THE ANTHEM | A Lyrical Analysis by Ayo Sogunro

The strains fall gently,
Familiar tunes, softly
Infiltrating the spores of the mind.
The anthem, emblem of our kind.



‘What! Were they asleep?
Then leave them, let them keep
Their just reward, just a minor tip.
Heaven knows, the sweet dip
Of the body in the Lethe of dreams
(punctuated, though, with nightmare screams)
Is just enough to stop the lunar phase.’
Whispers: Are they mad? No, just the base
‘Let them drowse, they have tired enough.
Not for them the feathered, the buff,
The palatine estates of Maitama’s blessed.
But instead the sleep of civic unrest
You say “Arise?” Not yet.
They’ll sleep some more, their tears are still wet.’


‘Certainly, but let’s define our terms.
No use starting with misconceptions,
Nigeria, Call, Obey—all sounds
Burdened with preconceived notions.
Kind sir, don’t you mean “the Government”
When you say “Nigeria”?
The impossibility is inherent:
Words cloaked in chanted mass hysteria
Nigerians can’t be called by Nigeria
Nigerians are Nigeria.
This leaves us with two options only
It’s either the Government’s call obey
Or better still, and best of all—
The Government obeys Nigeria’s call’


And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three;
But the greatest of these is charity
‘Thanks, King James, much appreciation,
But, just a little substitution
(The constraints of the modern language, you know)
So for Charity let’s take a bow.
We call it Love, what better word?
But where is it? This great one, this passion word?
Where can it be found?
Where is it bound?
Let’s take a look—around the surging, heaving masses,
The toiling farmer in the wayside village,
The hungry worker in the bureaucratic chassis,
The wasting dead in the oil spillage,
The murderous thug in the election farces,
The impatient driver and his car’s mileage…
On and on, across all classes.

But then, the gossamer whisper floats
Silently in the throbbing hearts:
We will. We will be passionate.
We will serve our fatherland, but wait—
Give us this passion lord, love the great.
For without love: there is no strength, no faith.’


The labours of those gone past
Often makes a nice repast
For campaign speeches and fundraisings.
Nice and tasteful trimmings
To gild the crass lusting of our heroes present.
Yet we do not attempt to resent
The unashamed squander of nomenclature
(by the parties and government—executive, legislature)
In the hypocrisy of the moment.
‘Labours’? The past treatment
By founding fathers against social sickness.
Tell me, what’s today’s diagnosis?
What’s the past hero got to say?
A resurrected Wiwa standing by the way,
Nzeogwu in his bloodied uniform,
Awolowo and constitutional reform,
Let Anikulapo once more bring out his sax
There’s plenty of scandal arriving on the fax!
We’ll dance on the grave of Bola Ige
It’s only proper, we’re still killing in relay.
Hang on, what more is to be said?
Clamp them, damp them, good thing they’re dead.
We’ll only shoot them all if they came again
Let’s ask the Professor, oh, he’s born again!
It’s difficult to be a critic in a democracy
When the elected are full of hypocrisy
And bow, and scrape, and worship the hero
But what’s in their head?—a lot of zero.


We might be in decimals and we might be in fractions!
(If you think of it, some of us are infractions
of the most insipid kind of refraction)
But what’s surprising is our lack of faction—
All are conforming, one imposing
In this solemn, deviant, clime reposing.
Yet we say: we’re bounding in freedom
We’re bounding with wisdom
We’re bound—wise or otherwise
We’re bound. Come on, open your eyes
What’s free about being bound?
Let’s take a look, a search. Lost—and found!
Something contrary this way lies
We got it! We found it! Who denies?
We’re bound in freedom, peace and unity
But something’s fishy about that trinity.
Why not let’s limit the lines to what we agree:
We’re plain bound, to a more or less degree.



When our entire task is done
Or undone, and we’re back to nil
We often find there’s someone
Who’s always ready to strike a deal:
‘Nothing fancy, just a little contract
Back to the bank and withdraw the funds
Sign here and there and your sins retract
My burden is light, and easy are my bonds
To err is human, to forgive divine.
One more opportunity to get you along
Just stay true and just stay mine
Go out confident and come back strong’

But then, of course, there’s such a thing
As upsetting the boat, shaking the raft
‘Thanks sir, you need not come again
Your account is in the red, an overdraft’
To forgive is divine, but there’s a judgement
I gave you a chance, you couldn’t repent
Thus says the God of Creation:
I’m handing you over to Destruction!


Vive la revolution!
Now, that’s a cause
Something worthy of all the fuss.
So what’s the cause for commotion?
What is the philosophy of the Party
Who’s written a Das Kapital
A writ to rule from our capital?

Our text is ignorance, our days, apathy.
By the side of the rivers
We ought to sit and think.
Ideology is reeling on the brink
Of the abyss. Shred to slivers.
This is the time to craft anew
A philosophy that beams with pride.
Our present cause is not worth a ride
Just a stubborn log to cleave and hew.

No! Wait a bit! Take a pause.
I’m apt to forget that I think too much
Our philosophy is Mammon, Midas’ touch.
I think I have a happy compromise
Indeed, here’s stuff that’s full of promise.
Forget all I said about cause and course:
Let’s just direct our noble purse!


Well, that’s a simple prayer
C’mon, join hands, shout Alleluia.
So after the preacher’s instruction
It is time for a little action.
Let the leader prove his mettle
This is not yet time to settle.
How brave, how wise, how full of confidence.
Chief, his honourable magnificence
Is going to show us how to govern.
He has put together his inner coven.
Oh, wise men, ministers of God and Man
Full of agendas. Seven point plan.
They have drawn up a foolproof blueprint
In fact, everybody has a reprint.
The nation is ready for some change
Here is government with an image.
So we have a nice bunch of leaders
Very top of the class managers.
We have got to the point of ‘No more talk
When you hear the trumpet, do not balk’
Be of good cheer, things are going to change.
Don’t be worried, the Sheriff’s on the range.

Several years later, we’re still on the wait
‘Don’t be alarmed’, we’re told, ‘it’s never too late’.
There’s no problem, people, it’s lies we’ve been fed,
A horse is forced to water but our leaders must be led.


Relax a little bit and I’ll tell you a tale,
The story of 419, and other things, I’ll relate
To you. So, let’s start, breathe in, and exhale
This is the way that we made the state.
The youths all gathered, they had a plan
This was the ambition of a lifetime
They would chase away the Man
Get rid of him, he’d ruled past his prime.
The Man was a patient fellow.
He understood the times, the signs were plain.
It was not fear, or a spirit of yellow.
But without a fight, he left the scene.
The youths were joyous, it was so easy
They had a country to play around with
This was power. It made them quite dizzy.
To prove the point, they had some jails built.
First the opposition, they threw in the leader
And some others, riots began to bloom
Money flowed, the banks of exchequer,
To quench the restless. Nation on the doom.
Youths in uniform, decided to solve the mess
They brought out the guns, seized the powerhouse
Killed the other youths, locked up the rest.
Brooked no critics, no squeak of a mouse.
Youths upon youths, the country went to war
What else can I say? Lots of youths dead
Youths on battlefields, youths in stupor
Youths starving up, youths without bread.
The youths that survived, they sealed up the truth.
They’re all now old men with plenty of loot.

The youths of today are computer geeks
They have no grand idea or nationalism
But even then, they are versed in doublespeak.
Back to the Man, he started the whole schism
Instead of youth upon youth as we had it back then
Its youths against the Man, and take back the loot
Correcting injustice in dollar, pound, and yen.
And if available, some interest to boot.
The Man reached his friends, the good old men
‘Get a grip on your youths, they’re a bunch of liars’
The youths of then, now elder statesmen
Still feared the Man, his guns and fires.
They had no wish to offend, they still had accounts
In banks in Geneva, New York, and London.
So briskly, like soldiers on their mounts
They enacted laws, no more lies to condone.
‘You youths of today, you must learn to stop the lies
We catch you deceiving; we swat you like flies’

So what is the lesson to learn from this brief story?
First, you can lie to your people but not to the Man
Second, if you plan to lie, then achieve old age and glory.
Third, the youths of yesterday are still driving the van!


The utopia that underlies this fantasy
Is that of a traitor desiring amnesty.
It’s possible, though, what hasn’t been done?
But before that happens, some things to be undone.
Peace is good for capitalist days
When the stocks are high on the monitor’s rays.
But ask the militant crouching by the swamp
What is peaceful about living under a clamp?
If you want peace, then talk of due process,
And speaking of that, let’s discuss justice.
Justice is the act of paying the debt,
Giving each man his due and wealth
Where is the justice in the Exclusive List,
When the central power holds all in its fist?
What do we say about the courts of law?
Truth still is: they’re in the lion’s paw.
‘There ain’t no justice there, it’s back to the street
Blow up a pipeline, beat a quick retreat.’

What is Peace? Let’s enter the market
Not the Exchange of stocks in packets
But the real one of sweat and sour smells
The market woman with the garri she sells
Ask her for her version of Peace
Then go ahead and talk of Justice
She’ll give you an account of her life
First the budget balancing of the weary housewife,
Next coping with children and the health issue
Private clinics are not for her likes. Public? Shoo!
The same goes for getting education
“They say that’s how we’ll build the nation
I’m not educated but my children will be
That is the wealth they’ll get from me.”

But where is the school she’ll take them to?
The schools the Minister’s children can never go?
The ones under the shed, the ones in the corner
In houses forgotten by the town planner?
Is this Justice? She begs to disagree
Oppression in the highest degree!
Here in the market, it’s another matter
Local tax rates, the chairman is getting fatter.
You also rent the shop from his younger sister
Paul is robbing you, and you still pay Peter!
And the market touts are just as bad
She’ll go on and on: the place is mad.

Here. We have another customer
The ill-fated government worker.
Who entered the civil service for lack of another
What has he to say on our Justice matter?
Oh, he can’t even answer, he’s still on oath
He’s hurrying away, out of here fast.
Don’t blame him much. You understand the fact:
Civil Service Rules, Official Secrets Act.

The ideals of nation building
(Once more to the wordy gilding)
Allow for lofty aims of peace and such
But reality shows us this much:
Peace is a fallacy by those at the top
Justice—there’s no such thing. Full stop.

  • On Twitter, @ayosogunro can be found directing his noble purse


16 thoughts on “THE ANTHEM | A Lyrical Analysis by Ayo Sogunro

  1. beautiful work and true to the last line, the “nation bound in Freedom” is particularly thought provoking. a conjunction of ironies indeed!


  2. Wow!! I have to read thrice and recheck the blog address perchance my browser directed me to Niyi Osundare’s page. This is genious at it’s very poectic best. Keep it up bro!


  3. A very sad tale of our nation. From our dark past to our murderous present and to the uncertain future. This is thought provoking actually. I admire your boldness to pen this down.


  4. Good day! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a collection of volunteers and starting
    a new initiative in a community in the same niche.
    Your blog provided us useful information to work on. You have done a
    marvellous job!


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