Tuesday, January 16, 2018,
Before now, most Nigerians never really understood the sacrifices their military men and women made for them. This is not unconnected with the civilian oppression Armed Forces were used for by British colonial masters and military dictators; and, of course, the allegations of partisanship occasionally levied against them.
Conversely, Nigerian soldiers have always been known heroes on foreign lands. In Liberia, Angola, Sierra Leone, Sudan, even former Yugoslavia, Nigerian soldiers are known heroes in the true sense of the word “hero.”
It all began to change in 2015 when, on Thursday, January 15, Nigerians used the occasion of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day to appreciate these heroes in unique ways. There were reports of salutes and random songs of appreciation by civilians to uniform men passing by. A group of about 20 youths at Kawo, Kaduna state went on an “appreciation procession” with flowers, gifts, and were saluting, hugging, and thanking uniform men they saw on the road.
In a short interview, Sergeant Bube Gwarzo said “I have never been this overwhelmed in my entire life. Having fought in Borno for over 2 years, myself and my family have experienced series of hardships - emotional, financial, name it! Sometimes, we feel so neglected, used and unappreciated. But with what I saw today, I feel really happy. See that lady crying on my shoulder, telling me she wished she could see us every day on the battle field just to say thank you. Such sincere appreciation motivates us a lot. We are human beings too. We have emotions. We don’t want people saying humiliating things about us on the internet all because of politics or few deviants. We are not partisans. We are only doing our job - putting our lives on the line for Nigerians. The last thing we want is for Nigerians to run us down on the internet. But, with what I saw today, I really feel proud and appreciated.”
Three years after, the awareness has grown even stronger. Sincere appreciation of uniform personnel is fast becoming a tradition in the country. Preferences are given to soldiers by customers at bus and train terminals and shopping malls; and even by online retail shops - in the form of discounts. Just last year, Access Bank announced a no-down-payment mortgage scheme for ex-service men who have gained employment after their retirement. The scheme has so far made over 50,000 ex-service men and women house owners.
This year’s Armed Forces Remembrance Day was celebrated in such a grand style it brought global media spotlight on Nigeria. There were various forms of celebration across the nation. From school pupils saluting every uniform personnel they saw, to artistes hosting shows in honour of the heroes, to market women giving out their wares for free to uniform men, the atmosphere was full of love for the soldiers.
The most popular of all the appreciation deeds was the “Two-minute Salute” campaign organized by Armed Forces Support Group (an NGO) in conjunction with National Orientation Agency and many local media houses. It was an emotional moment when Nigerians stopped whatever they were doing, wherever they were at exactly 2pm and stood in salute posture for 2 minutes.
In addition, the organizers of the campaign engaged volunteers across the nation, who had branded khaki green t-shirts on. They were standing in attention at strategy positions across the cities for at least 30 minutes, and at exactly 2pm, they all joined the two-minute salute. Afterwards, they went into military barracks with gifts.
The most widely televised of them all was the parade of about 3,000 volunteers from Oworonshoki, through Third Mainland Bridge, up unto Bonny Barracks at Victoria Island, Lagos (a distance of about 15km). They took positions - at intervals of 2 metres - between the hours of 6am and 7am and remained at attention till 2pm. When a volunteer got fatigued, she/he got replaced by another in a fashion that was close to a proper military changing of the guard. And at exactly 2pm, all parade volunteers joined the two-minute salute.
The event was aired live on CNN and FOX, among other international media.
According to the project manager for the campaign, Moses Abalaka, “We started planning this over a year ago. We are happy it worked as planned. The goal is to appreciate our heroes and put them on international scene for the sacrifices they have made for us. Since after Operation Chibok where the Chibok girls were rescued (http://ngtomorrow.com/index.php/politics/311-the-total-fall-of-boko-haram), Nigerians have seen the need to appreciate them the more. We cannot pay them enough. This is just a token of our appreciation.
In a statement released by the Defense Headquarters and signed by its spokesperson, Gen. Aminat Yayi, “This is by far the best celebration of any Armed Forces in the world. We are very grateful to Nigerians for this. We take it as yet another greater call to serve this nation. And serve, we will - with everything we have in us. Thank you very much.”
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