By Bamisope Kupoluyi
January 15th is a day set aside to commiserate with the members of the Nigerian Armed Forces in what is called The Armed Forces Remembrance Day. A day to celebrate the men and women who laid down their lives to protect the sovereignty of the country. This was formerly celebrated on November 11 to coincide with the Remembrance Day (Poppy Day) for the Second World War but it was changed to January 15th to coincide with the end of the Nigerian Civil War aka The Biafran War which ended after the surrender of Biafran Forces concluding a 30 month war that sought to tear the country apart.
This year 2020, marks 50 years after the war unfortunately we are on the verge of another occurrence. Tribal wars and disputes are its highest points now than ever before, more political tensions between the ruling party and opposition parties. Nigeria is currently at its most vulnerable state since its formation in 1914 which is over a century ago.
The first six years of our independence was the only time Nigeria was truly a federal state. All three regions enjoyed autonomy and the power in the regions was more than in the center. But due to greed and political tension, some junior officers of the army planned a coup which was executed coincidentally on the same January 15th. This time it was in 1966, war was eminent nobody knew it would end exactly four years later.
It important to note that in the 1960s, many young people wanted to join the army as it was one of the easiest ways to have a respectable career in Nigeria as University education was luxury at that time. The dream for many young men was to complete secondary school and get recruited into the Nigerian Army. After some years of training, some officers were sent to the Royal Military College Sandhurst for further training. These young men below the age of 30 at time returned and became high ranking officers of the army. Unfortunately, these young men saw themselves as the Redeemers of the Nigerian people and decided to take power for themselves “for the good of the people”, our Robin Hoods in camouflage.
This is why between the 1960s and 1990s, there were seven military juntas and a 30 month long Civil War all caused by young military officers that believed that they always needed to intervene and bring about orderliness in the country. This, led to the genesis of the structural problem in the nation which started from the very first military regime headed by General Aguiyi Ironsi who was the highest-ranking military officer at the age of 42. He made Nigeria a unitary state thereby making the regions weak and dependent on the central government. This structure has been adopted by the subsequent military governments and was even further entrenched (in principle) in the both the 1979 and 1999 constitution (which is still in force till this day).
In the 60s and 90s Nigeria experienced violation of basic human rights at its peak. This was typical during the regimes of Buhari/Idiagbon and Abacha. Both regimes had total disregard for human rights of the Nigerian people. It is no surprise that traits of a military regime are still resurfacing under a supposed “democratically elected administration led by now President Buhari”. From these regimes disregard for citizens became a permanent feature of the Nigerian Military and this continues till date. There have been several instances of oppression by members of Armed Forces. It is no surprise that Amnesty International have many accusations against the Nigerian Army of violating the rights of citizens which supposedly supported by high ranking officers. The Military however have repeatedly denied the allegations.
The main purpose of the military is to protect the sovereignty of the country from external forces. Since the civil war, there has not been any serious threat to the sovereignty of Nigeria until the rise of Boko Haram in 2009. The Terrorist organization have planned to carve out a caliphate and Islamize Nigeria and this is the causes of the ongoing battle. This battle of insurgency has now revealed how unequipped our Armed Forces are. Large amount of funds have been spent in training but yet with no meaningful outcome despite the Nigerian Government’s periodical claim that the organization has been destroyed only for it to resurface within a few months. There are disturbing reports about the ways our armed forces are ill-equipped and are not even fed properly. Sometime in 2014 there were also reports of mutiny within the force. This led to the reappointment of new military heads to address the issue. Many of the soldiers that have lost their lives or have been greatly injured at the battlefield fighting insurgents are not even taken care of properly. Their families are left to suffer in penury. Appearances are made from time to time but there is not a proper structure in compensating affected families.
Insurgency has become a global issue as it is not limited to developing countries like Kenya, Cameroon, Iraq, Syria, Libya. International organizations and super powers have now stepped into to picture providing intelligence and military aid with the obvious aim of protecting their own state. To ensure that these organization do not expand and threaten their own safety.
After the civil war in 1970, it was recorded that there were over 100,000 military causalities during the war from both sides and this is why January 15th is used to commensurate with the men and women that fought to maintain the unity and sovereignty of Nigeria. But at what cost? Over two million Biafran Civilians died of starvation, yet they were not mentioned nor was a day set aside to remember the lives of these innocent people who were majorly children. Some Easterners have called Gowon be tried for war crimes for his action of denying Biafrans food during the war, however no formal petition has been to this effect. Till this day, the Nigerian government does not acknowledge the millions of people that lost their lives even fifty years later.
“Armed with the knowledge of our past, we can with confidence charter a course for our future”.- Malcom X . I would advice that we all take out time to read up the history of Nigeria especially from independence up until the end of the civil war.
In 1978, there was a change in our national anthem to resonate to more the Nigerians. In the tenth line it reads, “the labour of our heroes past, shall never be in vain”. This made in reference to the leaders that laid down their lives to maintain the unity of this country. Aren’t their labours now in vain? Is it not better if we went our separate ways? It is high time we answer this questions.