Finally, someone found use for the second stanza of the National Anthem. Somebody shout halleluiah! I was quite impressed last week when, while attending the award presentation ceremony for winners of the National Youth Essay Contest organised by the National Orientation Agency, I found that the agency had adopted the second stanza of the National Anthem as some kind of official uniform national prayer for Nigeria.
I have always wondered what the second stanza was about, what purpose it served. Indeed, I questioned the need for one, especially since it was rarely sung by anyone. In a country where national identities enjoy little relevance in the minds of the citizens and where not too many educated citizens can recite the otherwise popular first stanza without errors, it seemed a waste of time to have a second stanza that is almost of no significance to the people.
Ironically, however, I have always thought that that the lyrics of the second stanza are very rich. It reads more like a pledge, a solemn declaration under the guidance of the Supreme Being to serve – a prayer. I have always wished Nigerians would pay more attention to those lines and use them as a guide for their conduct or at least derive some meaning from them and enrich their sense of patriotism. I am glad the National Orientation Agency, under the new DG, Mike Omeri, shared these thoughts and did something about it.
The Nigerian is a very religious being. He advertises it at the slightest opportunity. It is either his hands hold prayer beads or his car is covered in stickers screaming the glory of God. His sentences are not complete without “God” in them and, make no mistake about it, he believes in some way that God is a Nigerian. You hear him espouse such beliefs when the national soccer team is playing a match. Even the team observes prayers as though it is a football skill. They will pray before the game and at half time, in a very public display of submission to the Almighty.
At public functions, prayer has found its way into becoming a fixture on the programmes. There are opening and closing prayers. Consciously, we do our best to ensure a balance (as we have learnt to do in every other aspect of our national life). If a Christian takes the opening prayer, we make sure a Muslim closes it.
While we pretend by these actions to be very religious people, on the other hand, we have also succeeded in officially emboldening our differences as a people. It is such actions that continue to harp on our sensibilities that we are different people because we call God by different names, thus ensuring that religion continues to be a dividing factor, one that currently threatens everything we know and hold as a nation.
It is interesting to observe what happens at these official prayer sessions; the hypocrisy, the competition, the shame. If a Christian is called to say the opening prayer, he makes sure to be as elaborate as he can be and might spend as much as five minutes. When the Muslim counterpart is later called, he ensures he outdoes the Christian and spends more time. This happens vice versa. And if we will be sincere to our selves, no one is really paying serious solemn attention to the words of prayer being said at such events.
It is therefore a welcome development to have the National Orientation Agency championing a move away from this era of official religious irresponsibility. It is interesting to note that while the agency was not scrapping prayers as a whole (which many would have raised arguments against), they were replacing the Christian vs. Muslim prayer roll call with a National prayer drawn from the second stanza of our National anthem which is owned by all, both Christians and Muslims.
Besides finding some use for the long ignored, presumed irrelevant and unappreciated second stanza of the anthem, the agency, through this initiative, is finally doing something symbolic to blot out differences from our national consciousness. I think this is commendable and we all should support this.
The national prayer should be adopted in all schools and should become the default prayer at all public functions at all levels of government. For many who do not remember the words – and I know there are many – I have taken the liberty of reproducing them here so that, perhaps, the orientation can begin right here:
Oh God of creation, direct our noble cause
Guide our leaders right
Help our youth the truth to know
In love and honesty to grow
And living just and true
Great lofty heights attain
To build a nation where peace and justice shall reign.
First published in Daily Times 13/5/2012