A visitor to the corporate headquarters of Vanguard Newspapers, off the Oshodi/Apapa Expressway in Lagos, will not but notice the ambiance of communal life-style that pervades the environment. From your first encounter with the Security Guards to the General Manager, it is always a feeling of friendliness and comradeship.
This attitude is exemplified by the transparent humility as epitomised by Mr. Sam Amuka, the publisher of Vanguard Newspapers. Except you have seen his picture in the pages of newspapers, or on television or he was introduced at an event, you might be taken aback to find him indulging himself in the consumption of roasted yam and grounded pepper, along with other patrons of the delicacy at the nearby shack. This is the Vanguard Family for you.
It is also not uncommon to find the General Manager (who incidentally is the President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors) along the corridor of the offices attending to official matters. Not that his office is not conducive enough, but there seem to be an unwritten policy to get the job done, irrespective of where you find yourself.
Small wonder then that you might find the Publisher at the Sub-Desk Unit helping out in the editing and laying out of the newspaper. Mr. Amuka is an accomplished newsman, having left his foot-prints on the "Sands of Journalism" at the Daily Times and Punch Newspapers, before berthing at the Canal along Apapa to establish the Vanguard Newspapers.
I stand to be corrected when I say that Vanguard has the only Five-star Bar and Restaurant in any media outfit in the country. I am not talking about the glorified bukas and beer joints you find in some media houses. This Vanguard eatery has been aptly named 'The Canal'. The reason is not far-fetched, as the media house has one of the numerous canals in Lagos, running right in front of its office, flowing towards the Mile-Two end.
The 'Canal' further strengthens the feeling of friendliness, as it provides the right atmosphere to further cement the closeness among the staff. The reason for the establishment of this unit, is for the reporter to hurry down to the office to file his/her story, knowing there is a guarantee of having something to eat and drink later. The urge to have a bite and something to drink before coming back to the office have delayed many a story in the past.
Many a Head of State, top government functionaries, captains of industries, school children and the ordinary Nigerian have been feted at the Canal. The Canal has an international recognised chef, who can prepare continental dishes of any kind within a short notice. The traditional cuisine is a common place here.
The bar of the canal serves very cold drinks to compliment what patrons eat. I wager any person to walk into Vanguard on any Monday, and come witness what its Editors take after their Monday Editorial deliberations. A visitor had once remarked whether a buffet was going on when he unexpectedly walked into the Canal during the lunch for the Editors.
The hub of comradeship in Vanguard is the Newsroom. It is here that the fun begins and ends. It is here that you have ALL WORK AND ALL PLAY, GETS THE JOB DONE. Except you are introduced to the News Editor, everybody seems to look the same. The entire newsroom is in a continuous flux of laughter and happiness mixed with seriousness at work. There is a section of the Newsroom referred to as the 'Bar'.
This is an unofficial and a very important section of the newsroom. From here comes a continuous flow of drinks and edibles. Everybody, including visitors partake in this service. There is always something for everyone, but the only standing rule is, NO SMOKING. Birthdays, home-coming, promotions, weddings, naming ceremonies or whatever event that is worth celebrating are marked at the 'bar.'
It is a tradition at the bar that certain persons are accorded special recognition during their birthdays, with a special rendition of the National Anthem, instead of the usual happy birthday song. Thus when the News Editor celebrated his birthday recently, the entire newsroom sang the nation anthem for him to mark his birthday.
that is Vanguard for you
The anthem rendered was the old one, written by the wife of Lord Lugard. Even the young interns could not help but join the older members of staff in singing the old anthem. Every time this anthem is sung, it elicits emotion among many and brings the house down.
After the rendition, a great debate began about which of the versions, old or new, was more appropriate and relevant to Nigerians. Surprisingly, the younger generation feel attached to the older version of the anthem and wondered why the change. Well, it is not surprising, because Nigerians have the knack of changing names. A few examples would suffice.
Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) has gone through a metamorphosis to become the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). Nigeria Football Association (NFA) changed into Nigeria Football Federation (NFF). From Green Eagles to Super Eagles. The Police uniform has been changed so many times that you don't know the standard uniform again.
There are times you find some policemen with rolled-up jean trousers carrying AK-47 or a broken short stick they call baton. Have these changes brought with them an improvement in service. The answer is a loud NO. It is however surprising that someone has not come out with suggestion that the country's name should be changed.
At least, Republic Du Benin, one of our neighbours used to be referred to as Dahomey in the past. While Gold Coast used to be Ghana's former name. However, colloquially, Nigeria is referred to as 'Naija' by the younger generation and some other persons, for convenience.
Now let's take a closer look at the first stanza of both anthems and the message they send out. It might help us to understand the growing urge in the country to revert to the old anthem, despite the fact that it was composed by a foreigner and wife of our colonial administrator.
Let's begin with the old anthem. It starts with the verse 'Nigeria we hail thee', this indicates that there is a collective agreement that Nigeria is great. Here the emphasis is about the land called Nigeria and not any individual. It then follows with 'Our own dear native land' ; here there is an agreed fraternal attachment to the land, which is the birth place of all. Then comes the verse that seems to be the most important, 'though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand'.
There is a total agreement again that though we are different, we are still held together by a very unique bond of brotherhood, with the hope that our motherland Nigeria will be great if we join forces. Finally comes the section that serves as a pledge by all to the nation - 'Nigeria son/daughters are proud to serve our sovereign motherland.'
On the other hand, the new anthem seems to be sending out contradictory and confusing messages. It begins with the verse 'Arise O Compatriots, Nigeria call obey'. Which patriots are they calling to if the ones that gave everything to the country are treated with disdain? There is injustice everywhere in the land. Pensioners have become a burden on the conscience of the nation, with some falling dead on queues, just to collect what is due to them.
Meanwhile corruption pervades the land. An elected public officer embezzles N58 billion of public funds and is told go home after some bogus plea-bargain. Who then is expected to harken to the said call ? The anthem continues with the verse - 'To serve our fatherland, with love and strength and faith'.
Can it be truly said that the present-day Nigerian is out to serve the nation? It is a known fact that the bottom line is to first feather your nest before you think of the nation. If it was about service to the nation, why all the political intrigues, blackmail, high-profile killings and murders, just to occupy political positions. We have become a nation without role models.
Honesty, hard-work and humility are no longer sign-posts for service to the nation. The next verse says 'The labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain'. It would be wasting precious time and space if one had to respond to this verse.
However I ask, how has the country treated the creator of the national flag, President Nnamdi Azikiwe's mausoleum, former sportsmen/women and a host of other Nigerians that made the country proud in the past. Next comes the part which calls Nigerians 'To serve with heart and might.'
For this section, with what has been said above, means nothing to most Nigerians. The first stanza ends with 'One nation bound in freedom, peace and unity'. Freedom comes from the respect of individual views. Peace comes with Justice while Unity comes from genuine brotherhood. What do we have today, ethnic armies, extra-judicial killings, regional democracies, anti-people policies. The new anthem has no message to Nigerians.
The anthem of a nation is like the 'Lord's Prayer' as given by Jesus Christ to his disciples. The Lord's Prayer contains every thing any Christian would want from his Creator. It is the most comprehensive communication from the Creature to his/her Creator.
All other versions of prayers that are formed or recited are all man-made, with very little value and consequence to the Creator. The message in the Lord's prayer is clear, concise and direct. It raises emotion and has true value to the soul. This is what the old anthem elicits. NIGERIANS, I HAIL ALL OF YOU.