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Anthem timeline: From ‘Nigeria, We Hail Thee’ to ‘Arise, O Compatriots,’ and back

Nigeria’s enduring connection to its past, previously demonstrated by its recurrent preference for former military leaders, has surfaced once again. The country is reverting to its colonial anthem, ‘Nigeria, We Hail Thee,’ nearly five decades after ‘Arise, O Compatriots’ became the national song.

On Wednesday, May 29th, 2024, President Bola Tinubu signed into law the return of ‘Nigeria, We Hail Thee.’

Timeline of the national anthem:

Adoption from colonial masters: October 1, 1960

Following Nigeria’s independence on October 1, 1960, ‘Nigeria, We Hail Thee’ became the country’s anthem. The lyrics, written by British expatriate Lillian Jean Williams, celebrated Nigeria’s newfound freedom and the promise of unity amidst its diverse ethnicities and languages.

The Birth of a New Anthem: 1978

In 1978, a national competition was held to create a new anthem that could capture Nigeria’s diverse identity. The result was ‘Arise, O Compatriots,’ a collaborative effort by five Nigerians: P. O. Aderibigbe, John A. Ilechukwu, Sota Omoigui, Eme Etim Akpan, and B.A. Ogunnaike. This anthem, which emphasised themes of national service, the sacrifices of past heroes, and a collective commitment to building a just and peaceful future, served the nation for nearly five decades.

A historical shift to the past: May 2024

On May 23, 2024, the House of Representatives passed a bill to revert to the old national anthem, ‘Nigeria, We Hail Thee’. President Tinubu celebrated his one year in office on May 29, 2024, by signing the bill reinstating ‘Nigeria, We Hail Thee’ as the national anthem.

The decision to reinstate ‘Nigeria, We Hail Thee’ has sparked significant controversy and outrage among Nigerians.