Today is the Armed Forces Remembrance Day (AFRDC). It is celebrated on January 15 every year in commemoration of Nigeria’s fallen heroes.
It was formerly celebrated on November 11 to coincide with the Remembrance Day for World War II veterans in the British Commonwealth.
However, in Nigeria it was changed to January 15 to mark the end of the Nigeria Civil War, following the surrender of Biafran troops to Federal troops in 1970.
Hence, January 15 every year is dedicated to the remembrance of officers and men, especially, those who died in service to the nation and their surviving colleagues who retired from active service.
This year’s ceremonies will be even more poignant following the increasing gallantry of Nigerian troops fighting Boko Haram and the killings of promising military officers and men in the line of duty.
Some of these deaths have struck nerves among Nigerians, none more than that of the fearless Lt. Col Mohammed Abu Ali on November 4, 2016 along with six other soldiers.
Lt.Col Abu Ali, commander of the army’s 272 Tank Battalion, has been prominent in the war against Boko Haram insurgents and received accelerated promotion from the rank of Major to Lt-Col just two months before his death.
Since the start of the insurgency in 2011, no one death has shaken and moved a country as that of Lt-Col. Abu Ali, who, alongside his six colleagues, was given a state funeral at the Military Cemetery in Abuja on November 6.
The resonance of his death has seen Nigerians rekindled their appreciation for the sacrifices its gallant men have been making to secure their lives and property and since then there has been an increased wave of patriotism and an outpouring of condolence and messages of support every time news of deaths arrives from the front-line.
Only last week, the country was mourning the discovery of the corpses of 16 soldiers who went missing six weeks ago when Boko Haram attacked their base in Gashigar, Yobe State.
The 16 soldiers, including Lt. Col. K Yusuf, commander of the Army 223 Tank Battalion were buried with full military honours in Maiduguri.
This was coming on the heels of the death of five soldiers in Buni Yadi, Yobe State after a Boko Haram attack just days earlier.
News of deaths from the battle front has been trickling in and social media has helped in humanizing this fallen heroes.
Photos and post about the fallen and their families have been trending and since the death of Abu Ali in November, a Facebook group, Lt. Colonel Abu Ali Fallen Heroes Foundation, has sprang up with over 70, 000 members, where posts about soldiers killed at the front are made on a daily basis.
But the Armed Forces Remembrance Day extends to cover the gallantry of soldiers who fought and died in the line of duty for their country, long before the advent of social media.
Many of these soldiers remain unknown, except perhaps to their families and circle of friends. And for all these soldiers, the tomb of the Unknown Soldier symbolizes their gallantry and the sacrifice they made for the country.
And every January 15, Nigeria rolls out the red carpet and the wreaths to commemorate these soldiers.
As usual, activities lined up to mark the 2017 AFRDC started one month early with a press conference by the Minister of Defence.
These events include the Nigeria Legion Humanitarian Day, emblem launch, interdenominational church service, Juma’at prayers. The events will climax with the wreath laying ceremony.
These events are held simultaneously at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
The highlight of activities and grand finale of the Armed Force Remembrance Day Celebration will take place this Sunday, 15 January 2017.
The President and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Muhammadu Buhari, will lead other top government functionaries, to lay wreaths at the National Arcade, Opposite Eagle Square, Abuja.
A 21-gun salute would precede the wreath-laying ceremony.
Thereafter, President Buhari would sign the national register and lead dignitaries to release white pigeons at the Arcade, signifying peace in the country.
Today, as we remember our fallen heroes, who in their loyalty and determination to ensure peace in this great nation, Nigeria, sacrificed their lives; we pray that they continue to rest in peace.