Possibly The First Music Video Starring Old Politicians

Jan 4, 2017
Originally published on January 6, 2017 3:38 pm

Some are calling it Nigeria's new "boy band." An "old boy band" would be more like it.

A new singing group that burst onto the Nigerian musical scene over the new year consists of senior citizens — a chorus of prominent past political and military leaders from Africa's most populous nation. And they're singing about peace, unity and goodwill in 2017.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, also once a military ruler of Nigeria, has a distinctive voice, which is enthusiastic but probably better suited to galvanizing the masses than carrying a tune.

Their music video features the vintage hymn, "O God, Our Help In Ages Past" sung in English and local Nigerian languages. The slick package zooms in on the individual singers, the conductor and the pianist interspersed with patriotic images of Nigeria. Singing alongside Obasanjo is Nigeria's current vice president, Yemi Osinbajo. He's the sort of tremulous tenor.

The video also features retired Gen. Yakubu Gowon, who was in power during the Biafran civil war of the late 1960s. He's got the quavery voice. In the red cap is another former military man and baritone, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe, and, in the black hat, retired Gen. Oladipo Diya, who was a de facto military vice president during the brutal regime of Sani Abacha in the 1990s.

Then there are a couple of Nigeria's former civilian leaders — a vice president, Alex Ekueme with his distinctive white hair, and an interim president, gravelly voiced bass Ernest Shonekan.

The hymn, which was adapted from Psalm 90 centuries ago by "the father of English hymnody" Isaac Watts, includes the lyrics:

O God, our help in ages past,

our hope for years to come;

be thou our guide while life shall last,

and our eternal home.

After their performance, the leaders called on divine intervention to keep Nigeria peaceful and united.

Obasanjo said: "God created Nigeria as we are and God does not make any mistake. We should thank God for that."

"In spite of the mess we try to make of the country, [God] manages to rescue us when we get to the edge of the precipice and we thank him for that," said Ekueme.

Vice President Osinbajo, who posted the recording on his Twitter feed, told the assembled group: "God has done us a great turn by providing everything that we need to live abundantly and to live prosperously."

It's not clear whether these Nigerian singer-leaders have come together to raise money for charity or just to wish their compatriots goodwill and unity for a peaceful 2017. But they've certainly grabbed the headlines — some good, some bad.

While some people say they've been moved to tears watching Nigeria's former leaders and vice president sing lustily, many others were not impressed.

One social media comment described the video as "disgusting to behold — evil men who deceived Nigerians and are now trying to deceive God."

Another derided a "rogues' gallery," while another commenter asked — "What did they want God to help them for??? When they were [in power], they mess up dis country, corrupt #past leader @corrupt music group of Nigeria."

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK. Nigeria has this rich cultural heritage and many fine singers. But one group that burst onto the scene over the new year is grabbing a lot of attention. They sing for peace, and they have been called a boy band. Though, is that technically true, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "O GOD, OUR HELP IN AGES PAST")

CHOIR: (Singing) O, God, our help in ages past...

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Boy band, it certainly is not, maybe an old boy band. All the Nigerian voices you're listening to are senior citizens. They are mostly prominent past political and military leaders from Africa's most populous nation. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, once also a military ruler of Nigeria, has a distinctive voice, which is enthusiastic, but probably better suited to galvanizing the masses.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "O GOD, OUR HELP IN AGES PAST")

OLUSEGUN OBASANJO: (Singing in foreign language).

QUIST-ARCTON: Their debut is a vintage hymn "O God, Our Help In Ages Past," sung in English and a range of local Nigerian languages. It's a slick and colorful video package, which zooms in on the individual singers, the conductor and the pianist, interspersed with patriotic images of Nigeria. Singing alongside Obasanjo is Nigeria's current vice president, Yemi Osinbajo. He's the sort of tremulous tenor.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "O GOD, OUR HELP IN AGES PAST")

YEMI OSINBAJO: (Singing) Before the hills in order stood...

QUIST-ARCTON: The video also features former military leader retired General Yakubu Gowon and two erstwhile military men, baritone Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe and retired General Oladipo Diya. Then there are a couple of civilians, former Vice President Alex Ekueme and gravelly voiced former interim leader Ernest Shonekan.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "O GOD, OUR HELP IN AGES PAST")

ERNEST SHONEKAN: (Singing in foreign language).

QUIST-ARCTON: It's not clear whether these Nigerian singer-leaders have come together to raise money for charity or whether they gathered to wish their compatriots goodwill for 2017. But they certainly grabbed the headlines. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "O GOD, OUR HELP IN AGES PAST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.