Every year, some Nigerians look forward to the armed forces remembrance day. This year 2013 was marked with prayers by both Christians and Muslims in their different places of worship. However, the question remains: How did these soldiers die? Were they defending the nation against another country? Perhaps we can thank God that Nigeria is not known for international wars except to serve as peace keepers in other neighbouring countries.
In 2003 Nigeria sent troops to assist in rescuing Liberia from the rebels. In 2004 Nigeria sent troops again to resolve the western Darfur atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). “Afripol” and some print media reported on January 17, 2013 that Nigeria is to send troops to Mali in less than 24 hours. According to the same report, “Chief of Army Staff, said at the Armed forces remembrance that Mali’s insecurity is a threat to the regional’s security.
It is sad that the fallen heroes we celebrate every year were men and women who died in the process of “brethren killing brethren” or “Nigerians killing Nigerians”. They are celebrated as heroes because they died to keep the sovereignty of the nation since “to keep Nigeria one, is a task that must be done”. The book, “There was a country” of Chinua Achebe is an attempt to capture the events of the Nigeria / Biafra war. Many people have reacted to this book in both negative and positive ways. The truth however remains that the “ghost” of the civil war is still very much around in Nigeria.
Today, some Nigerians have turned themselves into fortune tellers and prophets of doom. These people prophesy “the disintegration” of Nigeria and that Nigeria is heading towards a “revolution”. We may be able to interpret the signs of the present times by having a recap of the events that led to the civil war in Nigeria. The root cause of the Nigerian Civil War of July 6, 1967-15 January 1970 could be the way and manner political parties were formed along tribal, regional and ethnic allegiances: the Northern People's Congress (NPC) was owned by the North; the Action Group (AG) by the West and the National Conference of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) was owned by the East. This was a clear indication that Nigeria was not united. Some people claimed that in the 1940s and 1950s the Igbo and Yoruba parties took the lead in fighting for independence from Britain. This political division is not unconnected to the coup of January 15, 1966. This same division was mentioned in the speech of Odumegwu Ojukwu. He made a particular reference to the northern massacres and electoral fraud as part of the reasons to proclaim the secession of the South-Eastern region from Nigeria as the Republic of Biafra an independent nation on May 30, 1967. This same ethnic affiliation led to the failure of the several peace moves and accord akin to that of Aburi in Ghana. It follows therefore that ethnicity can lead to a break down of dialogue.
Today, political parties are not formed on ethnic affiliations. This is a big step in the direction of keeping Nigeria as a united entity but the question of returning power to the North and claiming power by the South is still endemic in Nigeria. It appears however that the debate on power rotation is an effort to draw the nation back to the ancient cradle. Whether we accept it or not, the feeling of this ethnic division is perceived in the military and other security agents. It may therefore be right to affirm that this is a contributing factor to the unceasing insecurity of the nation. When loyalty is divided, the citizens cannot be guaranteed the maximum protection by and from the security agents. At worst disloyalty can be likened to stray bullets that kill innocent citizens.
If Nigeria has the capacity to send out military troops to secure peace in other countries, why has it taken the military and the police so long to restore peace in our Country? How come that the rate of kidnapping, ritual killings, bunkering etc. are on the increase in Nigeria? Why do some security agents remove their uniforms at the sound of guns by armed robbers? A possible answer to these questions may be found in the way and manner the families of the “fallen heroes” have been attended to by the structures charged with their responsibilities. I have heard a security agent saying, “If I am killed, who will take care of my family”? The lack of assurance and insurance of our military and security agents can also affect their loyalty.
Perhaps we can borrow a leaf from the Roman Army and the ways and manners the Roman citizens were protected. Their security was assured and insured. The Emperor used the army to protect Rome and ensure that the people that they have conquered are under control. Roman citizens were exempt from flogging and other corporal punishments. Romans do not kill fellow Romans as we see in the case of Paul’s trial. When “they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, "Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty” (Acts 22, 25)? When Paul was flogged and kept in the cell, the soldiers wanted to release them secretly when they discovered that he was a Roman citizen but Paul said to the officers: "They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out" (Acts 16, 3).
When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. "What are you going to do?" he asked. "This man is a Roman citizen" (Acts 22, 26). One did not need to be a citizen of Rome because the grand parents and parents originated from Rome. Tribe and ethnicity has nothing to do with Roman citizenship. Even a foreign soldier could become a citizen of Rome after serving the Army for twenty five years. The point I am trying to make is that the Nigeria heroes, the Military and all security agents must grow above tribal inclinations and affiliations. If our past military leaders had seen themselves as Nigerians the concept of the civil war to break up the Nation would not make sense.
My recommendation therefore is that the Federal government should endeavour to take care of the military and other security agents through insured guarantees including their families. In this way, they will be assured that if and when they die in service, they are not only glorified as fallen heroes, but their families would be cared for. This is the honour the fallen heroes deserve. This will ensure that our Nations’ Security forces will be loyal to National unity. The difference between the military and the ambassador lies in the fact that the military and the security agents are vowed to protect the nation with their lives while ambassadors represent the image of the country and are protected. Consequently, we see the need to guarantee the care for the families of the fallen heroes.
Fr. Prof. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja; and Consultor of the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (C.R.R.M), Vatican City.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters