Children, Adults, Young, Old, Students, Diplomats, Politicians, Soldiers, Athletes. The list goes on and on. In summary, Patriots; both at home and in the Diaspora, sing the song; a tune that is hummed with delight, a sound that brings hope, a confession that deepens convictions. The Current Nigerian National Anthem; “Arise O Compatriots, Nigeria’s Call Obey/to serve our Fatherland, with love and strength and faith…” and the beautiful and inspiring wordings go on.
Though this song is probably the most popular song in Nigeria, and possibly the most sung song in Nigeria; given that there is barely a passing day it is not sang; from weekdays in some offices and schools, to sporting events at weekends and some places of worship. The man that has blessed Nigeria with this tune is barely known and recognized by so many, and equally not regarded as a hero. But the Man, Benedict Odiase, (or by a way of proper reference, Pa Benedict Odiase), the composer of Nigeria’s National Anthem is a hero in this sense; the vessel through which this anthem was piped through to this great Nation.
Pa Odiase was born in 1935 and raised in the now defunct Bendel State (now split between the present day Edo-state and Delta state). Pa Benedict Odiase wrote and composed the now popular ‘Arise O Compatriots’ on May 14th 1978, while he was the Director of the Nigerian Police Band. The Anthem was adopted and replaced the country’s previous national anthem, ‘Nigeria, We Hail Thee’. The lyrics were actually a combination of words and phrases taken from five of the best entries in a national contest. An open competition made created by the Federal Ministry of information. The names of the entrants whose lyrics and phrases were adopted include John A. Ilechukwu, EmeEtimAkpan, B.A. Ogunnaike, SotaOmogui and P.O Aderigbibe in 1978. Benedict Odiase however, being the Director of the Nigerian Police Band, had the responsibility of putting these words into music; the music and tune that we now have.
Pa Odiase’s composition was sent in a private capacity and not as a government employee, therefore, he wasn’t consulted or commissioned by the Federal Government to compose the anthem. His composition, made it to the final three shortlisted entries, along with ProfessorLazEkwueme and Professor Akin Euba. His entry was eventually selected as first, by the Supreme Military Council of Nigeria then.
At the time of the adoption of the Anthem, Pa Odiase had no reward or commendations from the Government, neither did he cede the rights of the song to the Federal Government. In December 2001 however, he was given the National Honour of Member of the Order of the Niger (MON). Even though the honor was in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the growth and development of music in the Nigeria Police Force, as attested by his citation, and not because of the composition of the National Anthem. In 1998, he transferred the intellectual/copyright interest in the work from the Performing Rights Society of United Kingdom to the Musical Copyright Society Nigeria (MCSN) for protection. A move that paid off handsomely in the form of payments of royalties both at home and abroad.
Pa Odiase joined the Nigerian Police Force in March 1954 and served in the force based on instructions from the Police High Command. He retired in 1992 as a deputy commissioner of police. Pa Odiase died of ‘natural causes’ in his sleep on the 11th of June 2013, at his home.
While the name might be forgotten, the enormity of his contribution to Nigeria’s pride and glory will not be easily forgotten.