Fallen Soldiers, Broken Families, and a Bleeding Nation

In virtually every functional state in the world, their soldiers and other security personnel are always adored. Regrettably, one cannot say the same about Nigeria. The persistent attacks on military and police officers, as well as their formations, have become a worrisome trend.

The attacks are now dominant in the Southeast and the Middlebelt regions. Most soldiers who had lost their lives as a result of the attacks had sworn to uphold the spirit and character of the constitution, by watching over the citizens while they slept at night.

The most recent attack took place in Benue State where eleven soldiers on patrol in an attempt to bring an end to the clashes between farmers and nomadic cattle herders that have persisted for years, were reportedly ambushed and killed by unknown gunmen. Army spokesman, Mohammed Yerima said the troops were initially declared missing while on a routine operational task, but a search-and-rescue team later found their bodies.

Another attack happened in Enugu where terrorists burnt down a major police station and killed officers on duty. Prior to the event in Enugu, some unknown gunmen reportedly burnt down Imo State Police headquarters in a renewed attack in the state. Vehicles parked at the command headquarters were razed. It was gathered that the hoodlums freed suspects in almost all the cells at the State Criminal Investigation Department of the command.

The attackers reportedly descended on the Owerri Correctional Prison in Imo State capital and freed over 1,500 inmates.

It was former American President, John F. Kennedy who famously said: “The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission.”

Those words carry the truth that describes the present-day heroes in uniform defending the Nigerian territory, as well as the heroes that served the country in past conflicts. For decades, thousands of security operatives have worn the uniform of the Nigerian military, accepting the responsibility of defending the nation’s freedom and personifying what the cost of freedom really was.

The burial of a soldier strongly evokes the glory of the fallen hero. For instance, at the burial of those soldiers killed in Konshisha Local Government Area of Benue State, the dignity of paying the supreme price for one’s fatherland stood out glaringly.

Encomium poured on the fallen heroes who were described as great peacemakers. They received the general salute with 21 gunshots, plus the presentation of military attires and the national flag to the next of kin of the deceased soldiers and officers.

Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom also led a delegation of the Benue State government to the funeral to commiserate with the families, military authority, and the Federal Government. Gov. Ortom, filled with emotions and almost in tears condemned the brutal killing of the soldiers and the action of civilians taking up arms against security forces.

From the governor’s sombre reflection one could hear him say, “You kept us safe and gave everything. Thank you for your courage and bravery. My heartfelt condolences go to your family. I’m so sorry for your loss”.

So many Nigerian soldiers have paid the ultimate sacrifice. They have laid down their lives so that the country may enjoy the freedom they fought to secure. That is why it is disturbing and painful to all well-meaning Nigerians each time the news of the demise of the country’s security personnel is reported. These security operatives and their families have sacrificed so much in Nigeria over the years in the war against insurgency, militancy, banditry, kidnapping, and other social vices.

If the loss of our heroes at the frontlines can be so painful to all patriotic citizens, how much more will it be for their close friends and families who would have no option but to painfully live with the losses for the rest of their lives?

Notifying the families of the death of security operatives is a job fraught with emotion and grief. The high level of sensitivity involved in dealing with grief-stricken spouses, parents and siblings make the job quite heartrending.

At every military base, the task is rotated between different units on a monthly basis. Once a casualty report comes in, the commanders of the unit will select certain officers who are equal to or higher than the rank of the fallen soldier to receive few hours of training on how to convey the message to the family of the fallen hero.

In America, the process involves two separate jobs — casualty notification officers, who inform the family and read from a brief script, and casualty affairs officers, who stay with them as long as is needed to help them heal emotionally, and with burial plans, financial benefits, and insurance matters, among other tasks.

Oftentimes, it is never the same person that stays with the family member after breaking the news. This is because when that person gives family members the bad news, the family member would prefer not to see him again to enhance healing. So an hour or so later, the casualty affairs officer shows up to deal with the remaining tasks. The procedure differs slightly from one country to another.

Regrettably, about a decade ago just when the Nigerian government and her people were about heaving a sigh of relief from the nasty insecurity experiences with the Niger Delta militants, at the time when many of them were persuaded to embrace the Amnesty Programme, the tide of Boko Haram emerged.

Initially, Boko Haram appeared as an innocent-looking and harmless band of Muslim devotees strutting around the Northern region with their fiery messages that ordered a return to Islamic law and purity. However, in July 2009, the outbreak of the Boko Haram uprising in the country marked the distasteful beginning of a determined group of terror merchants who initiated a recurring pattern of violent and bloody riots, attacks, and bombings.

What started as an insurgency against the state and its institutions, gradually assumed new political, religious, and socio-economic dimensions. Not only police stations, army barracks, government establishments were targeted, but also banks, businesses, churches, and mosques.

The nation bleeds profusely from the senseless activities of these vandals. The growing insecurity in the country has destabilized the economic base of the country, particularly food production in the Northeast, the Northwest and the North-central. The price of foodstuff has increased considerably in recent times, owing to the activities of Boko Haram insurgents in the Northeast, bandits in the Northwest and those of herders in the North-central.

The Northwest states of Zamfara, Kaduna and Katsina, which used to be the bastion of security and stability, are also currently under siege, following the upsurge in the activities of bandits in rural communities. The Middle Belt, which is the food basket of the nation, has been under siege from herders in recent years.

The resultant insecurity is affecting the prices of goods adversely, particularly foodstuff. The effect is that some parts of the country are now experiencing acute food shortage and famine.

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Their activities have dislocated the fabric, the cohesion, and the co-existence that holds that community together, People are forced to abandon their farms and this, in the long run, affects the food security of the nation.

Insecurity affects the national economy and the capacity of the government to be able to govern effectively. It truncates the peace and tranquillity that ought to keep a people together to ensure that they can think straight and grow culturally, economically, socially and spiritually too.

This is why Pundits stress that the realisation of the country’s industrial development will be far more difficult to accomplish so long as the country remains vulnerable to terrorist attacks and radicalism. These problems threaten not only the country’s political stability, they equally dislocate business and investment climate in the country.

It is therefore in the interest of the country’s development and our dogged military that all traces of insurgency, banditry and secession are totally wiped out, for the country and her military to have some breath of fresh air.

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