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A debt of gratitude to our fallen heroes

We are in a new year. As we thank the King of Kings for sparing our lives, our fallen heroes must not be forgotten. I am enormously pleased to honour our fallen heroes who have paid the ultimate price in defence of our dear nation. The Armed Forces Remembrance Day on the 15th of January presents an opportunity to reflect on the loss of friends and former colleagues even as the entire world grapples with the COVID– 19 pandemic – an invisible enemy – that has affected humanity since the year 2019. Since the pandemic entered the country, we have lost some of our distinguished officers and men including civilian staff to the invisible enemy.

This article is to reflect on those Nigerian military personnel we have lost either in active service or in retirement. We remember soldiers in the Army and Airforce, particularly shipmates who we have lost in various military operations. Therefore, this year’s celebration like the previous ones is to reflect and honour those who paid the ultimate price for us all.

The Armed Forces Remembrance Day calls for sober reflection. It is a time to acknowledge and honour our fallen heroes, no matter where they lie in communities across the country. Or around the world particularly in Africa where some lost their lives in peacekeeping, peace enforcement and perhaps, post-conflict peace-building efforts. It is worthy to state that the participation of our military in regional and sub-regional conflicts is a testament to self–sacrifice.

Many of our soldiers have died in brutal battles often far from their loved ones in adverse weather conditions, turbulent seas and forests in many joint or combined military operations

Starting from world wars to this day of insurgency, banditry, armed robbery and kidnapping across the country, thousands of Nigerian soldiers have died. Some have been maimed. While most families have been rendered helpless. Since the colonial period, Nigerian soldiers have put themselves in harm’s way to defend their nation and other countries with many never returning home. You may wish to recall that for Sierra Leone and Liberia to have peace, it came at a price. At that time, the restoration of peace and order in these countries was bought by and paid for primarily by Nigerians and other African military officers and soldiers. In both Liberia and Sierra Leone, Nigeria lost hundreds of men, not including those wounded and declared missing.

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Many of our soldiers have died in brutal battles often far from their loved ones in adverse weather conditions, turbulent seas and forests in many joint or combined military operations. All in an attempt for us to enjoy our liberty and freedom. The Armed Forces Remembrance Day gives us the opportunity as a people to show support for the men and women who constitute the Armed Forces community from troops currently serving, to families, retired veterans and those currently undergoing military training.

The two-and-half-year Nigerian Civil War which many public intellectuals regard as a conflict of bitter dispute allegedly cost Nigeria the loss of about 100,000 military casualties. While sadly though, the country lost between 500,000 and two million Biafran civilians as a result of starvation, according to archival records. The Nigerian Civil War demonstrated the severe consequences of where stark irresoluble differences between belligerent parties can take our nation. The Nigerian Civil War was a classic example of the failure of politics. When politics fail, parties to the failure are likely to use force to pursue their political objectives. Unfortunately, not all wars are won on the battlefield. Most times, belligerents go back to the negotiating table to negotiate their political differences.

The nation’s military leaders at the end of the Civil War thought the Armed Forces Remembrance Day will help heal the wounds of the War. So, we may ask ourselves if the wounds inflicted on the warring sides have been healed? Honestly, fighting a civil war was a mistake. Have we learnt any lessons from the loss of lives who paid the supreme sacrifice to build a better country for us? Not quite!

I am looking at an egalitarian country where peace, justice and equity will reign. A country where meritocracy will replace mediocrity. A country where the rule of law is strictly adhered to in order to have a thriving democracy. “You can’t skip justice and get to peace.” True peace, is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice, according to a philosopher.

Irrespective of tribe, religion and political affiliations, Nigerians will collectively honour their heroes every 15th of January and that will take place this week. We must not forget that the Armed Forces Remembrance Day is far more personal to some families. For some families who have lost loved ones and can still hear their voices, the Armed Forces Remembrance Day is every day. Some of those we remember today fell defending their nation.

We should stand by these families and support them in their moment of grief as we honour them daily. Nigerians owe a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. The fallen heroes have earned our endless gratitude – a debt that cannot be repaid to our heroic men and valiant women in the service to our country. I am convinced that Nigeria will not forget the sacrifices of our fallen heroes.

As we celebrate this year’s Armed Forces Remembrance Day, let us try to put our differences aside and come together to honour the sacrifices of those who fought gallantly and bravely in order to preserve the peace and stability of our nation. As we celebrate our fallen heroes, we must not forget their families and loved ones. We should show greater attributes of a people and a nation bound together in freedom, peace and unity. We owe it to our fallen heroes, we owe it to ourselves and we owe it to future generations who will still benefit from their sacrifices in years to come. Finally, please permit me to draw the curtain here as we pray for the repose of souls of soldiers and civilians who lost their lives in defence of our country. We equally, ask that the hearts of children should turn towards their parents as the nation provides a support system to secure, uplift and edify those that have been left behind to raise children by themselves. Long live Nigeria! Thank you.

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