Assembly Of Yes Men, By Kazeem Akintunde

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Kazeem Akintunde

Assembly Of Yes Men, By Kazeem Akintunde

 

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has never hidden his love for Nigeria’s old National Anthem, ‘Nigeria We Hail Thee’. Long before he was elected President, he had granted several interviews where he spoke of his desire to return the old Anthem whenever he had the power to do so. To him, the old anthem strikes a chord in him and he believes (rightly or wrongly) that many Nigerians share his view.

Luck smiled on him May 29, 2023, when he was sworn in as the 16th President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. To mark one year in office, Tinubu sent an Executive Bill to the National Assembly for a change of the nation’s anthem from the ‘Arise O Compatriots’ back to ‘Nigeria We Hail Thee’.  He told the lawmakers that he would be happy if the task is accomplished before May 29, 2024.

Despite the bill getting to members of the National Assembly less than 10 days to the May 29th deadline, the ‘Yes Men’ in the NASS believed that the task was achievable. Indeed, the impossible was made possible by our lawmakers.

Tinubu’s fantasy became a reality as the Bill passed the first reading on the floor of the two chambers and the second reading, passed through the relevant committees of both chambers who subject the bill to a public hearing after which it passed the third reading. The two chambers then met to harmonise the Bill before passing a clean copy to the President for his assent. All the above was achieved within a week.

A happy and fulfilled President on May 29, 2024, quickly appended his signature on the Bill, and pronto, we have a ‘new’ national anthem. The ‘Yes Men’ in NASS have performed magic. Our national anthem, ‘Arise O Compatriots’, which was selected from the lyrics of five winning entries and fused into one was discarded and consigned to history. That anthem came to life through the joint efforts of five Nigerians namely P.O Aderogba, Babatude Ogunaike, John Ikechukwu, Eme Etim Akpan and Sotu Omoigui. The Director of Music of the Nigeria Police Band, Benedict Odiase, selected the lyrics, fused them together, and composed the music. The anthem was adopted in 1978 during the era of General Olusegun Obasanjo. Now, we are back to our old Independence anthem written by Lillian Williams, a Briton.

If the intention of Mr. President was to get back at one of his arch enemies and possibly erode some of his achievements, I do not have any problem with that. After all, Obasanjo did worse for his fellow townsman, Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, who despite laying down his life for democracy to thrive in the country, did not have his memory honored by Obasanjo until former President Muhammadu Buhari came into power and Abiola’s place in the country’s history was officially recognised. Karma is indeed, a bi**ch.

What however, riled most Nigerians was the way and manner the National Assembly gave life to the wish of Mr. President. It was as if the priority of President Tinubu became the priority of Nigerians. He wished to have the national anthem changed and the ‘yes men’ in the NASS ensured that it became a reality with the speed of light!

Nigeria is in a very tough time with so many issues assailing our country. The issue of insurgency, insecurity, kidnapping, hardship, and an outrageous cost of living crisis, coupled with so many other concerns are what many Nigerians are facing. The swapping of the National Anthem is supposed to be the least focused priority of Nigerian lawmakers at this point in time.

There are some key symbols of countries all over the world. The country’s name is number one. The flag is the second. The national anthem, coat of arms, currency, passport, and motto are others. Serious Countries don’t just toy with these symbols on the whims of their leaders. They accord them so much respect that may be construed by some people as ‘idolatry.’ At Commonwealth Games and other international sporting events, the national anthem of the athlete that came first is recited, and some them shed tears when their national anthem is being played while standing at the podium to receive their medals. This is because it evokes indescribable emotion of patriotism and nationalism.

The change back to the old anthem does not jell with most Nigerians and are wondering whether the time is right for such frivolities. There are several words in the anthem those are now outdated. Words such as tribe are no longer in vogue. Again, going back to the old anthem put together by a Briton does not sit well with many of our people. We can as well invite the British back to come and rule over us again. We should be moving forward as a nation and not backward.

Already, some Nigerians are given vent to their anger by not according the new anthem the respect it deserves. Aisha Yesufu, the activist was at an event recently where the old, now ‘new’ National Anthem was played and she refused to stand up. Though some of the guests at the event were staring at her, she neither budged nor flinched. She has since defended her choice by dismissing the national anthem as an ‘obnoxious law. “We are citizens, not slaves”, she slammed. Mrs. Yesufu has since been supported by Oby Ezekwesili, a former Minster of Education who stated that the National Assembly engaged in ‘a kangaroo act of violating the Constitution’.

There are several lawmakers in world history that have through their work in parliament impacted on the history and development of their country. In the United States of America, we have the ‘famous five’-  five leading lawmakers selected by a special Committee and recognized for their contributions to lawmaking in the United States. These men were honoured by their colleagues due to the level of their eruditions, commitment to the rule of law and their approach to national issues. They are Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, Robert Le Foilette and Robert Taft. In honouring them, they now have their paintings on display at the Senate Reception Room.

In September 14, 2004, two more lawmakers were added on the honour’s list. They are Arthur H. Vandeberg and Robert F. Wanger.

In Nigeria, can we point at any of our past or present lawmakers that we can celebrate for their contributions to the growth and development of the country through their legislative activities on the floor of the National Assembly?

Many of them are either in the National Assembly to amass wealth or where the wealth is already garnered, to use it as a retirement home. The Senate is now where most of our former governors have chosen to sleep and snore with little or no contribution to national development.

If the President is so serious about changing the National Anthem of the country, why not ask Nigerians to come up with a new anthem and announce a winning prize of N100m for the creative ingenious winner? That could be a way of generating positive buzz for the competition as many would be willing and ready to take part in the decision-making process of the country. But our lawmakers are hardly interested in developing intellectual prowess of the citizenry but in bringing to life the whims of the President.

They should be told in clear terms that their loyalty is to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and its people. They are lawmakers elected by the people to make laws for the good governance of the country and should not be seen dancing to every lyric coming from Aso Villa.

It was the same monumental error that was committed by the same NASS few months ago when it enacted the now suspended Cybersecurity Act. It was not until the Central Bank came up with its directive to commercial banks to start implementing the new law that most Nigerians became aware of the law and cried blue murder. The noise from the masses got to Aso Rock and forced the President to direct a temporary suspension of the implementation of the Act.

Again, the 10th National Assembly has succeeded in given a new definition to public hearing which is a fundamental part in law-making but in recent times, hardly anything they do is made public. Most Nigerians don’t get to know of many of the bills enacted into laws again as the public hearings are no longer made public; no announcements in the print or electronic media. They simply sent invites to few of their friends in civil society organisations who attend such events without a critical look at the Bill being discussed.

Tinubu has only made a law, with the support of the National Assembly to please himself. Even the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice had to intervene to say that the National Anthem Act should have been subjected to wider consultation. Thus, the country’s chief law officer tactically disowned the new national anthem. Law is made for the people, not the other way around, and the true test of any law lies in its acceptance by the people. The new anthem is old and does not befit Nigeria in the 21th century. Even the National Orientation Agency has had to tinker with the wordings of the anthem as the word ‘tribe’ that was in it is outdated.

Now is the time for the National Assembly to understand that it is a direct representation of the people from different social strata and it must be sensitive to their needs. This is not the time to engage in frivolous activities when millions of Nigerians are suffering. The same urgency attached to the change of the national anthem should be attached to the different challenges rocking the boat of the nation. Otherwise, only a few people will be left to sing ‘Nigeria We Hail Thee!’ as hunger bites and depression follows. Lawyers have also gone to court to challenge the legality of the change of the anthem.

It is our collective shame that when the world is talking about the future of things driven by Generative AI, we are here in 2024 talking about old and new national anthem. We are busy going back to the past, not knowing what to do with the present or plan ahead for the future.

See you next week.