Colonial “dependency syndrome” and the Case against Nigeria’s “new” anthem – Yinka Adetu

In his seminal work, “The Colonizer and the Colonized” (1957), French-Tunisian essayist Albert Memmi observes that the colonial condition fundamentally sparks revolt, as it is an untenable situation that “cannot be adjusted to; like an iron collar, it can only be broken.”

Colonialism is a cancer that perpetuates a legacy of devastation and interminable trauma. Only through revolt or rebellion, no matter how mild, can a colonized individual transcend their coloniality and achieve liberation.

It becomes disturbing when a nation decides to remain fixated on its traumatic past, and even more devastating when one like Nigeria not only clings to its colonial heritage but also celebrates its colonizers’ grandeur.

The recent decision by the country’s president, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and legislature to revert to the old national anthem, composed by British expatriate Lillian Jean Williams during the colonial era, is a stark example of what Memmi calls the “dependency syndrome.” The syndrome relates with how the colonized become psychologically and politically enmeshed in their dependence on the colonizer, displaying internalized inferiority and reinforcing the colonizer’s dominance.

The decision to revert to “Nigeria We Hail Thee” is a regressive move that undermines and subverts Nigeria’s postcolonial identity. This pathetic anthem which was birthed by colonial thought and coated in colonial images, served the nation from independence in 1960 until 1978. President Tinubu’s resolve to revive this anthem betrays a backward mindset, out of touch with the aspirations of a nation striving to shed its colonial baggage.

Former President Obasanjo had wisely discarded this relic of the past, recognizing the need for a national identity untainted by colonial legacy. The national anthem is a sacred expression of national identity, encapsulating both who we are and who we strive to become, none of which the old anthem attains.

On the other hand, the adopted anthem, “Arise, O Compatriots,” composed by Pa Benedict Odiase, embodied the nation’s aspirations, celebrating heroism, service, cultural heritage, and collective freedom, while the old (new) anthem represents a neocolonialist attempt to revive the past, perpetuating the dependency syndrome that has held Nigeria back.

Like America’s Star-Spangled Banner, “Arise, O Compatriots” is a rallying cry, a call to awaken from the slumber of colonial legacy and rediscover our true potential. By clinging to a colonial-era relic, Tinubu’s gesture is a stark reminder of the dependency syndrome that continues to afflict Nigeria’s leadership. By abandoning the indigenous anthem, Nigeria’s leadership turns its back on the nation’s hard-won independence and the collective hopes and dreams of its citizens.

Adopting and singing the old anthem is tantamount to parroting a relic of colonialism, revealing the deep-seated psychological scars inflicted by colonization, as Frantz Fanon noted in Wretched of the Earth. The anthem is replete with colonial imagery and language, showcasing offensive stereotypes.

The first line, “Nigeria we hail thee”, employs the archaic term “thee”, a painful reminder of slavery and colonial subservience. The second line, “Our own dear native land”, uses the pejorative term “native”, a colonial-era label for subjugated peoples, reinforcing exotic and primitive stereotypes of Africa and its cultures.

Furthermore, the third line, “though tribes and tongues may differ”, employs the outdated and offensive term “tribe”, historically used to demean and marginalize colonized peoples seeking to reclaim their cultural identities.

Finally, the last line, “Our sovereign motherland” is a ridicule and a deliberate reminder that we are not mentally and historically free from our colonial past.  Given these built-in biases and derogatory undertones, the entire anthem project should be discarded.

This anthem’s limitations are further exposed through its inability to address the pressing issues that plague Nigeria. The poem’s colonial-era language and imagery fail to resonate with the contemporary Nigerian experience, ignoring the country’s complex history and present-day challenges. Unlike an anthem whose purpose is to inspire and unite, this relic of the past remains silent on the issues that matter most to Nigerians, such as economic equality, political stability, and social justice. Its outdated composition is woefully inadequate to capture the nation’s collective aspirations, struggles, and triumphs, rendering it a mere relic of a bygone era, devoid of relevance or meaning in present-day Nigeria. By clinging to this anachronistic anthem, Nigeria unveils a disconnect between its past and present, neglecting the opportunity to forge a unifying national identity that truly reflects its people’s hopes, dreams, and realities.

As a post colony, Nigeria has endured a tumultuous fate, marked by the civil war, military rule, corrupt democratic administrations, and a neocolonial experience that has stifled progress.

In the first decade after independence, we faced unimaginable challenges, and subsequent years have been marred by misguided government policies and economic instability. Currently, our nation grapples with inflation, economic uncertainty, political instability, and national insecurity. It is astonishing, therefore, that the Tinubu administration has chosen to revisit the old anthem, effectively transporting our collective psyche back to the traumatic experience of colonialism.

This decision raises a poignant question: Why do we persist in clinging to the remnants of a broken colonial legacy, rather than forging a new path that honors our struggles, celebrates our resilience, and inspires a united and prosperous future for all Nigerians?

***Yinka Adetu is a culture critic from Lagos, Nigeria. He tweets  @contentby_yinka.

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