Nigeria Obituary Top Story

Nigerian national anthem lyricist Babatunde Ogunnaike is dead

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The death has been reported of Tunde Ogunnaike, whose words make up most of stanza two of the Nigerian national anthem.

He died in the United States, where he had been a professor for over 25 years and lately Dean of Engineering at Delaware University.

He passed away on Sunday, 20 February 2022 after waging a long battle with cancer.

EditPro | Lagos Metropolitan newspaper Professor Babatunde Ogunnaike being inducted into the Nigerian Academy 0f Engineering in 2012.

His obituary was announced on Twitter by educational book publisher and tech enthusiast, Gbenro Adegbola, who reports that the late lyricist was a 21 year-old NYSC member serving in Port Harcourt in 1977, when he responded to a call for entries into a competition organised by the Federal Ministry of Information to replace the old Nigerian national anthem.

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He emerged as one of five, whose words and phrases were combined to form the anthem.

The others were John A. Ilechukwu, Eme Etim Akpan, Sota Omoigui, and P.O. Aderibigbe.

The words were put to music by DCP Ben Odiase, the then director Nigerian Police Band.

Ben Odiase was said to have entered the competition as a private citizen and not as a policeman.

Other contenders in the music category were Akin Euba and Laz Ekwueme.

Stanza Two of the anthem goes:

O God of creation
Direct our noble cause
Guide thou our leaders right
Help our youth the truth to know
In love and honesty to grow
And living just and true
Great lofty heights attain
To build a nation where peace
And justice shall reign

The new anthem was officially adopted in 1978.

By this time Tunde Ogunnaike was already in post-graduate school in the US.

He was supposed to get a N50 prize, according to the telegram announcing the choice of his lyrics. “That was a reasonable amount of money at the time, but I don’t think I ever got it.”

In a 2012 interview, he said he feels both pride and sadness whenever he hears the anthem.  “It reminds me of unfulfilled promises,” he says. “Nigeria has so much potential, and the words of the anthem were meant to reflect this.”

On the anonymity given to writers of the anthem, he had this to say; “everyone knows that Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to the American national anthem (even I, a recent immigrant, know this). At the very least, the people of Nigeria should be told who wrote their anthem.”

It is interesting that the two youngest of the five writers of the national anthem, he and Omoigui, eventually emigrated and became Americans. Academically, Tunde Ogunnaike was a prodigy in his field of Chemical Engineering. He grew up in Ibadan, and attended Government College Ibadan.

He got into the University of Lagos (UNILAG), and graduated in 1976, aged 20 with a first class.

He left for post graduate studies in the US in 1978 & returned in 1981 with a Master’s and PhD.

He lived and worked at UNILAG from 1982 to 1988 as an assistant professor.

Ogunnaike moved to the US permanently in 1988, when he left the services of UNILAG for good. Lately, he had been in Nigeria often, in his words, “mostly to help with a relatively new World-Bank sponsored University in Abuja (The African University of Science and Technology).

He was also inducted into the Nigerian Academy of Engineering in 2012. Ogunnaike will be missed by friends and family, not the least the global chemical engineering world where he held forth at the crossroads of chemical engineering, medicine and biology.

(Gbenro Adegbola with the UK Independent Newspaper)

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