The 2021 Armed Forces Remembrance Day was celebrated Jan. 15. The highlights included wreaths-laying, pigeon releases and gun salutes at the National Arcade in Abuja. President Muhammadu Buhari, himself a hero of the Nigerian civil war (1966-1970), led the wreaths-laying near the cenotaph marking the grave of the Unknown Soldier.
Historically, the occasion was marked every November to celebrate the end of World War 1 in 1917. However, Nigeria changed it to Jan. 15 to commemorate the end of a 30-month civil war that killed over 2 million troops and civilian. The 2021 celebrations started at about 10 am Friday with the arrival of President Buhari, escorted by the pipers’ band from the Guards Brigade.
Prayers were offered for the repose of the souls of the fallen heroes. Thereafter, President Buhari took the lead to lay the first wreath, followed by the Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, Senate President Lawan Ahmed, Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad as well as military service chiefs.
Speaking a day earlier, former President Ibrahim Babangida urged support for the upkeep of the nation’s fallen heroes. “It is customary to observe the Armed Forces Day on the 15th January every year to remember officers and men of the Nigerian Armed Forces who laid down their lives for the unity of our country”, he said in a statement released in Minna, Niger state, where he lives. Babangida called on Nigerians to “demonstrate appreciation of the courage of the gallant fallen heroes and their contribution to national unity. He said it was called for now more than before because the nation faces many security challenges ranging from terrorism to communal violence, to kidnapping, cultism and gangsterism.
It is important to keep alive the memories of troops who have made the supreme sacrifice to keep the country one. It encourages and inspires many young men and women to enlist in their country’s military. Besides, observance of the Day makes us a part of the international community. However, it is regrettable that, in our country, this day like all other days, has remained just a symbol. Once the day is over, memories of the deceased are packaged and reburied in their graves, to be regurgitated the following year. Their families return to their homes to mourn their loved husbands alone.
We appreciate the welfare of surviving ex-service men and women has improved considerably since the restoration of democratic rule in 1999. It is ironic that civilian administrations are doing more for the retired soldier than did the military regimes before them. However, the fact that many widows, with babies strapped on their backs or in their arms, came to Abuja that day suggested that much still needs to be done. The Nigerian Legion must continue to drum the plight of these forgotten families in the ears of the authorities.
In asking the government to do more for the families of the dead and surviving but retired soldiers, we do not forget to enlist the support of all Nigerians for those gallant heroes of all wars and conflicts. In other countries, citizens are made to buy the remembrance emblem. Not so in Nigeria. It is not the colours of the emblem you are appreciating when you buy one but its spiritual value – valour and patriotism.
One other issue. Why do we still refer to the tomb near at which the wreaths are laid as that of the “unknown soldier”? If we did not know the WW1 soldier, we cannot, in all honesty, claim not to know those who died in our own civil war or in the ongoing insurgency in the Northeast? Talking of which, why don’t we erect a monument at the National Cenotaph, carrying the names of soldiers who died in wars and conflicts defending Nigeria’s name? We shall know we are honouring a real human being, not a statistic. Two, the monument will attract tourists who will have to pay to be allowed in. Two things will be achieved: honour given to the deserving and money earned.
Our salute to our fallen heroes and those still alive who deserve more than what we are doing in their honour today.