Nigerian national anthem changes (again)

Nigerian flag for new anthem

Nigerian national anthem changes (again)

We all think of national anthems as essential parts of our national identities that have been there… forever. But the Nigerian national anthem change is another example of how they can and are modified on occasion. In this case, it’s unusual in that it is changing back to an original anthem abandoned several decades ago.

In May 2024, President Bola Tinubu signed the National Anthem Bill 2024 into law, effectively reinstating Nigeria’s original anthem, “Nigeria, We Hail Thee.”

The reinstatement marks a return to the country’s early post-independence era as the song was used from 1960 until 1978, when it was dropped by the then-military administration of Olusegun Obasanjo.

The original anthem

“Nigeria, We Hail Thee” was written by Lillian Jean Williams, a British expatriate, and composed by Frances Berda. Over the years, it faced criticism as neither writer was Nigerian and it used words such as “tribes” that were deemed colonial in outlook.

Nonetheless, it has been argued that the original anthem offers a stronger symbol of unity, peace, and prosperity compared to its successor, “Arise, O Compatriots.” In that respect, it’s a positive anthem, unlike many that promote armed conflict and revenge (see the link below).

Switching anthems again has inevitably sparked criticism for the song’s lack of Nigerian content, use of colonial language and also because the whole business of changing anthems is not seen as a priority at the moment.

How do you write a national anthem?

What do you think of it? Although I appreciate the sentiment of the lyrics, the song sounds really dated and not at all African, let alone Nigerian (this is the land of Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade, after all).

How would you go about writing a national anthem? Over the years, there have been numerous public requests for writing anthems. This one for Nigeria received some 500 submissions. At other times, writers have been commissioned – don’t ask me how that works!

Is there a copyright on national anthems?

There is a general feeling that national anthems are public domain. But this is not always the case. For older countries, it’s more than likely that the song will be in the public domain as the last remaining writer probably died over 95 years ago.

But remember that a large number of nations were created in Africa from the sixties onwards. It is likely that their anthems are still covered by copyright. At a guess, I’d say that there must be about 100 anthems that fall in that category. So it’s best to check.

Something else worth remembering: although the US anthem is in the public domain, Jimi Hendrix’s version is most definitely not. Individual recordings of the anthems are subject to copyright protection.

Check here for more weird and wonderful stories about national anthems.

Nigeria we hail thee (lyrics)

Nigeria we hail thee,

Our own dear native land,

Though tribe and tongue may differ,

In brotherhood, we stand,

Nigerians all, and proud to serve

Our sovereign Motherland.

Our flag shall be a symbol

That truth and justice reign,

In peace or battle honour’d,

And this we count as gain,

To hand on to our children

A banner without stain.

O God of all creation,

Grant this our one request,

Help us to build a nation

Where no man is oppressed,

And so with peace and plenty

Nigeria may be blessed.

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