The celebration of the Armed Forces holds significant historical importance worldwide. Originally, the Armed Forces was globally celebrated on November 11th each year as Armistice Day to mark the end of World War I. This date symbolised the armistice signed between the Allies and Germany which marked the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front in 1918. Generally, the day was dedicated to honouring veterans of the Great War.
In Nigeria however, the Armed Forces Remembrance Day (AFRD) is celebrated on January 15th of every year to mark the end of Nigeria’s 3-year Civil War on 15th January 1970. The date is a crucial turning point in the nation’s history as the Biafran secessionists formally surrendered on that day. Therefore, Nigeria opted to shift the celebration of its Armed Forces from the global date of November 11th to January 15th every year. However, as time went on, it was renamed the Armed Forces Remembrance Day Celebration (AFRDC) to serve as an annual occasion for sober reflections on the immense contributions of the Armed Forces to the nation.
It now serves as a day to honour and pay tribute to the gallant officers and soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice during the various military operations within and outside this country. These operations encompass not only the two World Wars and the Nigerian Civil War but also extend to international peacekeeping efforts and conflicts like the Nigeria-Cameroon dispute over the Bakassi Peninsula and contemporary challenges such as counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and Internal Security Operations (ISOs) that are addressing issues like banditry and kidnapping, amongst others.
The celebration of Armed Forces Remembrance Day in Nigeria on January 15th each year is not just a mere ceremonial event but a profound acknowledgment of the immeasurable contributions made by the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) to national development, unity, peace, and security. Undoubtedly, the AFN has played an instrumental role in shaping the nation’s history and ensuring its unity, development, and security.
Their exceptional contributions during the Civil War and ongoing efforts in counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and internal security have been pivotal in safeguarding Nigeria from various threats. The sacrifices made by these brave men and women, often at the cost of their liberties and, tragically, some with the sacrifice of their lives, underscore their unwavering commitment to national unity, peace and stability.
Indeed, the Armed Forces’ dedication to the preservation of peace and security deserves profound honour and commendation, particularly during events like Armed Forces Remembrance Day where their sacrifices are acknowledged and their service to the nation is celebrated.
As we mark the AFRDC 2024 with prayers, static parades and wreath-laying ceremonies nationwide on January 15th, it is crucial to recognize and understand the significance of honouring veterans and supporting the families of fallen heroes. Therefore, AFRDC goes beyond ceremonial gestures. It’s an active commitment to acknowledging the sacrifices, bravery, and unwavering dedication of the AFN by all and sundry.
Honouring the military boosts their morale, and fosters national unity and pride, reminding us that we are part of a grateful nation indebted to the sacrifices made by our Armed Forces. It also educates future generations about the value of service, inspiring a sense of responsibility towards the nation.
It is also imperative to note that behind every brave soldier stands a dedicated and resilient family – parents, spouses, children, friends, relatives and dependents, all enduring hardships, separations, and anxieties because of the sacrifices of their loved ones. Recognising the sacrifices of military personnel’s families is equally vital, and offering them more support is a moral obligation. Therefore, educational support, mental health counselling and financial assistance must be integral components of this support framework.
Consequently, there is a need to further enhance the well-being of the families of our fallen heroes, hence the need for a dedicated Endowment Fund to provide sustained financial backing for them especially in the area of education, healthcare, and essential needs. Similarly, the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Defence, should further complement the efforts of the Services in educational support programmes, scholarships, tuition assistance, and mentorship initiatives for the children of fallen heroes.
Mental health counselling services must be strengthened not only for veterans but also for their families as they address the emotional toll of the loss of loved ones and the daily challenges associated with military life. Job placement and training programmes for spouses and family members of fallen heroes are essential for their financial independence.
Collaboration with NGOs and corporations, public awareness campaigns, legal support, and community networks for military families are crucial measures. Essentially, regular public events recognising and appreciating veterans’ contributions, along with improved welfare programmes for active military personnel and veterans, are vital for a comprehensive support system.
While we celebrate the AFRDC this year, it is also paramount for the Nigerian society to further recognise and appreciate the ongoing sacrifices of the Armed Forces personnel who tirelessly carry out their duties in diverse operational areas, be it on land, at sea, or in the air in defence of the territorial integrity of this nation. These gallant men and women dedicate their lives to ensuring the safety and security of the nation, often facing unimaginable challenges in the line of duty.
As they confront threats to national peace and security, it becomes imperative for the public to extend more support and respect to these personnel. This mutual respect not only boosts the morale of the Armed Forces but also strengthens the bond between the military and civilian populations, creating a more collaborative environment crucial for sustaining peace and security in Nigeria.
Above all, good governance and proactive measures by the political class are imperative to address security challenges. By honouring veterans and supporting fallen heroes’ families, we demonstrate unwavering commitment to their well-being, ensuring that their services and sacrifices are never forgotten.
The AFN should always have it at the back of their minds that military service is a noble profession that demands the best from them. This is because, unlike other professions, military service requires a unique level of dedication, loyalty, sacrifice, and unwavering commitment to the duty of safeguarding the territorial integrity of our nation. The adage “to whom much is given, much is expected” holds particularly true in this context.
Therefore, the military must recognise the high level of expectations placed upon them by the Nigerian populace, ranging from decisively addressing the various security challenges in the country to upholding professionalism, discipline, and good conduct.
It is also imperative to note that military service, being voluntary in Nigeria, necessitates sacrifices and selfless devotion to duty. Consequently, the AFN must reciprocate the support and cooperation extended by the government and the Nigerian people and strive to embody the epitome of a military force that the nation can consistently take pride in.
Therefore, on this AFRDC 2024, let us embrace our veterans with love, gratitude, and more unwavering support. May we never take their sacrifices for granted. May we always remember that they are the true guardians of our freedom.
Happy Armed Forces and Remembrance Day Celebration 2024, Nigeria!
The writer, Brigadier General Sani Kukasheka Usman (rtd) mni fnipr, is a former Director of Army Public Relations and Spokesman for the Nigerian Army. He is also a public relations consultant, security and strategic communications expert and public analyst.