Devotion To A Higher Cause

...Being the Text of a Speech Presented by Governor Alex Otti at the 2024 Armed Forces Remembrance Day on January 15, 2024 in Umuahia.

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Protocol,

1. The history of every successful nation is the story of the courage of a few brave men and women offering themselves completely in ultimate devotion to their fatherlands and selfless pursuit of higher ideals. It is hard to find an exception to this rule and the story of our great country Nigeria, with all its trials and setbacks, is no different.

2. If there is anything we have learnt in our history as an independent nation that has weathered many troubling storms, including an unfortunate civil war, it is the truth that the privileges of freedom can only be preserved by the courageous devotion of men and women who are prepared to pay the ultimate price that their nation might long endure.

3. We have gathered today to remind ourselves that we have come this far because thousands of brave individuals since colonial times elected to offer their lives to preserve the continuity of this nation called Nigeria and it is only proper that we honour their courage and sacrifice. In the light of this, it is my singular privilege to formally welcome everyone to the 2024 Armed Forces Remembrance Day.

4. While it is true that the nation, especially now, is beset with so many difficult challenges including domestic insecurity and a growing sense of uncertainty, nothing must take our attention away from the daily sacrifices made by the officers and men in uniform to limit the threats, preserve our national stability and offer us strong lessons in sacrifice and courage, excellent virtues we need as leaders, especially in our everyday lives.

5. Despite being mostly overstretched, with several internal disturbances across the country requiring their interventions every now and again, our men in uniform continue to acquit themselves fairly creditably each time they are called upon. Our debt to our brave servicemen, alive or dead, is infinite and under no circumstances must we forget what they each and collectively offer that we might live and walk as free citizens.

6. From fighting a civil war to dealing with multiple internal disturbances including terrorism borne out of religious and political extremism, banditry, kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery and other forms of violent crimes and acts of economic sabotage such as crude oil theft and illegal mining of mineral resources, our servicemen and women have continued to make themselves available to confront these new frontiers of evil and the individuals behind them.

7. For more than 50 years since January 15 became significant in the history of our military following the end of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, our men and women in uniform have never shied away from doing whatever has to be done to preserve our national unity. Additionally, they have shown great courage in confronting threats to our economic and social lives and most importantly, offered us abiding examples in brotherhood, irrespective of ethnic, cultural or religious backgrounds.

8. All patriotic Nigerians should indeed be grateful to the military for what it represents in our national life and history. To be clear, no institution, not even the military with all its high ideals and nationalistic values can lay any genuine claim to perfection. However, in a nation whose immense potential had been perennially blighted by the crisis of parochialism and the prebendal disposition of its leading elites, the military has managed, except during the darkest nights of our existence, to distinguish itself as a body of patriots, committed to the highest demands of love for fatherland, even in the face of existential threat.

9. The events leading to the Civil War and the war itself were very tragic and could have been avoided if reason had been allowed to prevail at certain critical points. The shedding of the blood of millions of people, especially innocent, non-combatant women, children and the elderly, would remain a long-standing stain on our history and there should be no attempt to downplay that; even then, history would also record the quick attempts at reconciliation and reintegration initiated by the military itself as an eternal redeeming gesture.

10. A major lesson that many, especially the elites, appear to have missed from the tragic events of the Civil War is the place of constructive and engaging dialogue in nation building, especially in seasons of political anxiety. It is disappointing to observe that most times, we, by our actions and words, make nonsense of the sacrifices in blood, sweat and tears of hundreds of thousands of our servicemen and women.

11. By constantly fanning the embers of division and hate with inflammatory rhetoric, promoting clannish divisions or inciting young people to attack others on our behalf, either physically or on virtual platforms, we practically diminish, and ultimately rubbish the immense inter-generational sacrifices that have kept this country together from our pre-independence days.

12. As a nation, we should be thankful that our servicemen and women, not minding the failures and wilful amnesia of the political elites, have continued to stand firmly by their lifelong commitment of dedication and loyalty to fatherland that nothing, not even poor welfare conditions and reported abandonment of families of deceased colleagues, can dampen their morale.

13. Even then, it is indeed very regrettable that the welfare of our men and women in uniform, in their service and post-service years, has not received the quality attention that is commensurate with the sacrifices they make. The time to make a change in the way we treat our active military operatives and veterans has come. It is the least we can do for the brave individuals for whom the fear of death means nothing.

14. As a government, we recognise the extensive contributions of our servicemen and women in stemming the tide of violent crime which had reared its ugly head in several parts of the state in the years leading to our assumption of office. I am particularly glad that we had relative peace across the state during the yuletide celebrations with Abians moving about freely at any time of the day or night, visiting friends and relatives and attending to social events in all parts of the state.

15. You may recall that at the inception of this administration, we partnered with the various security formations in the state to destroy several operational bases of kidnappers and other freelance criminals, sending a clear message that there is not one inch of space for criminals in our land.

16. Abia has become one of the safest places in Nigeria today because we have the full support of our servicemen and women. We thank you for going beyond the call of duty to restore security in our communities, leading to the resumption of economic and social activities in areas that had hitherto served as safe haven for men of the underworld.

17. Until the end of my tenure, the security formations, especially those operating in the state, can count on my consistent support for their welfare because our economic and social programmes would be sabotaged or fatally impaired without adequate security in all parts of the state.

18. Beyond just supporting our men and officers in active service, we shall also work closely with the Nigerian Legion, Abia State Chapter, to support the body of veterans in our state for the good of the men and women who once served this nation with strength and devotion. We shall also not forget the families left behind by those who paid the ultimate price in service of our fatherland, defending its territorial integrity or keeping criminal elements at bay.

19. Let me also call on well-meaning individuals, corporate organisations and community leaders to initiate projects and programmes in support of our servicemen and women, in appreciation of the sacrifices they make to promote peace at home and restore order and stability within the country, and across international borders.

20. Supporting our men and women in uniform, honouring their heroic sacrifices by being patriotic, putting the nation first in our daily conducts and utterances and working actively for a more just and equitable society are clear responsibilities we must be mindful of, as leaders and good citizens.

21. It is in the light of this that we recognise some of our heroes who laid down their lives recently for the state. They are Captain E.S. Akpan, (N16811), 542 SIGNALS, Corporal Rasheed Yusuf, (13NA/69/1891), 144 BATTALION; Lance Corporal Yau Yunusa, (17NA/76/2800), 143 BATTALION. May their gentle souls rest in peace.

22. Thank you for listening and may God bless you all.

*Dr Alex C. Otti, OFR.
15/01/2024