Militaries around the world are similar in their commitment to “duty, honour and country”. Their traditions are equally similar in many respects. One of such traditions is the remembrance and honour of fallen and living heroes. The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Russia, India, Indonesia, Egypt, Iran among others, have special anniversaries dedicated to the honour of their heroes, living or departed, who served or are still serving their countries. For each of these countries, the day set aside for the ceremony is one that has national significance.
Like these countries, Nigeria has designated a special anniversary – the Armed Forces Remembrance Day, to celebrate those who have paid the supreme price as well as those still on duty. As a member of the Commonwealth,, Nigeria observed November 11 every year in respect and honour to veterans of World War 1 and World War 2 (PoppyDay). But following the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970, the date was changed to a more significant landmark in the nation’s history. January 15, marked the formal surrender of Biafran troops and end of civil war and was therefore instituted as the date for the remembrance of all heroes who fell in defence of the nation regardless of which side of the conflict they chose.
Thus, the remembrance day has become a major event in Nigeria’s national calendar with several activities which culminate in the laying of wreaths at the National Arcade and 36 states of the federation. Some of these activities include selling of emblems, prayers at mosques and churches, and support to families of fallen heroes.
These activities end on January 15 with the President and Commander-in-Chief, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker, Chief Justice of the Federation, FCT Minister, service chiefs and Inspector General of Police, Chairman Nigerian Legion and a representative of widows of the fallen heroes all laying wreaths as a mark of respect for the fallen and living heroes. These happens simultaneously in all the state capitals of Nigeria.
In 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari led Vice President Yomi Osinbajo, Senate President Ahmed Lawan, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, Justice Umaru Tanko, Minister of Police Affairs, Alhaji Muhammad Dingyadi, Minister of Defence, Major General Bashir Magashi (rtd), Minister of FCT, Alhaji Muhammad Bello, Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Gabriel Olonisakin, and the Chiefs of army (Lt Gen TY Buratai), navy (Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas) and air (Air Marshall Sadique Abubakar), and Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu to lay wreaths at the Eagle Square. The Chairman, Nigerian Legion, Brig Gen John Adakole Akpa (rtd) as well as representative of widows of fallen heroes, Mrs Helen Polycarp, wife of late Captain David Nimrod (Nimrod was killed in action while serving in 103 Battalion in Konduga), who had a legendary performance in the counter-insurgency operation in the North-east, also laid wreaths.
Launching the 2021 Armed Forces Remembrance Emblem and Appeal Fund at the Presidential Villa, President Muhammadu Buhari said the yearly event should be used not just to remember and celebrate the nation’s heroes, but also to understand that the country’s unity was won at great cost. Hence, the need to guard it jealously and not do anything, through actions or comments, that could jeopardise the unity and progress of Nigeria. President Buhari who is also a veteran recounted the sacrifices of, and paid tribute to, living and fallen heroes in the first and second world wars, Nigerian Civil War, ECOMOG operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone, peace keeping operations as well as ongoing operations for internal security.
“We honour the memory of our gallant officers and men who have paid the supreme sacrifice in order to keep the country united as one entity.”
The nation remains grateful for the efforts and sacrifice of the Armed Forces especially in the fight against insurgency and other internal security challenges confronting Nigeria.”
The Remembrance Day helps in keeping the memories of fallen heroes alive and consistently putting it in our national consciousness as well as motivating the living heroes that their sacrifices will not be in vain.
In addition to these ceremonies, there have also been other efforts by the armed forces geared towards improving the welfare of the living heroes and cushioning the effects of the absence of fallen heroes on their families. There have also been efforts to improve pensions of retirees.
Despite these efforts, a lot needs to be done for the serving personnel, retirees and families of fallen heroes. For the serving personnel, there must be a continuous and consistent effort towards improving their welfare; for the retirees, there must be institutional framework that allows seemless transition to civil life and create internal or external opportunities for constructive engagement; and for the families of the fallen heroes – as approved in the armed forces regulations, there must be short, medium and long term measures towards ameliorating, physical, psychological and financial effects of the absence of their bread winners through provision of alternative accommodation, employment and scholarshis.
Speaking during the Armed Force Remembrance Day 2020, on TVC, Major General Garba Wahab, Director General, Nigerian Army Resource Centre, noted that: “there is need for more institutional support for families of the fallen heroes that will ameliorate the effect especially during transition.”
He proposed a whole-government approach that takes into cognizance the challenges of families of fallen heroes and living heroes, such as housing among others.
Beyond the pomp and ceremony, the real remembrance is when those who served and in the process paid the supreme price and those serving are treated with the respect they deserve. Above all, there must be a national reawakening that is focused on celebrating our armed forces and providing them and their families with all concessions and privileges they deserve.