Metro

The King’s Anthem – By Chidi Amuta

A carefully choreographed political diversion has just carried the day. In the absence of any tangible results for his first year in office, Mr. Tinubu’s fertile political imagination came up with a potent diversion. A quick ruse of reverting to the old national anthem was the hit score. It would reverberate with the popular audience. People hear the tune of the national anthem and are reminded of their Nigerian nationality. It is music with a compulsive audience.

The presidential political hit squad quickly activated its National Assembly robotic button. In a matter of days, a bill to revert the nation to the old national anthem was rushed through both chambers of the National Assembly. First reading. Second reading. Third reading. Passage by voice vote: the ‘Ayes’ have it! It has to be in time for the planned presidential address to the joint session of the National Assembly to mark both 25 years of unbroken democracy and the first year of the Tinubu presidency. The plot adhered pointedly to the script.

In the typical emerging authoritarian fashion of this presidency, there was no public debate. No debate even in the chambers of the National Assembly. No calls for informed opinion from the public. Even when the Attorney General of the Federation cautioned on the need for public debate and wider public consultation, he was ignored. The lone voice of a female legislator who tried to question the priority status of an anthem change at  a time of severe national hardship and insecurity was shouted down by the Speaker.

The National Assembly of a huge nation like Nigeria quickly degenerated into a noisy marionette conclave of nodding jesters. Whatever they all drank, smoked or ate before the joint session had a uniform hallucinatory effect: everybody nodded Yes! The president’s new -old anthem was adopted in what would pass as a bill on a touchy national issue to be made in a legislative microwave oven.

By the time the president emerged to address the assembly, he was heralded with an untidy and inchoate rendition of the re-introduced old anthem. the gathered NASS sang to the tune of the old anthem: “Nigeria, we hail thee”! I watched the lips of the entire gathering. Over three quarters of the legislators hardly mouthed the words of the old anthem. Most of them hardly knew the words.The police band helped them scale through what must have been a harrowing few minutes. The address itself was one of the most pedestrian speeches I have heard on an important national occasion by a president.

The just replaced ‘newer’ anthem has been in place for 48 years. So, most of those in the Assembly must have been toddlers or early teenagers when the old anthem was rested. But Tinubu had previously expressed his personal preference for the old anthem on several occasions. So, we are dealing  with a president’s personal wish and preference become law. For most of the members of the National Assembly, what King Tinubu had just gotten them to adopt and resurrect is actually the anthem of their fathers and fore fathers.

I doubt that much thought was given to this anthem gambit. People with any presence of mind would have realized that the 48  years life span of the new anthem captures the age bracket of Nigerian youth. With our median youth age population at 35. As it were, the NASS, in one hurried and thoughtless swing of mood occasioned by the whims and desires of an ambitious president has just usurped and toppled the spirit of an age. But the youth aged 40 and under have known only the new anthem all their lives. They constitute a tidy excess of 75% of our population.

Technically therefore, what the National Assembly has just overthrown is the spirit of an age, the defining anthem of those whom we are waiting for to lead the ation along their dreams.  Love or hate it, that anthem was the definition of their nation and their age. They are the ones who went to Lekki Toll Gate to seek a redefinition of the relationship of power and the people. The constitute the majority of the Obidients of the 2023 presidential election who wanted to take back their country from the  vice grip of power merchants and political contractors.

The minority political elite who are holding everyone else to ransom in the National Assembly have just rammed their preference of a national anthem down the throats of the rest of us. The muffled  debate or some presentations on the reversion to the old anthem by some legislators featured some of the most self -serving displays of outright ignorance that I have ever heard. I was thoroughly ashamed that this untidy conclave of half literate servile minions of power could pass for representatives of the Nigerian people. The arguments were shallow, uninformed, lacking historical consciousness and a basic understanding of our demographics and what it means for our future.  The few presentations were based mostly on preconceptions and a priori logic.  It was a pitiful straining to make legislative discourse converge on a pre-ordained presidential wish.

It was unbelievable that anyone on the National Assembly floor could argue that the slow, tepid and sleepy tempo of “Nigeria we hail thee” was better than the lively mid -quick tempo of a nation in a hurry captured by “Arise O compatriots!” The latter is a clear clarion call to national service and patriotic solidarity while the former is merely a colonial hymn of wishes dressed in insolent phraseology. Someone in that gathering actually  insisted that the retrospective stance of the reversion signified that the present government is forward looking and aspirational. Yet another crowed that the way forward is backwards to the glory days of the past. Nigeria is perhaps the only country that develops backwards while pretending to be striving for a modern future.

The honourables and distinguished persons in the conclave were too busy to arm themselves with dictionaries in spite of taking delivery that morning of a brand new library and resource centre.  If they looked at any history books ordictionaries, they could have found out the identity of the scripter of the old anthem, an assumed mistress of the British colonial overlord. They could also have done a quick simple lexical research to unearth the verbal insults in the old anthem.

The verse refers to us as a nation of “tribes and tongues”, an amalgam of mutually incompatible and perennially warring spear and shield -wielding tribesmen! Ours is a “native land” chained to the original innocence of native antiquity! The only way we can be united is to stand in “brotherhood”! at a time in human history when social language has acquired increased gender sensitivity to respect the rights of women!  An analysis of the litany of linguistic insults in the old anthem could go on endlessly. I recall that it was a revolt against  these atrocious insults that partly led to the adoption of a new anthem which was proudly written by a Nigerian.

There is nothing wrong with a particular set of leaders taking a backward look at national history to see if there are glorious legacies that can help redeem a threatened present. “Bring back America”! “Make America Great Again”! are all expressions of a nostalgia for a past that may have been glorious in some ways.

Let us be fair to our past leaders and founding fathers. There is indeed a lot that can be dredged from our past as a nation to ‘renew hope’.  If the craving for the old anthem is a holistic honest nostalgia for our past glory, then I am all for it. But we must also bring back other aspects of our good old days. The old anthem was perhaps a celebration of the euphoria of a nation that set out to be great for all its people. The old order meant the happy days of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s cocoa kingdom which generated the wealth to develop the old Western Region in education, infrastructure, agriculture and social welfare.

Yes indeed, let us march backwards to the Eastern Region of the Palm oil estates, the Okpara and Azikiwe industrial estates of Port Harcourt, Aba, Umuahia  or bring back the Kibut-style farm settlements of the great Eastern Nigeria.

Better still, let us return to the massive groundnut pyramids of the old North, the cotton fields, the peace and tranquility of the expansive farms where herdsmen roamed the fields and did  not carry guns and unleash death in their trail.

As a nation, those of us old enough to remember yesterday have a right to be nostalgic. Those who have just taken us back to the old anthem need to realize that that anthem, imperfect as its phraseology may be, was the expression of the spirit of an age and the state of a nation. It was a time when policemen did not carry assault rifles but only truncheons and batons. It was a time in which armed robbery was not part of the vocabulary let alone  terrible words like kidnapping, abductions, banditry and ritual killings.

Therefore, devoid of the nobility of the past and a coherent governmental effort to sift from the good old days for the benefit of new facing new challenges, it is futile to reduce nostalgia and retrospection to a mere anthem. We have clear and present dangers and priorities in today’s Nigeria. Sadly, hardly any of them is being addressed by a president that has now prioritized a reversion to the old national anthem into an urgent imperative.

Needless rehashing the obvious urgent pressures on most Nigerians. People are hungry, very hungry. Most people are getting impoverished by the day as a direct result of Tinubu’s thoughtless policies on fuel subsidy and the exchange rate. The burden of insecurity remains largely untouched. As the NASS was entertaining itself with the old anthem, people were being killed and farms sacked in Borno and Yobe states.

For the president to ignore these immediate threats to national life and citizens well being and confer urgency on reversion of national anthem  is the height of governmental insensitivity. It is worse. It is an arrogant indifference to the crisis of existence in today’s Nigeria. It is also part of an emerging personality cult.

Mounting immense pressure on the National Assembly to do the biddings of the president on nearly every matter including this anthem matter points us in a dangerous direction. To bend national will at the behest of the president for no justifiable reason is dangerous to consensus building in a democracy. To embark on a project to advance the preferences of any one man at the expense of national consensus is even a worse indication of the emergence of a dangerous personality cult and subterranean authoritarianism.

The signs are everywhere in evidence. We are witnessing the incubation of a creeping authoritarianism given other actions of this president. Two days ahead of the anthem change, the Minister of the FCT inaugurated a major road in Abuja and named it after President Tinubu. A couple of months prior, the governor of Niger state had unilaterally renamed the Minna airport after president Tinubu, ignoring the fact that the same airport has previously been named after an illustrious son of the state. And right after the adoption of the new anthem in the NASS a few days ago, the new library and resource center of the National Assembly was quickly named after Tinubu. From the records of the last one year, these self adulating gestures  amount to rewards to Tinubu for unleashing unprecendented hardship on Nigerians.  To most Nigerians today, the last one year can be seen as Nigeria’s Anno Horribilis -year of horror- as the late Queen Elizabeth was to characterize 2020 in England, the year of Covid-19 global pandemic.

Ironically, we may be celebrating 25 years of democracy by inadvertently laying the foundations for the antithesis of democracy, a vile demeaning and sickening authoritarianism.

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