Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the annual Armed Forces Remembrance Day, a day which is set aside to celebrate fallen heroes who died in the line of duty, also presents an opportunity to review the welfare of officers and men of the Armed Forces
The 10th line of Nigeria’s National Anthem reads thus; ‘the labours of our heroes past, shall never be in vain’. To mark this, the Armed Forces Remembrance Day (AFRD), is commemorated every year, on January 15, as a day set aside to celebrate the fallen heroes, who died in the line of duty while fighting to ensure the territorial integrity of the nation, whether on land, air or water is not breached or tampered with.
This year is no different. As the nation marked the remembrance day, one thing remains the crux- the welfare of soldiers and men, who are at the forefront in the war against insurgency in the North-east, herdsmen killings in the Middle-belt, Militancy in the South-south and other pockets of violence that has been rocking the nation simultaneously.
According to Wikipedia, in Nigeria, the Armed Forces Day, also known as Remembrance Day, is celebrated every January 15. It was formerly celebrated on November 11 of every year to coincide with the Remembrance Day (Poppy Day) for the World War 11 veterans in the British Commonwealth of Nations, but it was changed to January 15 in Nigeria in commemoration of the surrender of Biafran troops to the federal troops on January 15, 1970, thus concluding the Nigerian Civil War that sought to tear apart the unity of Nigeria.
The Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebration as an annual event organised to honour members of the Nigerian Armed Forces who fought for the nation, 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, is quite significant.
This is because the day is mapped out to celebrate both the dead and the living heroes, including all those who suffered various deprivations as a result of wars. Annually, this national day celebrates military personnel including the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Navy, the Nigerian Air Force and the Nigerian Legion. They all converge on different centres across the nation to celebrate the day and give honour to the fallen and living heroes who risked and continue to risk their lives for the territorial integrity of the nation.
The event is held at the federal, state and local levels where either serving military officers reside or where living ex-service men occupy.
In commemorating the day, several military traditions are strictly adhered to. Whether marked at the federal, state or local level, some symbolisms are sacrosanct and they include the release of pigeons to symbolise peace, placing of wreaths, playing of the last post, Remembrance Day parade, shooting of guns. Besides the above listed, the event also witnesses religious services in both mosques and churches nationwide.
At the parades, the military personnel are usually kitted in diverse colours typical of their services be it navy, air force, army or ex-service men.
Welfare of Troops
Another burning issue that the AFRD usually throws up is the welfare of soldiers, especially those deployed to the battle front. Each day, reports filter out about the increasing disenchantment of soldiers in the war front.
In virtually all the areas where soldiers are battling the Boko Haram insurgency, the main complaints have been the inadequate welfare packages, obsolete weaponry, weak tactics and strategy, amongst others. Unsurprisingly, this has led to low morale among troops, especially with the recent resurgence of Boko Haram, whose stock in trade now is to invade military bases and units.
Expectedly, with the recent wave of terrorists who seemingly have more sophisticated weapons than the troops, cases of soldiers going awol abound. From past reports, the soldiers had often complained that the terrorists have night vision goggles, rocket-propelled grenades and bomb-resistant armoured personnel carriers and trucks.
Sadly, in most attacks on military bases, these terrorists often make away with military equipment and even weapons to boost their armoury.
Another major demands by the soldiers is that of their sleeping conditions and food. According to them, they often sleep in the open air
because of the inhabitable nature of their make-shift tents. On the quality of meals, they lamented that it was poor to state the least, in addition with the lack of potable water they are forced to drink.
In all these, they noted that they might have made do if only their allowances are paid as at when due, a claim that the military authorities have refuted countlessly.
As part of activities outlined for the commemoration, the next line of action is usually the Nigerian Legion Humanitarian Day. This event involves community service by the veterans as well as empowerment of widows and orphans of fallen heroes.
The next move is usually the emblem launch by the president at the Council Chambers, State House, Abuja. The launch sets things off in motion as the sale of the emblems begins nationwide and the proceeds of the sale of the remembrance emblem are deposited to the Nigerian Legion, a body of veterans.
From then to January, underground preparations remain in full swing, which often culminates into the Jumma’at Service at the National Mosque, followed by an inter-denominational service at the National Christian Centre, Abuja. All these events take place simultaneously in all the states.
On the AFRD proper, the wreath laying ceremony, which is the peak of the celebration, the president and other dignitaries lay wreath at the National Cenotaph in Abuja while other symbolisms . This was also done simultaneously by governors in their respective states.
The Nigerian Legion
One of the highpoints of each AFRD is the prominence given to the Nigerian Legion, an association of ex-servicemen, i.e former members of the army, navy and air force.
The legion was established for the veterans because after retirement, they often discover that there are no jobs for them. Thus, the legion helps them to integrate into society. The law also backs them to operate certain businesses in order to raise money for its members, or serve as security guards at government establishments or raise money through the sale of AFRD emblems.
A while back as October 2020, the federal government set the ball rolling in preparation for the event. President Muhammadu Buhari the inaugurated 2021 Armed Forces Remembrance Emblem and Appeal Fund with an appeal to Nigerians to desist from actions and comments that could jeopardise the unity and progress of the nation.
According to Buhari, this year’s occasion reminds Nigerians of the need to guard jealously the unity of the nation which was won at great cost, adding that ‘‘Nigeria’s strength lies in her diversity’’, just as he honoured the memory of the nation’s fallen heroes and veterans, recounting their sacrifices during the First and Second World Wars, the Nigerian Civil War and Peace Support Operations around the world.
He also paid tribute to men and women currently engaged in internal security operations, particularly the ongoing fight against insurgency, terrorism and banditry in some parts of the country, just as he lauded the members of the armed forces for remaining steadfast in the difficult task of restoring peace and security despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
”We honour the memory of our gallant officers and men who have paid the supreme sacrifice in order to keep the country united as one entity. The nation remains grateful for the efforts and sacrifice of the Armed Forces especially in the fight against insurgency and other internal security challenges confronting Nigeria,” he added.
Still at the prelude of the d-day, Buhari had lent his voice in clamouring for support not just for the armed forces but also for the legion. He had called on other corporate organisations to borrow a leaf from the noble initiative as government alone cannot satisfy all the needs, given her limited resources.
At the AFRD 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari; Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; the service chiefs and other top government officials laid wreaths at the National Arcade, Abuja. Buhari had earlier inspected a guard of honour mounted by combined Army, Navy and Air Force personnel before laying the wreath.
Vice President Osinbajo was next to lay the wreath after Buhari followed jointly by President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila and Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Tanko Mohammed. The president later signed the Remembrance Anniversary in the company of Osinbajo, the leadership of the National Assembly and the service chiefs.
Presidential List of Military’s Achievements
Despite the inherent challenges facing the welfare of troops, the Presidency has listed the achievements of the military in the on-going fight against insurgency and violent crimes as part of measures to mark the AFRD.
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, who listed the achievements in a special write up tagged: “Security Checklist: as Nigeria marks Armed Forces Remembrance Day’’, said as the milestone is marked this year, it also provides opportunity to chronicle current landmark achievements by the military in tackling security challenges across the country.
On internal security, he said: ”Boko Haram is much weaker today than in 2015 as attested to by the Governor of Borno on Dec. 6, 2020 when he said:
’From state-wide statistics on affairs in the 27 Local Government Areas since 2011, the fact is that in spite of recent happenings, the security situation in Borno State and indeed that of the entire North East sub-region is still far better under Buhari, and this is based on records.
’For instance, unlike the years before Buhari when a number of local governments were no-go-areas, we now have indigenes safely back to Gwoza, Askira-Uba, Dikwa, Ngala, Monguno, Kukawa, Damboa, Konduga, Mafa and led by our traditional leaders, which no one could have visited not to talk of living there.
’Our Emirs were all in exile. Today, Bama is coming back to life and so is Askira-Uba, Damboa, Gwoza and others. Life is even returning to Baga. This was impossible before Buhari. In fact, it was not possible to move few kilometres out of Maiduguri. Insurgents were so bold to attack and take over military facilities, like the Army Barracks at Monguno, Bama, Giwa Barrack and Multinational Joint Task Force Headquarters at Baga, to mention just a few. There were daily bomb blast in many parts of Maiduguri, the most populated part of the state, but all these have stopped under President Buhari. These are the records and no one can dispute them‘.”
Highlighting defence headquarters coordinated operations from March 18 to December 30, 2020, Adesina said they neutralised 2,403 criminal elements (terrorists, bandits, kidnappers, cattle rustlers, etc.) across the country, adding that it was in addition to scores of other terrorists and armed bandits killed during air strikes.
He said: “Troops also rescued a total of 864 kidnapped victims across the country. In addition, a total of 9,684,797 litres of stolen diesel and 33,516,000 litres of kerosene were recovered.
Equally, 1,910 criminal elements were arrested and large cache of arms, ammunition and equipment were recovered during the period. Furthermore, a total of 46,581.8 barrels of stolen crude oil and 22,881,257 litres of stolen petrol were recovered by the troops of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.“
Giving a sectorial breakdown of the successes, he said in the North-west 5,281 livestock, 6,951 rounds of ammunition and 120 assorted rifles were recovered from bandits by the gallant troops in the zone. ”Also, 455 kidnapped victims were rescued and 473 armed bandits killed. 461 arrests were made in the zone including high profile bandits, gun runners and bandits’ collaborators, while a total cash of N6,365,550 was recovered from bandits and their informants,” he added.
In the North-east he said: “200 kidnapped victims were rescued by troops of Operation LAFIYA DOLE. A total of 1,385 rounds of ammunition, 45 grenades as well as 95 assorted rifles were recovered from BHT/ISWAP fighters. In addition, several gun trucks were captured, while some others were destroyed during air strikes. 1,805 insurgents/terrorists including commanders were killed by troops aside scores killed through air raids/attacks. Additionally, within the period, 79 arrests were made including high value targets.“
In the North-central, he said troops of Operations SAFE HAVEN, WHIRL STROKE and THUNDER STRIKE rescued 130 kidnapped victims, and 105 assorted rifles as well as 513 rounds of ammunition and 1,055 rustled cattle were recovered from armed bandits and other criminal elements in the zone.
”1,250 criminals including family members of the Darul Salam sect were arrested within the period. Furthermore, troops neutralised 125 bandits including militia gang leaders,” he added.
In the South-south, he said a total of 8,890,300 litres of stolen diesel and 33,516,000 litres of kerosene were impounded by troops of Operation DELTA SAFE. “Troops immobilised 185 illegal refining sites, 85 dugout pits and 163 metal storage tanks within the period. Additionally, troops impounded 31,236.8 barrels of stolen crude oil as well as 12,272,652 litres of stolen petrol from oil thieves in the zone.
“Also, 47 kidnapped victims were rescued, while 72 vandals and criminals were arrested. A total of 4,250 bags of 50kg foreign parboiled smuggled rice were impounded and 45 boats engaged in illegal activities were impounded. Troops also arrested 53 pirates, impounded 25 trucks and recovered 23 rifles, 65,330 rounds of ammunition and destroyed 23 pirate camps,” he noted.
In the South-west, Adesina said “Troops of Operation AWATSE in the South-West Zone between March 18 and December 30, 2020, impounded 10,458,600 litres of petrol; 15,345 barrels of stolen crude oil and 345,000 litres of stolen diesel.Additionally, troops recovered 3,594 rounds of ammunition and 14 assorted rifles. Also, within the period, 23 illegal refining sites were immobilised, while 15 boats and 23 trucks engaged in illegal activities were impounded. In the same vein, within the period 35 kidnap victims were rescued, while 48 arrests were made.“
The presidential aide while outlining the North-east security achievements between 2015 and 2020 said: “Specifically, in the North-east, the Armed Forces have since 2015 recorded significant achievements in the fight against terrorism. The first actions of the Buhari Administration in that regard were revitalisation of the Multi-National Joint Task Force comprising Nigeria and her neighbours; Relocation of the Military Command and Control Centre to Maiduguri in June 2015 and launch of Operation Lafiya Dole in July 2015.
“Since then, several towns and villages have been reclaimed from Boko Haram; thousands of hostages have been freed from terrorists’ enclaves, and tens of thousands of displaced persons have been resettled. Several Boko Haram leaders have been killed or arrested, and the arrest of Khalid al-Barnawi of the Ansaru splinter cell brought an end to the terrorists’ tight grip on North Central Nigeria.
“The federal government is investing heavily in military hardware, including 23 new aircraft that have already been delivered and inducted into service, while another 18 manned aircraft and eight Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) are being awaited, in 2021/2022. This is in addition to attack boats, patrol vessels, armoured tanks and so on. The Army established ‘Special Mobile Strike Teams’ in the Northeast, while the Air Force has established or is establishing new bases in various parts of the Northwest and North Central (Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba, Zamfara, Kaduna, and Katsina).“
Stating that there was significant developments that show the progress in Borno State and the North-east, Adesina said El-Kanemi Warriors Football Club returned to their home base in Maiduguri in April 2016, two years after relocating to Katsina State because of insurgency; public
secondary schools resumed in Borno on Monday Sept. 26, 2016, after two years of closure; capture of Boko Haram’s operational and spiritual headquarters, “Camp Zero’’, in Sambisa Forest, in December 2016.
Following this, he added that ”the Nigerian Army conducted its Small Arms Championship from March 26 to March 31, 2017 in the forest, a measure aimed at enabling the Armed Forces to dominate the area, and avoid regrouping by terrorists.
“Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Borno State Chapter declared the 2017 Easter Celebrations as the best and safest since 2009.
Arik Air resumed flights to Maiduguri in May 2017, three years after suspending operations to the city.
Nigerian Military reopened Maiduguri-Bama-Banki Road in March 2018, four years after it was seized by Boko Haram.
“Hundreds of thousands of displaced persons have returned to their homes and communities across the Northeast, since 2015. Tens of thousands of hostages have been freed from Boko Haram captivity, including 106 of the Chibok Girls abducted in April 2014, and 105 of the Dapchi Girls abducted in February 2018”.
Giving highlights of Operation Swift Response (partial border closure) between August 2019 to December 2020, he said the operation was launched in August 2019 and coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser has now transformed into Nigeria’s Joint Border Patrol Team as part of a Tripartite Operation, comprising Benin, Niger and Nigeria.
He listed their achievements to include “1,401 irregular migrants arrested, total seizures of
159,506.7 (50kg) bags of parboiled foreign rice;
10,447 bags of NPK fertiliser used for making explosives; 1,974 vehicles; 895 motorcycles;
18,690.3 jerry cans of vegetable oil, among other seized items. The total monetary value of the seized items is about ₦12,538,333,545.50.”
Coming to this year, he said some of the achievements include the new Nigerian Air Force (NAF) acquired land to be used as an Operational Base in Gwauruwa Village, Funtua, in Katsina State. The new base will translate into increased security coverage and reduced response times for effective air operations against bandits in the area. Also, the NAF has commenced construction of a base for its newly-established unit, the 203 Combat Renaissance Group (203 CRG), in Gombe. The base will host some of NAF’s newly-acquired armed drones (UCAVs).
In Yobe, he said Operation TURA TAKAIBANGO was launched by the military as a subsidiary operation of Operation LAFIYA DOLE on January 7, 2021 and on January 9, 2021, troops of Operation TURA TAKAIBANGO identified and encircled a Boko Haram ambush site in Gujba LGA of Yobe, killing 28 Boko Haram terrorists, destroying one Boko Haram Gun Truck with its occupants, while capturing another gun truck. Also captured were 2 Anti-Aircraft guns, 13 AK 47 rifles, four extra magazines and a Vulcanising Machine.
Furthermore, he said the NAF on January 2, 2021, conducted a Joint Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), Special Forces and Air Police K-9 Simulation Exercise at Rijana Village along Kaduna-Abuja Highway. The exercise, codenamed “TAIMAKO YAZO”, was aimed at simulating tactics, doctrine and synergy amongst first responders for effective CSAR operations of downed aircrew or other NAF personnel who have had to eject or abandon their aircraft in emergency situations.
“The ability to rescue crew from hostile environments is particularly important as it can be adapted for anti-kidnapping operations as was recently done by the NAF in concert with other security agencies in the rescue of all the 344 kidnapped boys of Government Science Secondary School, Kankara, and Katsina State. The Air Force will conduct a total of six of these exercises between January and June 2021, mostly in the Northwest, particularly in Zamfara and Katsina States,” he concluded.