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Celebrating Nigeria’s fallen heroes

By Babatunde Ayedoju

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The  Armed Forces Remembrance Day is an annual event marked on January 15 to honour military men who have made the supreme sacrifice in their attempt to defend the integrity of the nation and living veterans. Such ex-service men are mostly those who participated in World War I and World War, and the Nigerian Civil War which lasted from May 1967 to January 1970. Those who have represented Nigeria in peacekeeping operations are not left out.

Globally, the Armed Forces Remembrance Day, also known as Armistice Day, is marked on November 11 to commemorate the end of World War I. However, Nigeria switched from November 11 to January 15 as its Armed Forces Remembrance Day because it was on January 15, 1970 that the Biafran troops surrendered to the Federal army, marking the end of the Nigerian Civil War, also known as Biafra War.

IT is important to note that the first military coup in Nigeria’s political history also occured on January 15, 1970. The coup, led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, marked a turning point in Nigeria’s political journey. It claimed the life of the only prime – minister in the history of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa; Second Premier of Western Region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, some other civilian leaders and a couple of military officers.

Since the end of the Civil War in 1970, the Nigerian government at all levels has been honouring the memory of soldiers who fought to protect the nation. Towards the end of last year, when the Ondo State Government was launching the emblem appeal for the 2024 Armed Forces Remembrance Day, the Ondo State Governor, Mr Lucky Aiyedatiwa, stated that the day would rekindle and honour the memory of officers who over the years paid the supreme sacrifice in defending the country.

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He also assured of the government’s determination not to leave any stone unturned in ensuring that the welfare of the legionnaires is given utmost seriousness.

Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq of Kwara State, while launching the 2024 AFRD Emblem Appeal Fund, called on Nigerians to join hands with government to promote the welfare of ex-service men and families of slain soldiers, as a way of encouraging the current service men.

He said, “We have a duty to show our appreciation by contributing generously for the upkeep of their families. This is one of the many ways their loved ones can feel that these loved ones did not die in vain.

“Our appreciation will also encourage current members of the armed forces to serve bravely, knowing that they would not be forgotten, even in death.”

Similarly, Governor Ademola Adeleke of Osun State, described service men, whether serving or retired, as a critical backbone of national existence. He said, “No sacrifice is nobler than one that involves loss of life or even permanent incapacitation. These brave men and women gave it all for our safety and protection.

“We, therefore, owe them eternal gratitude and appreciation. As a country, we need to reappraise our national policy on veteran care. As much as we take care of the living, we must accord detailed care to the wounded and those with permanent physical disability. We must devise a special care programme for veterans to appreciate their sacrifice for the country,” he added.

Talking G about the significance of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day, Professor Simon Ehiabhi from the Department of History and International Studies, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko said that the AFRD marks the end of the Civil War, adding that the military has contributed a lot towards ensuring the security of Nigeria and Nigerians.

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However,  he lamented that the army is not well funded and equipped to fight insecurity in the country. Therefore, he recommended that the Federal Government must do everything possible to revitalise the Nigerian armed forces and put them in a better shape to address insecurity internally and continue to defend the territorial integrity of the country.

Ehiabhi advised the federal government to ensure that tribalism and nepotism are eschewed in the operations of the military, especially in the recruitment of personnel. He also stressed the need to equip our soldiers with modern weapons to combat insecurity and make them more effbioveBOVE all, the seasoned historian recommended improved funding for our soldiers, saying, “If we don’t fund the military, in the coming years, there may be no appreciable change.”

Also speaking, Professor Adediran Afe from the Department of History and International Studies, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, said that the Nigerian armed forces have not only been instrumental to keeping the country safe and united but have done the country proud in peacekeeping operations abroad.

Afe  stressed the need to remember the past heroes and take care of both the veterans that are still alive and families of the departed soldiers. The professor of legal history, while stating that Nigeria loses a lot of able-bodied military personnel daily, added that to move the military forward, both government and citizens have crucial roles to play.

“We must be more aggressive in recruiting soldiers into the military, which means that government need to make the military more attractive to Nigerians. The government must also invest in the military by providing sophisticated weapons that can enable combat anti-state actors effectively.

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Likewise, Dr Harrison Idowu from the Department of Political Science, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko described Nigerian soldiers as the reason why we have the level of peace that we are enjoying in the country today. He said that Nigerian soldiers have made and are still making a lot of sacrifices, including the supreme sacrifice which some of them have made; therefore, honouring the memory of departed soldiers and celebrating the ones who are still alive is the least that we can do for them.

While  recommending better funding and absence of corruption as keys to a better experience for our soldiers, the political scientist said that our leaders have to show the needed political will, for that to be possible.

His words: “There have been stories of unpleasant experiences of soldiers on the battlefield. In the wake of the Boko Haram crisis, there has been an increase in funding to the military but the government needs to do more. They should provide more funding for the military to acquire sophisticated weapons that can match what the enemies are carrying and ensure that the money is not diverted into private pockets.

“With such steps being taken, the future is bright for the Nigerian military,” he said.

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