Today is the 2020 Armed Forces Remembrance Day (AFRD), a day set aside to honour the fallen heroes who sacrificed their lives for the good of the Nigerian nation.
Today is also for the serving heroes who continue to fight and sometimes lay down their lives to maintain the territorial integrity of the nation and for the sustenance of world peace through the various United Nations peace support operations and Internal Security Operations.
And to commemorate the event, military personnel from the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Nigerian Legion, along with the national and state political leaderships, converge at the National Cenotaph and cenotaph of the 36 states of the federation.
Being the twin celebration for both our fallen and living heroes, AFRD was initially marked in Nigeria on November 11 of every year to coincide with the Remembrance Day (“Poppy Day” or “11 – 11) to honour veterans of the First and Second World War in all Commonwealth countries. However, the date was changed to January 15th of every year in commemoration of the surrender of Biafran troops to the Federal troops on January 15, 1970.
Obviously, the military remains the central body sworn to and committed to sustaining and guaranteeing the constitutional order we enjoy today. Towards this, these men and women are on the frontlines of the war against Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP)/Boko Haram terrorists, murderous armed herdsmen, kidnappers and other criminal elements.
The magnitude of the task facing the Nigerian military can be gleaned from the fact that the country is ranked by the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) as the third most terrorised country in the world, after Iraq and Afghanistan.
Also, the Nigerian military’s involvement in the efforts to guarantee peace and security has become so crucial and central to the survival of the country that it is involved in Internal Security Operations (ISOs) in 32 states of the federation. This represents 89 per cent coverage of Nigeria. While in the frontlines of the war against Boko Haram insurgency, Peace Keeping Operations (PKOs) or in the many ISOs, many of these officers and men of the Armed Forces have died, others maimed or injured.
Those fortunate to come home arrived as changed husbands, sons and daughters, brothers or sisters as they bore some eternal physical and mental scars of war. They confronted death, saw their colleagues die before their very eyes and could do nothing for them or wonder if they could be next.
The statistics of the reported deaths is sobering. This is because, officially, 353 soldiers have lost their lives between 2016 to date in the fight against Boko Haram/ISWAP. They include 47 Killed in Action (KIA) in 2016, 72 in 2017, 127 in 2018, 78 in 2019 and 12 this year alone. Also, nine soldiers were killed on October 4, 2019; nine killed in Sunke village, Anka LGA in Zamfara State, five soldiers KIA on January 5, 2020 in Sarkin Pawa, LGA, Niger State and one soldier killed at Unguwan Yako, along Buruku road, Kaduna State.
So, as we celebrate our nation’s fallen heroes who served gallantly and paid the ultimate price, perhaps, the best way to honour them is to pay homage to those still alive. Let’s not neglect them as they are the ones risking their lives, safeguarding lives and properties, both day and night, while most of us attend to our businesses and careers, and other private and public engagements.
On this years’ AFRD, Nigerians should consider and reflect on the true meaning of this day and our roles as Nigerian citizens to members of the Armed Forces (living and the dead) and their families. It should not just be an annual ritual. It should be a day of reverence and awareness by Nigerians on the central role Nigerian military personnel – commissioned and enlisted – are playing to guaranteeing peace and security in the country.