I pledge to Nigeria my country
To be faithful, loyal and honest
To serve Nigeria with all my strength
To defend her unity
And uphold her honour and glory
So help me God.
– (The Nigerian National Pledge)
It was some 42 years ago when Prof. (Mrs.) Felicia Adebola Adedoyin, motivated by her children who had loved reciting the pledge of allegiance at their school in the United States, penned down the words that eventually morphed to become the Nigerian national pledge. Since then, every child from their very earliest days at school to officials sworn into government offices have recited this pledge over and over again for 42 years and still do.
It was like every other Wednesday. I found myself in Church that evening for a service I knew I was really going to enjoy, especially because of the guest preacher who had arrived the day before. I had heard him speak months before and I found him quite intriguing. So this time, I came with willing ears to listen. That night, he spoke about the power of a vow, highlighting the lives of Hannah, Bathsheba and Jephthah to make his point biblical, and I saw reason with it. Then somewhere during his exposition, he made a point that whacked me in the face and sliced my heart right through, sending my mind flying in more directions than I could manage to gather back. You see, vows are powerful. Vows are binding. God honours vows, and He advises us that it’s better to keep our mouths shut than make a vow before Him that we intend not to keep.
Then the preacher drew our attention to the state of the country Nigeria, and how its citizens have recited its national pledge over and over again, making a vow with those words even though they have meant nothing at all . . . yet it still is a vow we have made and have not kept, so we find ourselves in the mess that is our country, wondering to ourselves how we got here and gradually losing the hope of a future that would be kinder to us.
It was very easy to dismiss the preacher’s assertion, but if I really believed that there is power in a vow, especially in one where God is placed in the midst of, like the Nigerian pledge that ends with ‘so help me God’, then I had no other choice but agree that indeed Nigeria, for want of a halo, has ended up with a noose. It would have been better if the kind Professor had ignored the requests of her children and left the country alone without a pledge; we didn’t have to copy the US, nor Ghana, nor any other country with a pledge, because their pledges are a sign of their dedication to their nations and their patriotism too; both of which the average Nigerian does not possess. So we got a curse for a pledge and continue to recite it every day of the week . . . is there any hope?
We pledge to be faithful, loyal and honest, yet we steal from each other, lie to one another and betray each other.
We pledge to serve Nigeria with all our strength, yet we get into office and loot the national treasury, deny the Nigerian child their education and healthcare, while a great number of women still die at childbirth.
We pledge to defend her unity, yet we draw our tribal lines at the slightest provocation, and even our tribes have factions within them; it’s hard to tell if Nigeria was at all meant to be one country or a bunch of them.
We pledge to uphold her honour and glory . . . what does that even mean?
Then we ask God to help us do exactly what we have no intentions of doing . . .
So what’s the way forward?
We have made vows that we have not kept, now we reap the consequences of our actions. But it’s not too late to make a change. It starts with you, and me, making the conscious effort to uphold the words of the vow we have made, and maybe, just maybe, Nigeria will see a light at the end of this very dark tunnel we have wandered in for as long as I have lived!
Or we ditch the pledge!
Questions for Nigerians: Were you ever taught in school about the writers of the national anthem and the national pledge? What history were you taught?