BY AUSTIN OYIBODE
HISTORY AND SIGNIFICANCE
HE Armed Forces and Remembrance Day celebration is an annual event organized to honour members of the Nigerian Armed Forces who fought in the first and second World Wars, and those who served or are still serving in various peace support operations worldwide as well as those who fought in the Nigerian civil war. The Day is to celebrate both the dead and the living heroes including all those who suffered various deprivations as a result of wars.
The Day was initially marked on the eleventh of November every year to coincide with the Remembrance Day popularly known as “Poppy Day” or “11 – 11” for the first and Second World War veterans in all commonwealth countries. However, in Nigeria, in view of some significant historical developments, it is celebrated on the 15th of January every year. The change to January 15 of every year was done in commemoration of the surrender of Biafran troops to the Federal troops on 15 January 1970, thus signaling the end of the Nigerian Civil War that sought to tear apart the unity of Nigeria.
From thence, it has become a national ritual when on every January 15 nationwide, military personnel including the Army, the Navy, the Air force and the Nigerian Legion converge in different centres across the nation to celebrate the day and give honour to the fallen and living heroes who hazarded and continue to hazard their lives for the territorial integrity of the nation and for peace to reign worldwide. The event is held at the federal, state and local levels where either serving military officers reside or where living ex-service men occupy.
Several events including release of pigeons to symbolize peace, placing of wreaths, playing of the last post, Remembrance Day parade, shooting of guns and others characterize this memorable day. The army officers are usually attired in diverse colours typical of their fields be it Navy, Air force, Army and the ex-service men. Beside parades, placing of wreaths and releasing of pigeons, the event also witnesses religious services in both mosques and churches nationwide.
CELEBRATION AROUND THE NATION
At the federal level, a Special Juma’at prayer was held at the National Mosque where Vice President Namadi Sambo in Abuja urged Nigerians to continue to pray for peace, unity and progress in the country. He urged Nigerians to pray for the gallant men and women who laid down their lives in the service of their country. “We should continue to pray for peace and progress in Nigeria and this is the time that we all, as Nigerians, should come together and support this administration for the success of our Transformation Agenda.”
However, there was a dramatic turn of events in Abuja as some ministers were turned back at the Presidential Villa, for not wearing the emblem of the 2013 Armed Forces Remembrance Day. The ministers who were at the villa for the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting were stopped by security operatives at one of the gates. They were told that those without the emblem would not be allowed into the council chambers, venue of the council meeting.
The directive, the ministers were told, was from President Goodluck Jonathan who had urged Nigerians during the launch of the emblem at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa to proudly wear them and donate generously to the emblem launch. He argued that it was a good way to appreciate the sacrifice the fallen and living heroes have made and are still making for the peace and security of the country.
Also, Former President Olusegun Obasanjo rejected a request to lay a wreath at the 2013 Armed Forces Remembrance Day Celebration in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital. Obasanjo, who made a sudden appearance at the venue, turned down the request to lay the wreath as done by the state governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun and other paramount rulers in the state. The reason for the rejection was due to the fact that the former president was not originally listed as one of the people to perform the wreath-laying for the fallen heroes. Amidst persuasion from the governor, Ibikunle Amosun and the deputy, Prince Segun Adesegun, the former president declined to lay the wreath.
Despite his failure to lay the wreath, he told the people that “the aim of the celebration is to constantly remember the sacrifice the Nigerian soldiers have made, constantly remind our ourselves that they left families behind who need to be cared and catered for and to remind us that whatever might have caused internally, what led to the loss of lives of members of our armed forces will no longer recur.” He appealed to government at various levels to take adequate care of persons who have laid down their lives to ensure the existence of Nigeria.
Meanwhile, Minister of State for Defence, Erelu Olusola Obada, collapsed into the hands of military officers when the deafening sounds of artillery fire reverberated in celebration of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day in Abuja. Reports claimed that there was no announcement, as is usual on such an occasion, before the artillery fire rented the air. The development was said to have startled the minister, who slumped, before her military aides jumped to her rescue. After regaining her composure, Erelu Obada came back to lay a wreath at the Remembrance Arcade. But in Yobe State, the event was cancelled for fear of security breakdown by members of the dreaded Boko Haram sect.
CELEBRATION IN DELTA
In Delta, the event started on Tuesday, January 8 through to Friday with a Jumat service at a Mosque in Asaba. A Thanksgiving Service was held at St. Peters’ Anglican Church on Sunday January 13 and the event came to a close on Tuesday at the Cenotaph where all government functionaries, royal fathers, religious leaders and members of the public participated in the grand finale of the celebration.
At the celebration ground, the state Governor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan said the annual Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebration was a good reminder on why Nigerians should work to strengthen democracy. He called on Nigerians to avoid actions that are capable of leading to war and other national disasters. He emphasized that it was a sad reminder of what people experience during the war, noting that people lost their loved ones and during the Remembrance Day celebration, those they left behind are catered for. While disclosing that his administration is always assisting victims of the war and their loved ones, the Governor emphasized, “as a state, we support members of the Nigerian legion and families of those who were affected by the war. Without remembering this, we will not work to sustain our democracy and we pray that never again, will we witness war in our dear country,” the Governor said, emphasizing that the annual event was very necessary as it was a day to also, honour, “these people who laid down their lives for Nigeria to be what it is today.”
At the interdenominational service held at St. Peters Anglican Church, Asaba, the governor called on Nigerians to make preparations for spiritual rejuvenation so that God answer their prayers for national unity and integration. Represented by his deputy, Amos Utuama, at the church service, Uduaghan said the heroes who hazarded their lives for the nation should be supported by all Nigerians.
According to him, “It is one of their constitutional obligations that must be supported in order for them to efficiently and effectively discharge their constitutional responsibilities and promote peace in our states and homes”, explaining that without peace and security there is very little we can achieve in a state of anarchy. He urged Nigerians not to be tired of praying for those who died in the course of the civil war, saying they are all Nigerians irrespective of ethnicity or factions and prayed for the souls of those who died innocently.