By Kingsley Ugwu
EACH Year, precisely January 15th, Nigeria marks the Armed Forces and Remembrance Day in honour of those who laid their lives in defence of national unity.
There is no nation without history and part of Nigeria’s touch with history is the dark days of civil war, when brothers and compatriots, set aside their bond, took up arms and went for each others heads in a battle of blood that ordinarily ought not to have been. That horrendous era is over but the memory lives with Nigeria generations unend.
From the “Poppy Day” celebration of the first and second world war veterans by countries from the commonwealth of Nations, in November 11 and commonly referred to as 11-11 Poppy Day, Nigeria carved her own anniversary of their heroes in line with the historical antecedents with the country. Hence, rather than join member nations of the commonwealth in the Poppy Day, Nigeria marks her own history on January 15th as day for the remembrance of her fallen heroes – “Armed Forces And Remembrance Day celebration”.
Two historical events distinguish this day in the anals of Nigeria history here. First, January 15th marks the country’s first touch with military coup. Precisely on January 15 1966, the first military coup d’etat took place in Nigeria, claiming the lives of some prominent Nigerians as well as some of her military personnel. An event that ultimately snowballed into full scale civil war, with millions of lives lost in the process.
Second, January 15 marks the surrender of the Biafra fighters in the civil war, which spanned from May 30, 1967 to January 15, 1970, bringing officially to an end, the Nigeria civil war era. Before this end of hostility in the nation’s history, millions of her citizens had been consumed in the strife, countless number maimed, while inumeral others got displaced as well as incalculable properties and valuables lost.
On the part of families, toes were broken and parents could neither run with their children nor children able to locate their fleeing parents. Those who still clung to each other saw their wards die before their very eyes without anything to offer for their rescue.
On the part of the soldiers, and civilian fighters, causalities were in droves. Men were gunned down, others hacked to death in the most gruesome manner quite alien to brotherly treatment. These were all Nigerians, both the uniformed and uninformed and their blood spewed in desecration of their hallowed land.
In the end, hostilities ceased and normalcy returned but to the cost of the people’s men and women. The gallantry of the brave ones who dared death to keep the country whole and the courage of the survivors to fight on till peace was finally enthroned deserve honour; and on this day, January 15, every year, joy and sorrow find partnership as wreaths are being laid in memory of the dead and honour to the living.
The Significance of this commemoration is best drawn when the families of these fallen heroes take central focus in the picture. The tradition has always been frail military parades in all designated centres across all the states of the federation, military gun salute as well as releasing of the pigeons in show of both gallantry and peace.
The war has ended long ago but the nation’s military call to duty is far from over. Boko-Haram insurgency in the country had drawn the military into another series of tasking mission internally. They are winning the fight against insurgency no doubt, dislodging the terrorists from control of their acquired territories and ensuring that law abiding citizens live in peace in all parts of the country; yet, this feat had not come without cost as some officers of the Nigerian army lose their lives in the process. These officers die in such missions leaving their families, dreams and careers behind. They could have lived till tomorrow if they did not chose to die for those they swore to defend with their lives. This is a supreme sacrifice which no recompense can assuage. The much they could get in death is this honour but the more is care for the family and dependents they left behind.
As wreaths are being laid at the cenotaphs of these heroes every Armed Forces and Remembrance Day celebration, the gallantry and supper commitment of the finest breed of Nigerian patriots are brought to the fore for others to emulate. They died that peace may reign; therefore, as the pigeons fly around the space of the nation’s clime, let that peace overwhelm all strifes and unity drive all purpose.