NIGERIA, WE HAIL THEE – The Stirring Saga of our National Anthem(s): Historical Perspective or Voice of a New Dawn?

Government of Nigeria
Published in
6 min readMay 30, 2024

by Otega Ogra, FCIM

First published here:

  1. The year was 1959. As the clock ticked towards 1960, Nigeria stood on the precipice of a monumental shift – its emancipation from British colonial rule. This was a time when our nation was more a line item in a colonial ledger than a free state. The country, once treated less as a nation and more as a commodity in an unholy alliance with the infamous Royal Niger Company, was gearing up to redefine its identity. Our founding fathers had waged a long, arduous struggle not just against colonial domination but also against the indignity of having to pledge allegiance in compulsory renditions to a distant monarch with the anthem, “God Save the King.”

2. To solidify this newfound autonomy, a call was issued, inviting both Nigerians and international participants to pen a national anthem that would encapsulate the vision of the impending free and independent Nigeria. The call for entries reproduced below, was a clarion call to articulate the collective aspirations and spirit of diversity of our soon-to-be sovereign nation:


“The National Planning Committee for Independence is thrilled to announce a competition to select a National Anthem to commemorate the Federation of Nigeria’s independence on October 1, 1960.

A prize of $280.00 will be awarded for a National Anthem that resonates with the spirit of a free Nigeria, standing proud among the nations of the world. We invite submissions of no more than three verses, each comprising six lines in English. This lyrical representation should capture the essence of our nation (the setting to music will be announced later).

Please send your entries by March 31, 1959, to: Independence Celebrations Officer, c/o Ministry of Internal Affairs, Lagos.”

3. This call for entries drew a staggering response of over 1,000 entries, culminating in the selection of “Nigeria, We Hail Thee” as Nigeria’s inaugural anthem, penned by a British expatriate living in Nigeria, Lillian Jean Williams, with music by Frances Berda. As the anthem echoed through the celebrations on October 1, 1960, it marked a fitting tribute to the aspirations of our nation and reflected the broad diversity of the various nations that made up the New Nigeria. Unity was its key message.

4. However, the years that followed brought with them trials that tested the nation’s resolve: a military coup in 1966, a subsequent civil war, and the onset of an oil boom that reshaped the economic landscape. By the late 1970s, amid the throes of change and under the leadership of then former dictator and military Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo (who was part of the military coup that brought Gen Murtala Mohammed into power before his demise in a failed coup that saw Obasanjo become head of state), a new anthem was sought to reflect what they believed was a maturing nation’s identity. This led to another anthem competition, to reflect the nationalistic fervor of the time, resulting in “Arise, O Compatriots,” adopted in 1978 and penned by a quintet of Nigerian writers – John A. Ilechukwu, Eme Etim Akpan, B. A. Ogunnaike, Sota Omoigui and P. O. Aderibigbe. The music was created by the Nigerian Police Band directed by B. E. Odiasse.

5. Years of political tumult continued until Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999, with reformed President Obasanjo (now a civilian) at the helm. The turn of the millennium saw calls from across the country for restructuring, a topic that Obasanjo largely sidestepped, focusing instead on other reforms. This decision to ignore those calls would plague him all through his presidency.

6. It wasn’t until 2014 under President Goodluck Jonathan that a National confab was convened, bringing together 492 Nigerians to a National Conference inaugurated on March 17, 2014 which was somewhat representative. I say somewhat because, some strongly believe President Jonathan only decided to convene the national confab to earn sympathy points for his then re-election bid which he still lost to President Buhari in 2015.

7. During this conference with retired Chief Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi as Chairman, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi as Vice Chair and. Dr Valerie Azinge as Secretary, one poignant resolution from this conference amongst others was to revert to the old anthem, “Nigeria, We Hail Thee,” seen as a true reflection of Nigeria’s foundational values. According to a report by Premium Times @premiumtimesNG, “The conference resolved for Nigeria to abandon its anthem and return to the old ‘Nigeria we hail thee’ anthem”. Details of the report can be found on the National Repository Site. Direct Link to document here:

8. Page 295, National Conference Report, text reproduced below:


“Conference decided that:

Nigeria should revert to her old National Anthem which embodies unity, peace and prosperity as follows:

Nigeria, we hail thee,

Our own dear native land, Though tribe and tongue may differ, In brotherhood we stand,

Nigerians all are proud to serve

Our sovereign Motherland.

Our flag shall be a symbol

That truth and justice reign, In peace or battle honoured, 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.”

NOTE: some of the 2014 national conference outcomes have already been passed into law by the National Assembly since 2014 and have been part of the various constitution review processes since then.

9. This idea recently gained legislative traction, and as of May 29, 2024, the switch back was officially enacted – 25 years post the establishment of uninterrupted civilian governance.

10. I have seen many questions and whilst I may not have all the answers, I personally believe in the power of an anthem to engender national pride and values.

11. Reflecting on this issue, I am also of the personal opinion that. ‘Nigeria We Hail Thee’ anthem speaks to our diversity and urgent need for unity. Not that Arise O compatriots doesn’t, but given the challenges we face as a ‘federating unit’ the first Nigerian anthem speaks more to me. There is a unique power of a national anthem in fostering a sense of pride and unity!

12. As a Senior Aide in President Bola Tinubu’s office, I daily witness his commitment to these national ideals firsthand. President Tinubu, is no doubt a figure synonymous with dedication to national unity and progress – and he continues to inspire me. Some have shared old videos of Mr President, President Bola Tinubu speaking about his preference for ‘Nigeria We Hail Thee’. This is what I have to say: President Tinubu has never hidden his vision of seeing a more united Nigeria. His stance on restructuring, devolution of powers to fedeeating units and non-interference are clear. President Tinubu remains someone who doesn’t hide from his beliefs in the name of politics – a case of He says what he does, and does what he says! This is something that continues to endear me to him – first in his stint as governor, where I was a beneficiary of his free SSCE exams as a bright student of the Lagos state-owned Lagos State Model College, Kankon and years after when I watched in close proximity, his organisation of the 2011 ACN Nuhu Ribadu/Fola Adeola Presidential ticket. Fast forward to a couple of years ago, I worked closely with him leading to his declaration to run for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Today, he is our President.

IN SUMMARY: President Bola Tinubu will always. put country first – even over himself. I have seen it in private over the years. I still see it daily as a senior aide in his office.

13. Nigeria belongs to us all regardless of tribe, religion, or any demographic grouping – “/Though Tribe and Tongue may differ, In Brotherhood We Stand/”

May God grant us a “Nigeria that is blessed”

#iStandWithNigeria #IstandWithTinubu.


Otega Ogra is a Senior Aide to President Bola Tinubu. He oversees the Presidential Office of Digital Communications and New Media Strategy

Social ID: @otegaogra #TheTiger

FUN FACT: some countries have their anthems written and/or melodies composed by non-nationals. Bahrain, Egypt, Australia, Luxembourg South Africa, USA, make the list