – citizens have a moral right to disobey it. Any lawyer who disagrees must brush up their jurisprudence or familiarise themselves with socio-legal studies, a field also known as Law and Society. Legitimacy matters. So, let’s start with the process.

“Nigerians” are like internally displaced people put in a big tent by a dominant power and given a name, an attire and a song they must sing.”

The old colonial anthem was reintroduced within one week. The House of Representatives “debated” the bill on May 23 and approved it the same day. The Senate passed the bill on May 28, and Tinubu assented to it on May 29. For something as significant as a national anthem, you would think changing it would be subject to a process of citizen participation. Alas, Tinubu changed the anthem with the military fashion that General Olusegun Obasanjo changed the colonial anthem in 1978 as his regime prepared to hand over power to civilians.

Tinubu said changing the national anthem was his “priority”, never mind that it wasn’t the priority of most Nigerians. But why was it Tinubu’s priority? Well, he said in one interview before the election that the colonial anthem “describes us better” because “we are one and one Nigeria.” This is problematic for two reasons; one is hypocrisy, the other autocracy.

Take the hypocrisy. In 1997, while in self-exile fleeing the Abacha regime, Tinubu granted an interview to ThisDay, which the newspaper published with the headline: “I don’t believe in one Nigeria – Tinubu.” So, when Tinubu was hounded by Abacha, he disavowed Nigeria’s unity, but once power was within his reach, he changed his tune. Today, millions of Nigerians, dehumanised by economic hardship, are going through far worse than Tinubu endured under Abacha, yet they still aver Nigeria’s oneness: they still believe in one Nigeria. Elsewhere, Tinubu would first apologise for his “I don’t-believe-in-one-Nigeria” comment before, as an afterthought, mouthing sanctimoniously: “We are one and one Nigeria”.

Then, there’s the autocracy. Even if switching to the colonial anthem was Tinubu’s priority, must he force it on Nigerians without consultation? Where is his mandate? If the presidential election was a referendum on Tinubu’s idea, it was overwhelmingly rejected by Nigerians. Only 37 per cent of the electorate voted for him, a whopping 63 per cent rejected him!

Read also: Changing Nigeria national anthem is my priority Tinubu defends

In South Africa’s recent elections, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC secured only 40.2 per cent of the vote. He is now forming a Government of National Unity. In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP won only 37 per cent of the vote. He has formed a coalition government. But in Nigeria, thanks to a perverse constitution and a crooked presidential system, both military impositions, Tinubu won only 37 per cent, yet he’s ruling autocratically without consensus, simply because an obsequious National Assembly is at his beck and call.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo published his book The People’s Republic in 1968. The use of the two words – “People” and “Republic” – together was deliberate. Republicanism is about the people. In a republic, political power and authority are rooted firmly in the people. Nigeria is called a “republic”, but it’s absolutely not. In their book Nigeria: What Everyone Needs to Know, John Campbell and Matthew Page said that “politics is an elite game largely played without reference to the Nigerian people.” Dr Segun Aganga made the same point in his book Reclaiming the Jewel of Africa. He described Nigeria as “more a government by the political class, of the political class, for the political class.” That top-down power structure captures exactly how Tinubu and the rubber-stamping National Assembly foisted the old colonial anthem on Nigerians. Simply put, the decision lacks process legitimacy.

But what about the substance of the decision? Let’s recall the history. In 1959, as the British colonial rulers prepared to grant “independence” to Nigeria, they decided also to bequeath a national anthem to the country. Although Britain ran international competitions for the writer and the composer, it just happened that the winners of the competitions were both British. Thus, Lillian Jean Williams, a British expatriate wrote the anthem, while Frances Brenda, based in London, composed the anthemic music. What was going through the mind of Lillian Williams as she wrote the “Nigeria We Hail Thee” anthem is not clear, but the wording of the anthem is largely patronising as if written for a primitive tribe.

Yet, in defending the reintroduction of the colonial anthem, someone said it “will cement us together.” Another said it would encourage young Nigerians “to be more committed to the ideals of nationhood”. What utter claptraps! First, the colonial anthem did not stop the civil war. In his book Because I am Involved, the late Biafran leader, Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, said: “An impossible federation was created in which all cards were stacked in favour of one component of it”. That skewed structure remains today and until it is changed, Nigeria can’t become a “nation” as the anthem proclaims. Second, the idea that millions of jobless and oppressed youths would be more committed to the ideals of nationhood simply because of the empty words of an anthem is hairbrained.

Now, what’s even the meaning of “Nigeria”? What’s the etymology of the name? The Encyclopedia Britannica described Flora Shaw, later Lugard, as “a staunch advocate of imperialism.” So, she named this country “Nigeria” without affection. She coined the name from “Niger”, Latin for “dark”. A white man called Africa the “Dark Continent”; for Flora Shaw, “Nigeria” meant a “dark” country. That puts “Nigeria we hail thee” in a different light.

So, tell me, where is this country’s national pride when it owes its creation, name and anthem to imperialists? Which raises a broader question: Who really owns “Nigeria”?

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