Bread and circuses: Nigeria’s anthem change amidst general discontent

woman in black and white hijab holding green flag

Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt.


In ancient Rome, the satirist Juvenal coined the phrase “bread and circuses” to describe a political strategy where leaders provide superficial appeasements to distract the populace from more significant issues. When I heard about the recent actions of the Nigerian government, this concept resonated strongly with me. In a surprising move, Nigeria has reverted its national anthem from one penned by a son of the soil to that of its colonial era, stirring widespread controversy. This decision, amidst a struggling economy and increasing public unrest, has left many questioning the true intentions behind such a symbolic yet contentious act.

Nigeria’s economy is currently marred by severe challenges. High inflation rates, unemployment, and dwindling foreign reserves are just a few of the pressing issues causing widespread discontent. Citizens are grappling with soaring prices of basic goods and services, stagnant wages, and a lack of job opportunities leading to japa syndrome and the mass migration of Nigerians in search of greener pastures. These economic hardships have understandably led to increased public dissatisfaction with the government.

In the midst of this turmoil, the government’s decision to change the national anthem has been met with skepticism and outrage. Activist Aisha Yesufu, a prominent critic of the government, has openly refused to stand for or sing the new anthem, viewing it as a deliberate distraction from the more urgent economic and social issues plaguing the nation. Many Nigerians share her sentiment, perceiving the anthem change as a superficial gesture aimed at diverting attention from the government’s inadequacies in addressing the real problems.

The use of distractions in politics is a well-documented strategy. Throughout history, leaders have employed various tactics to shift public focus away from their failures or controversial policies. By providing entertainment or symbolic changes, governments can temporarily pacify their populace, creating an illusion of action and progress while avoiding substantive solutions to core issues.

In Nigeria’s case, the decision to revert to the colonial-era national anthem appears to be a calculated move. By invoking national symbols and identity, the government may be attempting to invoke a sense of nostalgia or patriotism. However, this tactic can also be interpreted as a means to obscure their inability to effectively manage the economic crisis and address public grievances.

The long-term implications of reverting to the colonial-era national anthem are multifaceted. On one hand, this decision might deepen divisions within the country, exacerbating feelings of disenfranchisement among those who view the move as a step backward. National unity, already fragile in the face of economic hardship, could be further strained by such a contentious change.

On the other hand, if the government’s intentions were genuine and aimed at fostering a sense of nostalgia and national pride, they could have involved the public by calling for a vote and the change could have been paired with more substantial reforms and policies to alleviate the economic woes. Without accompanying actions that address the underlying issues, the anthem change has no real impact.

On the whole, this calculated decision serves as one of the best examples of the “bread and circuses” strategy of our time. While symbolic gestures can play a role in nation-building, they must be coupled with concrete actions to address the root causes of public discontent. As Nigerians seek meaningful change, it is crucial to question the motivations behind political distractions. Addressing the core issues, rather than diverting attention from them, is essential for genuine progress and national unity.

From the desk of the disruptor; a display of my aversion to conforming to societal expectations, my unpopular & often uncensored opinions & observations, & my refusal to be trapped by dogma. You can find me here socially commenting and unapologetically shaking tables for whatever it is I truly believe in. 

Featured Image Fact Check: A citizen holding the flag of Nigeria. The flag of Nigeria was designed by Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi and officially adopted on October 1, 1960, when Nigeria gained independence from the British Empire. The flag was chosen through a nationwide contest, with Akinkunmi’s green-white-green vertical bicolor design winning out of over three thousand entries. The green represents agriculture, while the white symbolises peace and unity. Lieutenant David Ejoor of the Army Guard first raised the flag during the independence ceremony. The original submission featured a red burning sun badge in the central white stripe, but it was removed before the final design was adopted.

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