19 January 2018

Nigeria: Remembering Nigeria's Fallen Heroes Without Their Families

Prayers are offered every year in churches and mosques, while members of the Nigerian Legion, dressed in their uniforms, join serving soldiers in parades. Other leaders pay their respects in a number of ways as the nation's fallen heroes are remembered. Wreaths are laid in states' capitals and in Abuja, the nation's capital. PEMBI DAVID-STEPHEN and JOY YESUFU write that, despite all the pomp and pageantry, the families of the unknown soldiers have little to show for this annual ritual.

Ezekiel Moses, a native of Jero in Taraba State and a former Kotoko Barracks' Boy (Kaduna State), who now resides in Dutse Alhaji, a suburb of the FCT, does not think that the families of the fallen heroes have been treated well.

"They are at the mercy of poverty. Most cannot afford three-square meals, while most of their children have become outcasts in the society. They could not get more than a secondary school education, because no one is ready to pay their school fees. Their entitlements have been stopped, because they have received their own share and their children are either now too old to take care of themselves or too young to do anything. They are not employed because they have no one up there to stand for them. They are not politicians because their fathers did not train them that way."

Speaking to LEADERSHIP Friday in Yola, Adamawa State, 49-year-old Adamu Isa, the son of an unknown soldier who was killed during the Civil War, wondered why the government has never really bothered about her fallen heroes.

"The Nigerian government should look beyond the so-called Remembrance Day and do something worthwhile for the fallen heroes. I never saw my father, because he was killed fighting for the unity of this country. Sadly, all we have 'enjoyed,' as children of fallen heroes are empty promises.

"These promises will not take us anywhere. Look at me," he said, indicating his clothes. "I am in this condition because my father paid for you and I to live as Nigerians. But what is my gain? I gained nothing."

For 80-year-old Mama Janet, wife of a fallen hero, who lives in Jos, the Plateau State capital, life has been most unfair. Her husband served in Agbor, now Delta State.

She recounted what could be described as a tale of woe. "My pikin, make una allow me rest. Which one be Remembrance Day? Na dem self dem dey remember. My husband die for war, nobody remember us. E leave three children, no one enter better school. The first one na mechanic, the second one na carpenter, the small one na farm e get," lamented Mama.

"Wetin una want make person talk again. As gofment no help them, dem help demself."

For 60- year-old Adama, who lost her son, a captain, in Damaturu, Yobe State, in 2013, life is a mistake. "I lost my husband just when my son Adamu was born. From my savings and earnings, I trained his elder sister and himself through school. Today, he is no more and he has a son. What we have from the Army is not sufficient. I know what I am saying. Now, saddled with a grandson, all I have gone through is hardship with my children. Life has not been fair to me."

When Halima (not real name) married Ali five years ago, she never knew his life, as a soldier would be cut short by the Boko Haram insurgents.

Today, with two kids and no husband, she is living in the past. "Oga, it has not been easy, Army dey try but the journey plenty, because my children are very young and I am not getting any younger. The thing pass my power," she said.

The fallen heroes, according to Rtd Sgt Sini (not real name), a native of Michika, Adamawa State, are who every Nigerian should think of as great men who are, of course, our proudest possession.

"We owe them a favour, because they gave their lives for us all," he argued.

The fallen heroes, he opined, include men and women whom the country would have loved to have today. These, he said, were men and women who would have gone out of their ways to change many things in this country today.

"The federal government should immortalise them by committedly coming to the aid of their widows, children and their parents," added Sini.

No one needs to beat a drum in praise of the Nigerian Armed Forces. The Nigerian military has a great history and it will sure have a great future when the government goes beyond setting aside a week or so, to remember the fallen heroes and help their widows, children and other dependents to survive.

These men and women trekked, starved, were without water, spent sleepless nights in the bush, on water and in the air, to ensure that Nigeria remains a nation with definite boundaries, unified. They were zealous patriots and unique nationalists transformed by regimentation.

According to Brigadier General Hassan Mamman Lai in his book, A Silent Voice in the Land, "they inspire courage but despise disorderliness and cowardice."

Today, most of them are no more and their families have but regrets, because nothing has been done to salvage their situation."

The khaki is not a glamorous colour and glamour is not a word that comes to mind when one thinks of the Armed Forces; at least, not when it comes to remembering the nation's fallen heroes. Of all the jobs in the world, the military - which includes the Army, Navy and Air force - is probably the least showy and spectacular, but it is certainly not the least deserving of people's admiration.

The Nigerian Armed Forces not only fought in the World War I & World War II, but served or are still serving in various peace support operations around the world. They also fought in the Nigerian Civil War, 50 years ago. Some suffered various forms of deprivation; others were killed while the rest are still alive but can do little or nothing to help themselves. These men and women acquitted themselves well, thanks to qualities that are peculiar to the Nigerian Military and they are the first things that every new recruit learns to appreciate.

These young officers, now forgotten by the system they risked their lives to save, lived simple lives before they were recruited into the military. They were a mixture of school boys, hunters, farmers, factory workers, fishermen, doctors, engineers and miners. They were drawn from all nooks and crannies of the country; North and South, the Lagos Constabulary, Royal West African Frontiers Force, Southern and Northern Regiments, the Royal Nigerian Armed Forces.

Today, many years after, their families have nothing to show for the sacrifice of these fallen heroes. Even in the democratic age, warfare is still fundamentally territorial and the control and security of land, air and water lies in the hands of the military. Nigerians have reasons to be proud of their military, though they exist, as it were, in spite of the nation's natural inclination.

During the Nigerian Armed Forces Remembrance Day, retired legions often threaten to protest during the celebration because of the way they are being treated.

Most times, it's either their salaries are not paid or chunk percentages are deducted for reasons best known to those in the pension office. There are also cases where the board will announce a certain percentage increment, yet it doesn't reflect in their payments, months after the approval.

Though a couple of testimonies of some senior retired officers show that there is improvement compared to what it used to be, but there exists so much complains from the retired under rank counterparts, including other senior officers.

On a monitored programme on Channels Television on 15th January 2018, a retired army officer, Roy Okhidievbie, raised the alarm over misappropriation of funds meant for the pensioners by those handling the funds.

He said the way the leadership of the Military Pension Board is treating them will naturally affect the morale of those presently in combat now as they know they won't be treated any better in retirement.

He said all promises by the military to fallen heroes are mostly rhetorics with no action just to curb grievances temporarily.

According to Roy, provisions are not made for retired officers for health challenges like high blood pressure, arthritis, liver problem etc which they are likely to face in retirement after facing all the hazards on the battle fields.

He said after several efforts, Nigerian Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) cards were given to the retirees but when they get to hospital, the cards can only treat malaria and doesn't include medication for any other ailment.

He said the Combo identity card that was given to them, which is supposed to activate their pension with a 10 per cent discount anywhere they go for purchase, has not gone round and has also not been activated.

The retiree said, "There are a lot of demands thrown at the board that may not see the light of day. Grievances of misappropriation of funds meant for them.

"Thirty three per cent that was removed from the pension benefit arrears after last increment and another 53 per cent that is supposed to be accepted as the present format."

He said the increment doesn't interpret what gets into the accounts of the retirees monthly.

Stating that retirees' demands are simple, he added, "Let pensioners be given their appropriate entitlement so that we will look like other able-bodied men and good examples to those that are bearing arms at the moment."

Roy maintained that retired officers, under the aegis of Retired Members of Nigerian Armed Forces and Coalition of Concerned Veterans, have written to the military pension board on their plight with little or no actions to their request.

He said 33 per cent was deducted from the pension benefit arrears after the last increment.

Roy said what the retired veterans are asking for now is unconditional restoration, immediate implementation and payment of 20.37 per cent deducted from officially approved 53. 37 per cent pension review of 2010 with arrears fully paid in bulk.

He further said amongst others payment of erroneously omitted 33 per cent arrears of July 2010.

Such allegations trail every yearly celebration of this Remembrance Day. And the question on the lips of observers include; when will these men, who have laid down their lives to ensure that others can sleep and maintain the unity of the country, be treated fairly?

Will all these stories of neglect of families of fallen heroes not affect the morale of those in service now?"

What has happened to all the percentages omitted at different points from the monthly allowance of these retired officers?

Isn't it dangerous to toy with men who have handled guns and other war weapons at a point? These are some of the questions begging for answers.

However, several efforts to get the reaction of the military through the Acting Director of Defence Information, Brigadier General John Agim, proved abortive as he did not pick calls from LEADERSHIP Friday or respond to the text messages.

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