It does appear to me that Nigerians are yet to grasp the deep meaning of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebrated on Monday, January 15. Nothing better calls for sober reflection as Nigerians remember and celebrate our fallen heroes in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Police who died in the line of duty.
The launching of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day Emblem, the Jumat Prayers by the Muslims and the Church services of the Christians underline the sacredness of the cause. The wreath-laying and parade ceremony at the Eagle Square, Abuja served as the climax of the patriotic commemoration of the heroism of the gallant forces who stood up to be counted toward the successful conclusion of the Nigerian Civil War on January 15, 1970.
When Nigeria was a British colony, the Remembrance Day was celebrated on November 11 as Poppy Day in honour of the end of the First World War, but the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war has accounted for the change of the date in Nigeria.
To pay the supreme sacrifice for the country is the ultimate test of faith in nationhood. It is crucial to laud the Nigerian Armed Forces that had been in the forefront of ensuring peace in not just Nigeria but globally.
The veterans being celebrated today have left a solid legacy for the Nigerian Armed Forces of the present day in continuing to guarantee internal and global peace. It needs reiteration that the Nigerian military has acquitted itself quite creditably in ensuring global peace since the country’s attainment of Independence in 1960. Nigeria’s standing as the Giant of Africa owes a lot to the exploits of the Nigerian military in global peacekeeping.
The very first contingent of Nigerian peacekeepers arrived at the Congo on the heels of Nigeria’s attainment of independence in 1960, and the concomitant admission into the United Nations.
Newly independent Nigeria’s first contribution to the UN Operations in the Congo (UNOC) was commanded by then Lt-Col JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi and was made up of 26 officers, 640 soldiers and four British Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs).
Nigeria lost just a soldier, Lt. Ezeugbana, while six others were wounded. The Nigerian contingent was in the Congo from November 10 1960 to June 30 1964, reaching its maximum strength of 1,703 and thus becoming the third largest command after India and Ethiopia.
In commemorating this year’s Armed Forces Remembrance Day, let’s also remember that Nigerian troops were in 1978 deployed to war-torn Lebanon as part of the United Nations’ Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Nigeria’s participation in UNIFIL from April 1978 to January 1983 represents the longest involvement of the Nigerian Army in a UN peacekeeping operation. It also became the first time Nigerian troops were deployed outside the African continent. Some 43 Nigerians died prosecuting UNIFIL while about 120 others were wounded. We shall never forget them, and that is why the Remembrance Day is so crucial.
Nigerian troops also led the charge when 900 soldiers were sent to Slovenia in 1992 to be part of the United Nations’ Protection Force in the former Yugoslavia (UNPROFOR), the first European peacekeeping operation of the UN in which the Army of an African country participated.
In 1993, Somalia became Nigeria’s next port of call. Also, Nigerian forces played acclaimed roles towards ending the carnage in Rwanda through participation in the United Nations’ Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) set up by the Security Council in October 1993 in order to assist Rwandan forces to demobilise, enforce the peace agreement and create a unified national army.
Nigeria upped the ante with the setting-up of the ECOWAS Ceasefire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) to save Liberia from total ruination. On a personal note, I lost my journalist friend Krees Imodibie of The Guardian alongside his compatriot Tayo Awotusin of The Vanguard in the ECOMG struggle in Liberia.
Sierra Leone also enjoyed the peacekeeping intervention of Nigeria. Nigeria’s commitment to global peacekeeping also gained worldwide acclamation in Darfur, Sudan.
I have highlighted these instances to showcase the fact that peacekeeping is one area that Nigeria rubs shoulders with the very best in the entire world. We shall forever remember and celebrate our gallant troops who lost their lives in the arduous battle to give peace to the world.
The Armed Forces deserve continuous commendation for their dogged fight against terrorism, insurgency and armed banditry all over the country. It is so reassuring and praiseworthy that our men and women of the forces are not resting on their oars but are instead extending the worthy legacies of the veterans. But the fight must be redoubled now that the terrorists have Abuja within their ungodly gunsights!
Our esteemed ex-servicemen and women may be retired but they are definitely not tired because they continue to lend their experience and service toward maintaining internal security all over Nigeria. In line with the words of our National Anthem, the labours of our heroes past shall never be in vain.
It is incumbent on us all to continue to give honour to our heroic soldiers, for as the great American President John F. Kennedy said, “Word to the Nation: Guard zealously your right to serve in the Armed Forces, for without them, there will be no other rights to guard.” The great American Army General Douglas MacArthur offered the advice: “No man is entitled to the blessings of freedom unless he be vigilant in its preservation.”
We can never as a people take for granted the great sacrifices of our fallen heroes. In dying for us to live, the heroes are etched forever on the pages of our history. The great task of protecting the territorial integrity of our country is one duty that can never be countermanded.
The everlasting memories of our men and women of valour shall never die, as this Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebration evinces.