By: Uche John Madu
“We do not know this hero’s name. We do not know where he was born. We do not know where he lived and when he chose to leave the comfort of his home to go in defense of our territorial integrity. His, was an assignment motivated by the love for the nation, and ethnic biases and other little fears were not issues he concerned himself with.”-Akwa Ibom state Governor Udom Emmanuel appreciating the sacrifices of officers and men of the Nigerian Armed Forces in a speech after the laying of wreath in his state for the 2017 commemoration of Armed Forces Remembrance Day in Uyo.
Ordinarily, nothing is striking on January 15 of every year, the day set aside to celebrate the gallant officers and men of the military, wrapped as Armed Forces Remembrance Day. Across Nigeria, it is always the same boring and lifeless speeches of state governors, often delivered by cronies. The week-long activity terminates with the laying of wreath for the Unknown Soldier or launching of emblems and token donations to legionnaires.
The monotony of the actions predicts the pattern of the next event. However, the 2017 Armed Forces Remembrance Day impinged itself on the psyche of Nigerians differently. Across the nooks and crannies of the country, the lips of Nigerians never ceased quivering with songs of praises over the conquest and defeat of Boko Haram terrorists. It overshadowed and brightened the customary ceremonies associated with the celebration. Speeches from personalities of all hues, engagingly and emotionally amplified the essence of the 2017 Remembrance Day as unique.
Nigeria is a country that has survived a nearly three-year civil war, when troops battled in the jungles and forests to preserve the unity and peace of the nation. Now battling insurgency, the Armed Forces Remembrance Day is routinely celebrated. Legionnaires, serving military personnel, government at all levels, families of fallen heroes, leaders of all shades and indeed, the entire humanity anxiously look forward to this day.
To give it a special coloration, Nigerians have captured it as “Armed Forces Remembrance Day and Appeal Week,” which exposes the intention to plead welfare for the courageous officers and men of the Armed Forces who have sacrificed their lives to preserve, protect and defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Nigeria. The Day is marked with a lot of professed concern, especially by governments at all levels.
But the 2017 edition of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day was observed in Nigeria very uniquely and quite different from preceding ones. Both at the state and the federal level, outside the usual eulogies of gallantry, valour and token donations to families of fallen heroes and heroines, what coloured the celebration was the recurring preoccupation of every Nigerian with the joy and happiness over soldiers’ conquest of terrorism in the country.
The Nigerian Army under the leadership of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt.Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai set the tone and the mood by releasing 257 Boko Haram detainees cleared of any connection with insurgents. It was a profound statement about the success of the anti-terrorism campaigns in Nigeria’s Northeast and the country generally.
As soldiers celebrated the Day in camps on the field, the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Gen. Lucky Irabor said, “The 257 Boko Haram detainees have been screened and found to be innocent. The Army Day celebrations have afforded us the opportunity to free them to mark the occasion.”
Borno state Governor Kashim Shettima, who is the metaphor of the horror and sorrows of Boko Haram insurgency exploded in excitement, declaring that the military has made the 2017 Armed Forces Remembrance Day unique, by its demolition of Sambisa Forest, the dreaded terrorists camp zero.
Shettima stated, “We must be committed to ensure that the labours of our heroes past are not in vain. I commend the Nigerian military and other security agencies for wiping out terrorists from Sambisa Forest. In fact, it makes this year’s remembrance ceremony unique.”
Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki also paid glowing tributes to the departed officers and men of the Armed Forces, but emphatically pledged support to the military, as he congratulated; “President Muhammadu Buhari and all the members of the military for the progress they have made in routing the Boko Haram insurgents out of the North East and restoring peace and stability.”
A pleasantly shocked Saraki added, “Nobody would have imagined where we would have been if our military do not rise to the occasion every time that we face threats of internal and external aggression. These men continue to face the fire to ensure that the people of the North-eastern part of the country are not subjected to the unreasonable dictates of Boko Haram insurgents.”
Echoes of troops subjugation of terrorists also resonated in Nigeria’s Southern state of Osun. Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola who launched the 2017 Emblem of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day, relived the pains and anguish of families of fallen heroes and heroines, but only felt emotional fulfilment when he devoted time to chorus lullabies for soldiers in the counter-insurgency war.
He stated, “Our soldiers also fought a 30-month Nigerian Civil War which kept the country as one and have been saddled with the responsibility of putting down various insurgencies in the country, with the current efforts at extirpating the militancy in the Niger Delta and terrorism in the North East.”
According to him, Nigeria’s courageous soldiers “fought bravely, and under a new godly and committed leadership, they have been able to defend the territorial integrity of our fatherland.”
Governor Udom Emmanuel simply said, “We must commend them for defending our national interest and the unity of our nation. Let us never forget that those that they are fighting against are murderous bunch with no respect for the sanctity of the human lives or their God’s given rights. Let us not forget that they are defending our democracy. Let this be a day of national consecration when all Nigerians would pray that this evil of Boko Haram we see today we shall see no more in our shores.”
In faraway Katsina state, Governor Aminu Bello Masari sermonized peace, denounced violence, but expressed happiness that Boko Haram insurgency which appeared intractable before now has been subdued by Nigerian soldiers.
Masari said: “Within one and half years, the Nigerian Armed Forces has shown that what Nigerians went through was akin to civil war but Buhari pulled the nation out of the challenges.”
In Port Harcourt, Rivers state, the irrepressible and opposition Governor Nyesom Wike addressed legionnaires and families of fallen heroes and heroines, but remained on the same page with all Nigerians, as he loudly endorsed the recent successes recorded in the North-East against terrorists. To him, it is an indication that the Armed Forces were committed to a peaceful Nigeria.
From Lagos state, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode also appreciated the sacrifices of soldiers in quashing insurgency saying, “Officers and Men of the Nigerian Armed Forces are on the battlefield. They have continued to demonstrate bravery, courage and valour in order to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our nation. They do this on our behalf that we may continue to live in peace and security.”
Speaking under the theme “Appreciating the Resilience of the Nigerian Armed Forces”, President Buhari, who was represented by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo paid glowing tributes to the valour and sacrifices of the military in defeating terrorism in Nigeria.
Buhari touchingly said in appreciation of troops; “As a nation we are grateful to our loyal and gallant troops for ensuring that terrorism and hate do not prevail in our land and doing so with such commitment. To their families we owe an even greater debt of gratitude and a permanent duty and promise that we will not forget.”
The President implored Nigerians to appreciate the sacrifices and services the Nigerian military has rendered to the nation by procuring and wearing the Armed Forces Remembrance emblem with dignified pride. He urged Nigerians to “donate very generously in support of our veterans and families of our fallen heroes. This would show that we appreciate their sacrifices and services to the survival of our dear Nation and fatherland”
Madu contributed this piece from the Badagry Leadership Institute, Lagos.
By: Uche John Madu