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Remembering our fallen heroes

Published by Guardian on Sun, 22 Jan 2012

THIS year's anniversary of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day, marked three days ago, almost evoked the mood of the original day on January 15, 1966. The First Republic collapsed on that day; the military made its incursion into Nigeria's politics; and the stage was set for a civil war that stretched for 30 months. On Sunday, 46 years after, the AFRD celebrations in Abuja and elsewhere held amid tight security, as if another war was in the offing.Nevertheless, the uncertainty in the land, occasioned by a nation-wide strike against government's policy that led to an astronomical rise in the price of petrol, could not diminish the worth of the Remembrance Day. It is a day set aside every year to acknowledge the contribution of members of Nigeria's military who served or died in the first and second world wars, as well as peace support operations round the world and, of course, the Nigerian civil war. There is little doubt that Nigerian soldiers have contributed greatly, often by paying the supreme sacrifice, for the survival of the nation.As January 15 has been observed over the years, the occasion was marked with the usual series of events ' prayers in the churches and mosques, a parade inspection by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the observing of one-minute silence, the gun salute, the laying of wreaths at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the president followed by dignitaries in and outside of government, and the release of pigeons to signify peace in the land. Nigerians, who have served at all in the military or have, here or elsewhere, paid the supreme price in the service of their fatherland, do deserve the honour.Ogun State governor, Mr. Ibikunle Amosun said that the annual event is to celebrate men and women in the armed forces 'so that they may know that people appreciate them'. Oyo State governor Mr. Abiola Ajimobi commiserated with the families of the deceased soldiers, noting that all mortals would die one day. Arguably, these activities are the least that can be offered in appreciation of their gallantry.In Ondo State, the Armed Forces Remembrance Day was however marked with a departure from the tradition of long speeches that extol, caution, or advise the military institution. It is noteworthy that on its part, the government has, this year, gone beyond the routine to actually do something concrete for Nigeria's fallen soldiers. Governor Olusegun Mimiko instituted a N20 million Widows' Resettlement and Empowerment Scheme through which some 203 widows of late soldiers will receive interest-free loans to, in the words of the governor, 'make [them] self-employed, self-reliant and independent' [and to] resuscitate their business which had gone down over the years due to overbearing family commitments'.This and similar gestures are recommended to other governments. Indeed, a revolving loan scheme for a similar purpose should be put in place by the far better-resourced Federal Government: the benefit being that, besides empowering the women, it would also yield value in terms of economic productivity. The education of the children left behind is also a cause worth taking up by governments at all levels. In this respect, local governments should collaborate with state commands of the Nigerian Legion to collate information on the families with the objective to create a structured institution that supports empowerment and education.It need be quickly said that individuals and corporate bodies should, as a matter of philanthropy, lend their support to such projects. Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State said, and rightly too, that 'our fallen heroes have paid the supreme sacrifice for the nation. It is the duty of the living to take care of their families and relations as a mark of appreciation for their patriotism'.January 15, the Armed Forces Remembrance Day, is a date with deep meanings in the history of our country. While Nigerians acknowledge that the military institution has contributed so much to keep Nigeria one ' and for that they cannot but be grateful ' our men in uniform are reminded to constantly keep in view as well as within, the bounds of their assigned constitutional role as clearly defined in the relevant sections of the Constitution. It is a hallmark of the disciplined forces to stay strictly within the rules and regulations laid down by constituted authority. Nigeria's current experiment in democratic governance cannot escape some hiccups here and there, and some stress once in a while. But there must never be an excuse for a repeat of January 15, 1966 and its consequences.The military must be bold enough to look beyond the negative impact of such past activities as their incursion into politics. The focus now should be to stay alert in defending the country from external aggression, maintaining its territorial integrity, respecting the Constitution, the civil authority and the rights of Nigerians. We join fellow Nigerians to appreciate the sacrifice of our fallen heroes and to salute our ex-service men and women.
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