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Monday, July 15, 2024

How lawmakers fast-tracked and passed a bill to change Nigeria’s national anthem

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The House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill to return to the old National Anthem. The process took place in the green chamber amid opposition from legislators of all parties.

The bill, sponsored by the Leader of the House of Representatives, Julius Ihonvbere (APC, Edo) and titled: “An Act to Establish the National Anthem of Nigeria and for Related Matters”, gained swift approval during the plenary session.

Tinubu’s interest in the ancient hymn

The way the bill was passed in the House and Senate gives the impression that there are vested interests in the legislation.

President Bola Tinubu has in the past advocated the adoption of the old National Anthem in place of the current anthem.

In 2011, Tinubu, as leader of one of the main opposition parties, called for the adoption of the anthem in place of the current one.

“Abandoning the post-independence anthem, which arguably evoked a strong spirit of patriotism and brotherhood, to compose a very monotonous replacement, is far less inspiring,” Tinubu said during a speech at the Nigerian Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS. Kuru, Jos, Plateau State.

During the presidential campaign, Tinubu also expressed his hope to return to the old anthem.

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On Wednesday he will celebrate one year in office. Although the president has ordered a low-key celebration, this old anthem may provide a symbolic victory.

The 2014 National Conference also recommended the adoption of the old anthem. The conference considered the ancient anthem as a better symbol of unity, peace and prosperity.

Closed door session

The House began Thursday’s session around 11:15 a.m. but then dissolved into an executive session that lasted about 40 minutes.

It’s unclear what lawmakers discussed behind closed doors, although sources said it was not unrelated to the anthem issue.

Upon resumption, lawmakers continued their legislative activities, but the president, Vice President Ben Kalu, later introduced a supplemental order that only included the Anthem bill.

From the first to the third reading

Following the presentation of the bill, Mr Ihonvbere led the debate on its general principle. He said the current anthem lacks the rigor of the old one.

“I have taken the time to look at the old anthem and the new one, and as a Nigerian who has been involved in the struggle to make Nigeria a better place, whether as a student of the student union movement, including the “Ali must go” movement , or as a university teacher; having been secretary, vice president and president of ASUU or as a pro-democracy activist who spent twelve and a half years in self-exile, I believe that the old anthem encompasses, contains and exudes the kind of energy, wit and sense of vision that I believe is good for Nigeria,” he said.

Speaking on the bill, Minority Leader Kingsley Chinda responded to the leader’s presentation, stating that the old anthem is a symbol of the past.

He also noted that it was written by Lillian Jean Williams and composed by Frances Berda, whom he called a “symbol of colonialism.”

“While it is our role to make laws, for every law there must be a spirit. If you ask us, what is the essence of this law?” Said Chinda, a Rivers State legislator.

He said there must be a “clear cause” to enact the law, and that lawmakers will “go back” by passing the bill to return to the old National Anthem.

“What value will it add to us as a nation? I am opposed to it. I asked the leader to withdraw the bill,” he said.

Ahmad Satomi (APC, Borno) also spoke out against the bill, questioning its utility for hunger and insecurity.

“Let’s do something that brings development in the eyes of the international community. Let’s think of something that brings progress,” she said.

Another Borno State legislator, Ahmad Jaha (APC, Borno), supported the bill questioning the content of the current anthem.

After the conclusion of the debate, Kalu put the bill to an oral vote and the voice of those who said “no” was louder, but he ruled in favor of those who said “yes”.

The ruling generated a mild uproar in the House as some lawmakers expressed their disapproval.

Unperturbed by the dissenting voices, the Vice President, instead of referring the bill to a committee for a public hearing, presented it for consideration in the Committee of the Whole.

In the Committee of the Whole, opposition to the bill appeared to have waned as only the minority leader expressed concern about typos in the bill, but Kalu got his way.

Following clause-by-clause consideration in committee, Mr Kalu listed the bill for third reading and it was escalated when it came up for a vote.

Content of the bill

The third clause of the bill requires the reciting of the anthem at some of the following events:

Opening and closing ceremonies of the meetings of the Federal Executive Council and the State Executive Council.

Opening and closing of sessions of the Legislative Chambers of Nigeria,

Constitutional oath ceremonies,

Flag-raising ceremonies,

Grand celebrations, grand award ceremonies, grand commemorative ceremonies, national commemorative ceremonies and the like, organized by the MDAs,

Main diplomatic activities,

major sporting events,

Other occasions as may be periodically determined by the minister responsible for education with the consent of the president.

Furthermore, the fourth clause prohibits the alteration of the lyrics of the anthem.

“The performance and singing of the national anthem shall follow the words prescribed by the Federal Government of Nigeria,” clause 4 of the bill reads.

The bill also proposed that “The Ministry responsible for information shall organize the review and approval of the standard for the performance of the national anthem and shall register the official recording of the national anthem to be played.

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“The standard and official recorded versions of the national anthem will be published on the website of the Federal Government of Nigeria.”

Under the bill, the anthem’s lyrics will be part of the civic education curriculum in elementary and secondary schools.

“Primary and secondary schools shall incorporate the lyrics of the national anthem into civic education and organize pupils and students to learn the national anthem,” clause seven reads.

The bill proposes converting “the second stanza of the current national anthem into the national prayer.”

The bill also passed second reading in the Senate and is expected to be approved by the upper house before being sent to President Tinubu for approval.

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