The nation must do more to families of our fallen heroes
The Armed Forces Remembrance Day was recently marked across the country with fanfare. Colourful parades were held, wreaths were laid, and glowing speeches made on behalf of those who laid down their lives for the nation. Ironically, the nation seems to prefer spending billions yearly on ceremonies rather than ensuring that those left behind by these gallant officers are well taken care of. “Looking at the welfare package for those fallen heroes,” said Colonel Hassan Stan-Labo (rtd), “the dependents that they left behind – wives and children – I must say that whatever we think we are doing as a country is not enough.” That is an understatement.
Perhaps the case of Mrs Bilkisu Ibrahim is to some extent representative of the plight of military widows. Since her spouse, a Lance Corporal died in 2017, leaving her to fend for three young children, life has been difficult. Apart from burial expenses and gratuity, the insurance benefits due to the family are still pending. With no education, and limited employment opportunity, she took a job as a cleaner at the Ikeja Cantonment amid constant threats of eviction from the military authorities. But her ordeal is mild compared to what families of policemen who die on duty go through. Many of them live in sub-human conditions. They are often promptly ejected from the barracks while still waiting for their entitlements.
Indeed, in many cases, entitlements and benefits of police officers killed in the line of duty were hardly paid, leaving their families and dependents to the vagaries of the harsh social and economic situations. Aside admitting that about 2090 of its personnel who died in active service were not insured, police authorities cannot even treat the next of kin (NOK) and beneficiaries of those who died between 2012 and 2019 with any modicum of dignity. After requesting them to come to Abuja with a long list of requirements without any guarantee, families of these deceased personnel were still requested to “make transportation, feeding, and accommodation arrangements for the duration of their stay” that could last months. And there is no guarantee that they would be attended to.
What is even more alarming is the sheer number of families faced with this colossal tragedy. In the armed forces and police, deaths have become a daily affair. In the face of serious security challenges across the nation buoyed by the brutal Boko Haram insurgency, general banditry, herder-farmer crisis, and all manner of criminality, many security persons are constantly paying the supreme price so that we may live. According to reports, more than 2,140 security personnel from the military, Nigeria Police Force, Department of State Services, Nigeria Customs Service and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps were killed in the last seven years alone.
Beyond the case for adequate training and equipment, the issue of commensurate welfare has raised several pertinent questions. How can we expect the best of our police and military officers if we continue to treat them with such contempt after making the supreme sacrifice by exposing their families to all kinds of indignity? How can we expect the best from those whom the society literally denies justice by the shabby handling of their dependents?
We must recognise that there is a strategic relationship between the well-being of the personnel of our armed services and the safety of the nation and the citizens. It is only when we take due care of these officers as well as the rank and file that we can legitimately demand that they perform their duties with optimum zeal. The tears of these widows and left-behind children are all a reminder that we have failed not merely our fallen servicemen but also in our duty to the citizens they were mandated to defend and protect.
Until we inculcate the habit of showing appreciation to families of our fallen heroes, we will never resolve the security challenges that plague the nation.