•AGF, Abaribe, Ozekhome, caution NASS


From Fred Itua, Abuja

Plans by the National Assembly to hurriedly pass a bill for an Act on National Anthem to replace the current one with the old suffered a setback in the Senate, yesterday, with a series of warnings that such an important issue should not be done by a legislative fiat.

Speaking at the Public hearing on the bill organised by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, former minority leader of the Senate, Enyinnaya Abaribe and constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, warned that the issue of the National Anthem should not be treated with a legislative fiat.

The Minister of Justice said as commendable as the move by both chambers of the National Assembly may be, on enacting a law on the National Anthem or replacing the current one with the old, Nigerians must be carried along for their required buy-in.

“In some cases, the national anthem emerges from open national competition among interested citizens. In other instances, the proposed national anthem is subjected to plebiscite or referendum, before its eventual adoption or declaration.

“The essence of the foregoing is to secure the buy-in and confidence of the people and to ensure that the anthem meets their collective aspirations and suits their contemporary socio-political conditions.

“Against the background of the foregoing, I am of the considered opinion that the revered issue of choice of a national item should not come into being only by legislative fiat, or presidential proclamation alone.

“Consequently, it is my considered view that the decision to change Nigeria’s National Anthem whether by replacing it with the old one or a new one, should be subjected to a wider process of citizen participation through zonal public hearings, resolutions of the Federal Executive Council, Council of State, National and State Assemblies, etc.

“The outcome of this process is bound to be a true reflection of the wishes of the generality or majority of Nigerians.”

Abaribe, in his submission, said he was against the move while explaining that the second stanza of the National Anthem is the country’s national prayer.

He also revealed that his senatorial district was totally against the move as there were more pressing issues that required the attention of the Federal Government.

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“While we support the efforts of the Federal Government under President Bola A. Tinubu to ameliorate the difficulties occasioned by biting inflation, crippling unemployment and widespread insecurity, that Nigerians face today, we do not feel that it is a priority to embark on a homegrown National Anthem 46 years after its adoption by Nigerians.

“The reasons given for such unseemly haste to revert back to the colonial era anthem are rather nebulous and mostly self-serving. Reverting to an anthem that harks back to our troubled past as a nation does not enhance unity. Rather, it reminds us all of nomenclature such as ‘Tribes, Tongues’, Natives’ which divides us as a nation and which led to the unfortunate civil war.

“The present anthem has a second stanza that is used as our National Prayer. Thus, going back to the old anthem will make the nation be put even further apart as it will mean we will not have a National Prayer.

“Furthermore, the present National Anthem was accompanied by a pledge which all our children and patriots recite at official functions. Will reverting back to the old anthem not mean abrogation of the pledge since they go together?

“The peoples of Abia South Senatorial District are desirous of policies and plans to reduce the pump price of petrol from the present N1,000 per litre in Aba, the N224 per kWh of electricity, the more than 100% increase in food prices than going back to an anthem written by a colonial citizen of Britain and bequeathed to Nigerians at our independence in 1960.

“Therefore, the people of Abia South Senatorial District in their entirety reject the bill to revert back to the old anthem.”

In his submission at the public hearing, Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris Malagi, recommended that the scope should be expanded to include a robust issue on national identity rather than limiting it to change of national anthem.

The minister, who was represented by the Director General of National Orientation Agency (NOA), Mr. Lanre Issa-Onilu, noted that some lines in the old national anthem does not make a complete meaning.

“The issue of the national anthem is just a sub-sect. What we should be looking at is the National Identity Act. The challenge we have today is that we do not have a value national identity which the national anthem is one of them. It is not about singing in schools, it is about learning it and imbibing it.”

Ozekhome called for wider consultations for Nigerians to accept whatever National Anthem is proposed and buy into it. According to him, the National Assembly should widen the scope of participation in the process of coming up with such an Act for general acceptability.

He, however, supported the move to replace the current “Arise O Compatriots “ National Anthem with the “ Nigeria, We Hail Thee”, the country started with in October 1960.

He said such a move was long overdue since the current National Anthem adopted in 1978 does not have the required gravitas and not inspirational to fire the passion and zeal for Nationhood among Nigerians.

Nigeria, according to him, will not be the first country in the world to replace the current National Anthem with the old one as over 20 countries like Russia, Austria, Chile, France , Saudi Arabia, China, Brazil, Iran, Iraq etc, have done so at different times in the past.

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