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A Rather Lengthy Post on The Anthem

Coat of arms of Federal Republic Of Nigeria.

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Hola! Been a bit, how’ve you been? Okay, so I wrote this a couple of years ago for a magazine. I was a bit more idealistic, so forgive me if I come off a bit strong. 🙂

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

Humour me. If you’re under 25, try singing the 1st stanza of the national anthem without peeping at the page. Chances are, if you’re not in the uniformed forces (Police, Army etc.) or a school teacher, you won’t remember all the words. If you do, congratulate yourself. You are among the minority of Nigerian adults who remember the words that were drilled into them all those years ago in secondary school.

A lot of theories have been propounded about why Nigeria is in the state she’s in. And here’s another for the debate. A popular adage says If you do not know where you’re going to, you should at least know where you’re coming from. We have forgotten where we’re coming from. We have forgotten (maybe intentionally, maybe not) the principles our Nation was founded upon, the tenets our founders  affirmed as embodying the Nigerian Spirit.  We have forgotten our anthem.

And what is in an anthem? someone asks. I’m not sure myself. But a couple of years ago, I was at a religious event that recorded almost half a million people in attendance. And at some point, we all sang the National Anthem. It was a moving moment, that recital. Maybe because it was the first time I’d witnessed it sung by such a large number. Maybe it was because I hadn’t sung it in such a long time. But when we sang, it was as if I heard those words anew. As if they were personally addressed to me alone. And because I have quite an imagination, I imagined myself one in a large infantry, standing at attention as flashes of gunfire and bombs reflect off my sweaty, grimy, war-worn face. And I hear the commanding officer rallying us to a battle that may very well be our last. Arise O Compatriots!

But then again, am I really being dramatic? Are we not in a war? These days, our enemies are not the colonists trying to enslave us. Or alien nations threatening our sovereignty. These days, the enemies are within and they are intangible entities with names like corruption, poverty, AIDS, tribalism, nepotism. And it is a war of good against evil. And a more appropriate time to be rallied never existed because the hardest battle anyone can fight is with oneself, one’s pride, one’s desires, one’s jealousy, one’s flesh. Our leaders can testify, our CEOs can testify, our cops can testify, our civil servants can testify. And while we are quick to castigate them for their corruption, let him without sin cast the first stone. It is a painful, difficult war. And the soldiers don’t even know they’re soldiers, much less that they are comrades and on the same side.

Nothing ever unites like adversity; there was no clamour for Biafra when we were struggling to kick the colonists out. And one thing that binds the Itsekiri to the Fulani, the Tiv to the Yoruba, and the Igbo to the Esan is this war against all those faceless foes. A good way to recognise this bond and our common Nigerian-ness is to answer the same call to battle. To answer it, we have to hear it. To hear it, we have to sing it.

What exactly does our anthem say? Is it just sentimentalism? Is it a clarion call? Is its message clear? Shall we find out?

Arise O Compatriots­ – Wake up and smell the coffee, people! The roof is on fire! The word compatriot literally means fellow countryman and also means co-patriot, someone who proudly defends and supports Nigeria like oneself. A co-soldier, if you will. And any soldier will tell you that when the lines are drawn, in the heat of battle, you fight not only for yourself but for your fellow soldiers because you know they’re doing the same.

Nigeria’s call obey – So we know who is rallying us, who’s summoning us. Who is Nigeria? This requires some thought. I know what Nigeria is not. Nigeria is not the leaders. Nigeria is not the flag, or the coat of arms or the symbols. Nigeria is not the National Assembly or the roads or the bridges or the geography. Nigeria is the people, all 140 (160?) million of us. Inadvertently, what affects Nigeria, affects me, you, us. If OPEC decides oil should sell at $10 a barrel, it’s you, me, us who are losing money. If a thieving governor embezzles money meant for road construction, it’s our money he’s stolen which is why we are the ones who suffer it.

To serve our fatherland with love and strength and faith – We know who’s calling us; we’re rallying ourselves, we’re gingering one another. What for? To serve.  Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. A great man once said this and it is as salient now as it was then. We are called to serve our fatherland. And fatherland means one’s native land, the home of one’s ancestors as opposed to motherland which simply means land of birth and where one grew up. Love, strength and faith, qualities we don’t show to God much less our country, sometimes not even our families. Where did it go? How did we lose the plot and what it means to unselfishly give ourselves? When did it become wrong and stupid to seek the good of my fellow-man before myself?

The labours of our heroes past shall never be in vain – This statement is wildly optimistic in these times.  Shall indicates determination and inevitability. This line is Nigeria (all 140 million of us) saying, in as forceful language as we dare, that Gani’s fight, Saro-Wiwa’s struggle, Azikiwe’s courage, Awolowo’s dream and Balewa’s perseverance will not be forgotten, will not be to no avail. It is us saying that as long as we have breath, as long as we live and our children live and their children live, that we will fight for a Nigeria that is worthy of those fine gentlemen, those excellent specimens of mankind at its finest. Their labour will never be in vain…

To serve with heart and might – The idea of serving with love, strength and faith is repeated for emphasis. That we give 100% to an ideal that deserves no less…

…One nation bound in freedom, peace and unity – an ideal that has been repeated down the ages, and is echoed in anthems across the globe. Bound next to freedom captures a concept that is more than it seems. It suggests family, and family suggests a belonging without a conscious choice to a unit. And even though we don’t get to choose this unit, it is one we couldn’t imagine surviving without. Bound in freedom is a concept closer to the family bond than to the slavery bond. And it goes further to encompass peace which is synonymous with prosperity. Unity crowns it all, a simple enough ideal; unity of purpose, of heart and of will, unity as a country, as a people, unity that accepts and encourages diversity of age, creed, race, culture and choice.

Our anthem is a beautiful one. We should treat it so, with respect and dignity. And I believe it should play a larger role in our lives. Once upon a time, no radio or TV station would begin broadcasting without at least playing the tune. With the advent of 24-hour broadcasting, guess what went out the window. Why? It takes less than five minutes to play. Is five minutes too much to ask?

We should not be allowed to forget the national anthem. Knowing it should be a prerequisite at job interviews! I kid! Seriously, the radio and TV stations should play it everyday at noon or so. Not only would we be reminding ourselves of what we are called as Nigerians to do, to be and to give, we would also be united in a common gesture now at a time when we need to be reminded that we do have things in common. By the way, this ploy was used by the Danish to irritate their German occupiers during WW2 (they whistled it).

So go ahead, Comrade, whistle the anthem. And wink at whoever joins you.


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0 Comments

  1. i really want to leave a comment that is positive about this nation. but its so hard to be upbeat about this country lately

  2. Ezugo Anakwenze says

    I had thought about this a couple of days ago. nigeria dont exist without the people. So when we say “Nigeria is bad…or “this country is not good: we are only talking about ourselves. and we are the ones to make it better.

  3. Anita Igberaese says

    This is perhaps the best thing i have read in such a long time.
    “Arise, O Compatriots!”…
    Considering how excited i feel after reading this post, i feel somewhat sad about the above phrase. This is because we have very few “Co-patriots” these days. So it’s not the call that is misunderstood, it’s that there’s hardly anyone to respond.
    I sincerely pray for our youths, that we see how much the importance of this call and that we hae a heart to respond.
    Moing on…
    Next!

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