Lt-Col Abu-Ali, a legend in the fight against Boko Haram, died in the line of duty last year. He is not alone, countless others have died in service of Nigeria. It is for them, and the many others who have fought but are still alive, that we mark January 15th in our calendars. Nigeria's Armed Forces Remembrance Day is, therefore, the most appropriate day to celebrate and remember our fallen military heroes.
Interestingly, the date has lent itself to other important moments in our history. It was on this date in 1966 that we experienced our first coup. In 1970, it as the date the Biafran Army surrendered and ended the bloodiest internal crisis that Nigeria has endured.
Yet the date itself is mired in confusion. It is called Armed Forces Remembrance Day, but we don't use the lessons that this annual remembrance brings. And this might as well render the recognition, and any accruing costs, moot.
Labour of our Heroes Past
The first focus of the day is remembering those who have fallen. This naturally should not be a problem, since the armed forces is interwoven into Nigeria's history. Despite our topsy-turvy relationship with the armed forces, our nation's defence plays a key role in her independence. After all, part of the criteria for being a state is having a sovereign territory - which must be protected.
To showcase the strength of this relationship, many of them end up serving as their leaders. For instance, Nigeria has had 9 of her 13 Heads of State serve in the military. But this is not a case unique to us, even the originators of our democratic model, the United States, have also had 32 of its 45 presidents as former members of its armed forces.
But, the fact that Nigeria has often been led by military men, including its incumbent, should ordinarily mean that the labour of its past heroes should not be in vain right? Unfortunately, that assumption would prove wrong.
To serve our Fatherland
Nigerians respect and appreciate their defenders in green, and would readily support transparent initiatives to support those who have fought for the country. However, projects such as the National Emblem Fund, meant to raise money for the Nigerian legion have neither been effectively marketed nor sufficiently supported. The onus is on Nigerians to donate and support these efforts but they will not rise to this occasion if they are not confident about how the money will be utilised.
In addition, despite the fact that we should remember the deceased, we should spare a thought for those they leave behind. Some of the unsung heroines of the fight against Boko Haram are the widows and the children left behind. Barracks around the country are full of brave women who have sacrificed livelihoods, families and future plans for a country that has often considered them an afterthought.
Furthermore, in countries with active militaries, there is emphasises on plans to accommodate retired or injured members of the Armed Forces. Admittedly, the Nigerian Army has recently begun treating soldiers who have been in the conflict for at least two years for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but treatment like this needs to be extended beyond a couple of months after active disengagement and redeployment.
It takes much stronger army-civilian relations for fundraising to become a substantial revenue stream to take care of retired heroes. But while Nigeria rebuilds this trust, it is still important to remember and care for those who fought for us.
One Nation Bound in Freedom
Another function of the January 15th date is to remind us to heal after the Civil War. Yet despite Yakubu Gowon's 'no victor, no vanquished' declaration after the war, reconciliation has been lacking.
Monuments to the fallen, symbols of the nation's acknowledgement of the losses incurred by both parties are still non-existent. The clamour for restructuring and the independence of Biafra might be as a result of the lack of proper avenues to grieve and remember loved ones and afflicted families.
On the positive side, Nigeria has recently agreed to abide by the ECOWAS court's judgment to pay 88 billion Naira to the families of the victims and for the removal of undetonated bombs and other materials, but it is unclear if that will reach the pockets of those who need it most.
And so here comes yet another January 15th. And with it comes time for reflection on those who it celebrates. While the usual military parades and fanfare are always covered, there is more to be done.
If a people fail to know their history, they are doomed to repeat it. If we remember our heroes, we will be bound to avoid more situations to sacrifice more of them. If we remember our near shave with the end of Nigeria as we know it, we will be bound to act in the interest of the nation. If we don't, then it's really just another date in the calendar.