INTERVIEW: New National Anthem: Nigeria struggling to emerge as a nation – NOA DG, Onilu

The Director General of the National Orientation Agency, NOA, Mallam Lanre Issa Onilu has explained that the reintroduced national anthem was not meant for citizens alone but for the leaders to connect and live with every word therein, in order to reawaken their consciousness on the need to show patriotism and uphold the value system in Nigeria.

In this interview with NEWS MEN in Uyo, the DG says Nigeria has struggled since 1960 to emerge as a nation, adding that the new national anthem is just an aspect of the national identity projects of the federal government yet to come. Excerpts!

The new national anthem has received a lot of backlash from the public, what is NOA doing to disabuse the minds of people and make them accept it?

The issue with the national anthem goes beyond memorization. It is just an element of the national identity project of the Federal government. There is an omnibus national identity project that the government is doing, of which the national anthem is an aspect of it.

We have had this ongoing in the last five months. NOA has set up different committees, cutting across the demographics in this country and on January 17, the final report of what we call national values charter was submitted and the Minister of Information received the value charter.

National anthem is part of the value system of the country, it is not just for you to know how to sing it; it’s also for you to connect with every single word and see it as those ingredients you need to put together to appreciate the values of the country and your fellow citizens.

So, what NOA wants to do this time around as part of the National Value charter is to educate Nigerians about the essence of the national anthem, not just the singing of it. If you check every line of it, it is telling us some things, and these things that it is telling us are not just for citizens, it is also for the leaders. So, for all of us to now live our lives by the connotation of the anthem, the meaning of those words, to ensure that this reflects the way we carry our citizenship, this is what NOA is focused on.

We have directed all our state offices and local government offices nationwide to make sure that all our staff, by the 3rd of June, have memorized the new national anthem, since they are going to be the lead people to go to schools and communities to sensitize people, make sure that they learn it and understand it.

You have seen many versions of national anthem rendition. The national anthem must be officially rendered. Everyone must know which one is the official rendition of the national anthem and so, the process will begin on Tuesday. We are going to call for entries from musicians and artistes. This is an opportunity for us to have a national anthem that we can all connect with. Do we have to use Western instruments for our national anthem? Can we put together our local instruments and produce a very beautiful rendition? So these are the things we are looking at. We want a national anthem that actually is Nigerian in nature, texture and tonality. And subsequently other aspects of the national identity project will come up.

What actually prompted the Federal government to revert to the former national anthem?

Human beings are dynamic and as the country continues to grow, the population continues to evolve. We all find out that we have struggled since 1960 for Nigeria to emerge as a nation. We are still a country and it is until we emerge as a nation that we will make progress. We are here from different parts of Nigeria with different tribes and tongues but we must first be Nigerians before we are whatever else we are. We haven’t gotten to that stage and the whole thing is because we don’t have a shared identity.

We looked at the whole thing to check what is slowing us down. We don’t have things that we can connect to psychologically. There are those emotional elements that will make us connected. Patriotism, as we say, is like love. There must be an attraction. Something must motivate it.

So, for you to be patriotic, there must be things that motivate you. When we look at the need for us to have a national value system, part of that is the need to have all the elements resonate with us. The national anthem that we had in 1960 resonates more in comparison to the one we just changed. The lyrics are more impactful and more meaningful than the one that we just took out. That is the real reason for going back to that. No other reason.

With the present situation, Nigerians are suffering so much that patriotism has deteriorated. What is the federal government doing?

We most often mix these together. The situation of the economy is not the same thing as the situation of the country. See, you may have a country where every single member of that population is of the same tribe, yet the economy may not be good. What we are dealing with is the issue of disunity. Yes, the condition that we are now, we cannot lie about it, we are all facing the same realities but, we are facing the necessary realities now.

This process is a necessity that we must go through. The luck that we have is that we have a president that is not dodging, and that is why he is taking the responsibility. We know that all the actions that he has taken are actions that should have been taken 10 or 20 years ago. The subsidy was a fraud, we all knew. We were borrowing money and printing money to pay debt. We were at a stage where if we had continued like that, our money would be completely useless. We were just printing money, we were not producing to earn money. We were using that to pay subsidy, using it to pay salaries, to develop infrastructure. No country in the world has ever done that and succeeded. We have a man with the courage to say this must go, we must face it head on. We are suffering, yes, but this is the kind of suffering where you say that we are in the labour room. There will be pains, but we know why we are there. We know that after the pains, we will all laugh and rejoice over the new baby.

If you look at the government’s policies, you’ll discover that there is a complete disconnect between government programs and the masses. There used to be programs to educate people but we are not really seeing that. What is happening? Also, why do you believe that the new national anthem will invoke the necessary attitudinal change in Nigerians?

NOA started as MAMSA. Many people still remember how effective MAMSA was. That was a period when even in some local government offices, they had up to 50 vehicles to mobilize them. They had a good public address system. They had the support to be able to do all these activities. Progressively, MAMSA became NOA and the government gradually began to ignore NOA and didn’t find the essence of NOA in National Development, so that is why we are where we are today. For over a decade now, the government has abandoned NOA.

We are developing a lot of things and we are doing it deliberately, based on the expectations of the population as at today, that are driven by technology.

There have been past efforts at bringing Nigeria together, at galvanizing, but they failed for two reasons. One, all of these campaigns were targeting the citizens, asking them to be patriotic, but for a country to progress and be united, it takes both the leaders and the citizens.

We must create institutions to deliberately grow and nurture people. We need our citizens to start to learn about their country and their obligations to society from a tender age. Even the cartoons our children from 1 to 16 watch, we have to make sure it has wholesome content that does not introduce them to external values that are not functional in Nigeria.

That is why this year, we are also launching what we call nationalization of cartoon content. Very soon we are going to call for entries. There are many Nigerians who have competent skills to produce world class cartoon characters. Imagine getting to know about other tribes and cultures from a tender age and learning to appreciate them, instead of growing up with prejudice. So it is this value system that will cultivate character in the citizens as they grow. By the time we do this, we will have a country that we have all been looking for. For the past thirty years,we have been raising foreigners in our homes.

Don’t you think we’re bringing colonialism back to Nigeria, since it was written by a British citizen?

It was not written by a colonialist, in that sense. There was a national competition and entries were taken from people, including Nigerians and foreigners. There was a panel of six Nigerians who came together to select a song that happened to be by a foreigner. And I mentioned that we will produce a rendition that suits us as Nigerians. It was also a Nigerian who sang it the way we are singing it.

So, it is a whole process. What is important is that those things are speaking about us. Though tribes and tongues may differ, in brotherhood we stand. If you begin to say this on a daily basis, it has a way of reminding you that the next person is your brother. It is like a commitment you are making to hand onto your children a banner without stain. It is also a promise of equity in the country, where no man is oppressed. So, these lines in this national anthem are by far more relevant to this country than the previous one.


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