Posted by Abdulrazaq Magaji | 15 January 2016 | 4,828 times
Another January 15 is here! Mark the date! January15 is the date on the nation’s calendar that never fails to intrigue. And mark the frenzy that characterises the build-up to the day! As if you have forgotten, January 15 is Armed Forces Remembrance Day, a special date set aside to salute Nigerian soldiers who died in the two world wars: 1914 to 1918 (first world war) and 1939 to 1945 (second world war), as well as those who died during the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 to 1970.
Emphasis of the annual event is on members of the armed forces. The civilian victims of the three wars, especially those of the 1967 to 1970 civil war in Nigeria, will have to wait for an imaginative government in future to carve out a date to remember them. This misnomer takes a lot of shine off the annual ritual we celebrate every January 15. Celebrating an Armed Forces Remembrance Day on a date the civil war ended does little to heal the wounds of that avoidable, better-forgotten war. More vexing is that, on that date in 1966, some over-pampered members of the armed forces, under the cover of darkness, invaded the homes of prominent leaders of the First Republic and murdered some of the finest leaders to be produced by the country.
In Kaduna, Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu took advantage of his closeness to Sir Ahmadu Bello, Premier of the defunct Northern Region, invaded the premier’s lodge when honest men are expected to be in bed and killed the main tenant and his wife in cold blood. It was alleged that Nzeogwu did not have problems entering the home of Sardaunan Sokoto, even at that unholy hour, because he was well known there: the Premier reportedly referred to and, indeed, considered Nzeogwu as “my son”.
In Lagos, some soldiers invaded the official residence of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the nation’s first and only prime minister, disrupted his midnight prayers and took him away at gun-point, to be killed. His killers, some of the soldiers the nation ironically salutes every January 15, dumped the corpse of Sir Balewa in a shallow grave in a bush near Otta, in the outskirt of Lagos. Killed in similar Gestapo-like execution were Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, Premier of the defunct Western Region and Festus Okotie-Eboh, the nation’s finance minister.
Aside killing these 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 Nzeogwu-led bloody coup was the suspicion it introduced into the armed forces, which eventually led to the needless and avoidable 30-month civil war. Today, though Nzeogwu and most of his fellow conspirators are dead, they are being presented to us as the best thing to happen to Nigeria, just as we spend money to celebrate and salute them annually. After all, they were members of the armed forces whose fallen members are remembered every January 15.
What makes the death of the political leaders of the First Republic painful is that, contrary to the charge levelled against them by their murderers, the men were later found to be innocent of any charge of corruption: none of the men had stolen public funds or had stashed away millions of foreign currency in local or foreign banks. All of the men, with the exception of the flamboyant Chief Okotie-Eboh, lived austere lifestyles. Even in the case of Okotie-Eboh, his killers never substantiated claims that he amassed public funds to drive his flamboyant life styles. He acquired nothing in office to justify his murder!
On his part, Sardauna’s worldly possessions were two mud houses, one in Sokoto and the other in Wurno, also in Sokoto State. At the time he was killed, the Prime Minister Balewa was indebted to his bank for an overdraft he drew for his family’s upkeep. So, were these men killed because they were corrupt as alleged by their killers? So, what exactly, do we celebrate on January 15? The act of people constituting themselves into prosecutors, judges and hangmen in their dealings with others is wrong, especially in a highly-rated and respected profession such as the military. It does not matter whether the crime was committed last night or last century. Sadly, 50 years on, nobody deems it fit to make a public apology for a crime committed by some members of the armed forces. All we get is a special date set aside to celebrate.
And lest I am misread, there is absolutely nothing wrong with an Armed Forces Remembrance Day. By all means, it should continue to be celebrated, but let another date be chosen for this purpose. For the sake of decency, January 15 should be celebrated as Heroes Day, to salute all fallen Nigerian patriots, soldiers and civilians alike. But, if for whatever reasons, January 15 has to be retained to honour fallen members of the armed forces, then it is not out of place to set aside a Heroes Day to celebrate fallen civilians.
•Magaji is based in Abuja and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photo shows the Unknown Soldier statue, Abuja.
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