May 23, 2024

Nigeria, We Hail Thee: Why old national anthem was abandoned in 1978

Nigeria, We Hail Thee: Why old national anthem was abandoned in 1978

By Biodun Busari

The House of Representatives passed a bill seeking to return Nigeria back to reciting the old National Anthem, “Nigeria, We Hail Thee” and discard the present one, “Arise O’ Compatriots”.

Sponsored by the House Leader, Hon. Julius Ihonvbere, the bill swiftly passed through first, second reading, considered and approved at the Committee of the Whole and passed for third reading at plenary on Thursday.

The legislation is titled, “Bill For An Act to Provide for the National Anthem of Nigeria, and for Matters Related Thereto.”

According to the bill “on the date of commencement of the Bill, the national anthem of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be “Nigeria, We Hail Thee,” which is prescribed in the schedule to the proposed legislation.

As Nigerians have continued to react, and probably prepare for the return of the “Nigeria, We Hail Thee” to be sung and played in all official gatherings of the country, it is important to know why it was discarded in the first place. 

British-originated anthem 

The country’s old national anthem, “Nigeria, We Hail Thee” was used from Independence Day, October 1, 1960 until 1978. 

The anthem’s lyrics were written by a British expatriate and lyricist, Lillian Jean Williams, who lived in Nigeria when it got its Independence. Frances Berda, however, composed the music for “Nigeria, We Hail Thee”.

“Nigeria, We Hail Thee” only survived 18 years as it was abandoned in 1978 and ceased to be Nigeria’s official national anthem.

Promoting national ownership 

In 1978, Nigeria changed its national anthem to “Arise, O Compatriots” under the military administration of General Olusgeun Obasanjo.

The anthem was composed by a former police officer, Benedict Odiase, who served in the Nigeria Police Force from 1954 to 1992.

He was also the Music Director of the Nigerian Police Band and the Mid-West State Police Band.

Nigeria adopted the current “Arise, O Compatriots” to “promote national ownership, as the composer of the previous anthem was a British expatriate.”

The anthem, “Arise, O Compatriots,” was originally written as a poem by five different writers, and it was Odiase who was tasked with putting the poem to music. 

“He did this by creating a melody that would capture the patriotic and aspirational spirit of the poem,” the national archive said.

The lyrics of the anthem were taken from five of the best entries in a national contest. 

The winners were P. O. Aderibigbe, John A. Ilechukwu, Dr. Sota Omoigui, Eme Etim Akpan, and B.A. Ogunnaike.