Archival: Meet Lillian Jean Williams, British Expatriate behind ‘Nigeria We Hail’ national anthem

A British expatriate Lillian Jean Williams who lived in Nigeria when the country achieved independence, wrote the anthem’s lyrics in 1959, while Frances Berda composed the music around the same period, while the Nigerian Government launched a contest to compose an anthem, offering a prize of £1,000, which Ms Berda, a ballet musician, won.

Penpushing reports archive has it that earlier, Ms Willians had won a separate prize for writing the anthem lyrics, and the late famous South African literary icon Ezekiel Mphahlele detailed the intrigues behind the adoption of ‘Nigeria We Hail Thee’ as an anthem in an article titled ‘Nigeria on the Eve of Independence in Africa Today’ published in September 1960.

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The record has it that among other details, revealed that Nigerians criticised the choice of both women as the authors and composers of the anthems, adding that Mphahlele’s article partly read that in the name of Independence the winning entries should have been chosen from the 500 entries that came from Nigerians themselves

“In the name of independence, the winning entries should have been chosen from the 500 entries that came from Nigerians themselves. Others again argued that the music should have been composed first and then the lyrics fitted to it instead of the other way round’, Mphahlele argued.

Penpushing further reports that the famed author, a former Drum Magazine reporter, lectured at the University College (now University of Ibadan), while the anthem was eventually adopted and used on October 1, 1960 to celebrate Nigeria’s independence.

The anthem reads: Nigeria We Hail Thee (lyrics). Our own dear native land. Though tribes and tongues 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 shall be blessed.

Penpushing also reports that the anthem was later dropped because it was British-brewed and did not include any Nigerian input, and 1978, John A. Ilechukwu, Eme Etim Akpan, Babatunde A. Ogunnaike, O Sota Omoigui and P. O. Aderibigbe wrote the lyrics of the second anthem ‘Arise O Compatriots’.

The Nigerian police band, in 1990 under the directorship of B. E. Odiasse, composed the music for the second National anthem, and has been in use since 1978, or 48 years, making it Nigeria’s longest-serving anthem.

Penpushing reports that the younger generation may need to become more familiar with the story behind the newly readopted anthem and the women behind the lyrics and composition.

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