AGF Warns National Assembly Not To Enact Law On National Anthem

The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), has urged both chambers of the National Assembly to pause the fast-tracking of a bill aimed at replacing Nigeria’s current national anthem with the old one. Fagbemi expressed his concerns during a public hearing organized by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights, and Legal Matters on Monday.

While recognizing the National Assembly’s initiative as commendable, Fagbemi stressed that such a significant change should not be implemented through legislative fiat alone. He emphasized that the process must involve extensive consultation and gain widespread support from Nigerians.

Fagbemi pointed out that the national anthem holds profound symbolic importance and any changes to it should reflect the collective will of the people. He insisted that replacing the anthem should only proceed with the “buy-in of most Nigerians,” ensuring that the decision is inclusive and representative of the national sentiment.

His remarks highlight the need for a democratic and participatory approach to any amendments to national symbols, underscoring the importance of public opinion and consensus in such matter.

He said, “In some cases, the national anthem emerges from open national competition among interested citizens. In other instances, the proposed national anthem is subjected to a plebiscite or referendum before its eventual adoption or declaration.

“The essence of the foregoing is to secure the buy-in and confidence of the people and to ensure that the anthem meets their collective aspirations and suits their contemporary socio-political conditions.

“Against the background of the foregoing, I am of the considered opinion that the revered issue of choice of a national item should not come into being only by legislative fiat or presidential proclamation alone.

“Consequently, it is my considered view that the decision to change Nigeria’s National anthem, whether by replacing it with the old one or a new one, should be subjected to a wider process of citizen participation through zonal public hearings, resolutions of the Federal Executive Council, Council of State, National and State Assemblies, etc.

“The outcome of this process is bound to be a true reflection of the wishes of the generality or majority of Nigerians”.

Minister of Information and National Orientation, Alhaji Mohammed Idris Malagi, who was represented by the Director-General of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Mr Lanre Issa-Onilu, who also agreed with the AGF on wider consultations, also suggested discussion around national identity rather than limiting it to the change of the national anthem.

Mr Lanre Issa-Onilu identified certain lines in the old national anthem, which he noted do not have a complete meaning.

“The issue of the national anthem is just a sub-sect. What we should be looking at is the National Identity Act.

“The challenge we have today is that we do not value national identity, of which the national anthem is one. It is not about singing in schools; it is about learning it and imbibing it.”

A legal practitioner, who also expressed strong reservations about the expeditious passage of the bill, called for wider consultations for Nigerians to accept whatever national anthem is proposed and buy into it.

According to him, the National Assembly should widen the scope of participation in the process of coming up with such an act for general acceptability.

He, however, supported the move to replace the current “Arise, O Compatriots” national anthem with the “Nigeria, We Hail Thee” the country started with in October 1960.

He said such a move was long overdue since the current national anthem adopted in 1978 does not have the required gravitas and is not inspirational enough to ignite the passion and zeal for nationhood among Nigerians.

Other stakeholders in their submissions preferred the old national anthem to the current one.