In about six weeks from now, precisely on January 15, 2020, Nigeria will be celebrating another Armed Forces Remembrance Day. As if you have forgotten, January 15 is the date set aside to salute Nigeria’s fallen heroes. Those fallen heroes are soldiers who died in the two world wars of 1914 to 1918 and 1939 to 1945 and those who died during the 30 month long Nigerian civil war.
Emphasis here is on members of the Armed Forces, not the millions of non-combatant casualties, especially civilians who died during needless Nigerian civil war. The civilian victims will have to wait for an imaginative government in the future to carve out a date to remember them. It is okay for Nigeria to continue to mark important dates on its calendar for as long as millions of Naira is not appropriated for the purpose as was the case before 2015. Credit must go to the Buhari/Osinbajo for effectively taking care of that!
But there is a misnomer in celebrating Armed Forces Remembrance Day on January 15 and this takes a lot of shine off the annual ritual. Celebrating an Armed Forces Remembrance Day on the anniversary of the needless murder of some of Nigeria’s finest political leaders by some over-pampered members of the Armed Forces is simply insensitive. Similarly, it does very little to heal the wounds of the avoidable and better-forgotten war civil war to fix an Armed Forces Remembrance Day on the date the war ended.
Let us recall, for the purpose of education, some of mind-bending events in the wee hours of January 15, 1966. In Kaduna, death came to Sir Ahmadu Bello, premier of the old northern Region through Major Patrick Chukwuma Nzeogwu who invaded the premier’s lodge at a time honest men were in bed and killed the main tenant and his wife in cold blood. No member of the Premier’s security detail or member of Sardauna’s household would have believed Nzeogwu, one of the so-called “Yaran Sardauna” (Children of Sardauna) could bring himself up to the dastardly act of killing a man who showed deep interest in his career and wellbeing and whom he (Nzeogwu) fondly called Baba (Father)!
In Lagos, drunken soldiers invaded the official residence of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the nation’s first and only prime minister, disrupted his mid-night prayers at gun-point, took him away and killed him near Otta. The murderers are some of the members of the Armed Forces that the nation ironically salutes every January 15. Also executed, Gestapo-like, were Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, premier of the defunct Western Region and Festus Okotie-Eboh, the nation’s trendsetting finance minister.
Aside killing these political leaders, the soldiers effectively ended the nation’s bourgeoning democracy and set the stage for a long military interregnum. The immediate effect of the actions of the bloody coup was the suspicion it introduced into the Armed Forces which effectively set the pace for the needless and avoidable 30 month civil war. Nzeogwu and most of his fellow conspirators are dead, but they continue to be presented to Nigerians, alongside deserving members of the Armed Forces, as the best things to happen to Nigeria! This is for the simple reason that they were members of the Armed Forces whose fallen members are remembered every January 15.
What makes the deaths of January 15 even more painful is that the victims were innocent of the cooked-up charges of treasury-looting levelled against them. None of the men stole public funds, none was accused of owning foreign bank accounts and, with the possible exception of the flamboyant Chief Okotie-Eboh, the murdered politicians maintained Spartan life styles. Even in the case of Okotie-Eboh, his killers never substantiated claims that he amassed public funds to drive his flamboyant life style.
For Sir Ahmadu Bello, his only worldly possessions were two mud houses, one in Sokoto and the other in his birthplace of Rabah, all in present day Sokoto state. At the time he was killed, the prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was still indebted to his bank for an over-draft he drew for the upkeep of his family! So, were these men killed because they were corrupt as alleged by their killers? Nothing can bring back these men but there will always be a big question mark as to why the nation continues to celebrate them.
What, exactly, do we celebrate on January 15? End of the civil war? Aside the estimated 2 million Nigerians lost to the war, the scars of the war are still there for all to see. If truth be told, everything must be done to stop segregationist elements in the country if Nigeria must avert another recession into either a civil or uncivil war. If we still do not deem it fit to offer a public apology for the misdemeanour of some members of the Armed Forces, at least, we should be decent enough not to celebrate them on a date that sticks out like a sore thumb.
And lest this position is misread and misrepresented, there is absolutely nothing wrong with an Armed Forces Remembrance Day. By all means, the event should continue to be celebrated but let another date be chosen for this purpose. For the sake of decency, there is also an urgent need to set aside a day to celebrate and salute outstanding Nigerian heroes and heroines. And, for all intent and purposes, January 15 fits the bill.
If, however, January 15 is too appealing to be retained as Armed Forces Remembrance Day, then it is not out of place to set another date aside as Heroes Day.
Magaji <firstname.lastname@example.org> lives in Abuja