The recent death of Lt. Col. Abu Ali in the hands of terrorist group, boko haram unleashed a new wave of nationalism on many citizens. On social media, in beer parlours and beauty salons, many commentators have been pouring eulogies on the gallant officer who gave his all to his country, including paying the ultimate price. But the condolences and conversations have also veered into the realm of interrogation of the nature of patriotism. The question has been asked and rightly so: Is Nigeria really worth dying for?
This question hits poignantly when one considers the statement of Mr. Pat Okwaraji who amidst the Abu Ali nationalistic effect, recently asserted that the government has proven consistently that the country is not worth paying the supreme price for. Yes Okwaraji. Does that name ring a bell? Sam Okwaraji was Nigeria’s soccer sensation who slumped on the pitch of play and died shortly after during a World Cup qualifier against Angola in Lagos in 1989. What followed that shocking incident is not different from what is happening with Ali’s heroic death at this time: Fleeting eulogies and passionate dirges were poured on the dreadlocked player by political leaders, the nation’s soccer authorities and millions of fans who had been often mesmerized by the late mid-field maestro. In fact, many fell over themselves to shower praises on his exploits just as all and sundry are speaking eloquently of the heroic feats of the fallen Army officer.
But fast-track to about three decades later: the Okwaraji family has an unpleasant verdict on the Nigerian state as delivered by Pat, his brother: “We did not expect the Nigerian government to give Okwaraji’s family gold and silver. What we expected from the country is to immortalise our son who died for the nation. Nigeria should learn how to inspire young talents by celebrating them. When heroes are celebrated and immortalised, it will go a long way to inspire young talents.” As it turned out, it was all rhetoric and motion without movement for the late Sam Okwaraji. And the nation moved on to other things.
In 2014 Stella Adadevoh showed up to remind us how not to treat our patriots. Stella was the one candle in the wind who blew out her blaze to keep the light shining for country. Her heroism in stopping the dreaded ebola epidemic in its track resonated across the world with praises and commendations pouring from those in the seat of power as usual. But calls to immortalize that angel from heaven have not been heeded since the days of Goodluck Jonathan as President until now. Not even a worthy recognition from America’s prominent news network, CNN- as one of the Most Inspiring Women of 2014- has spurred Nigeria’s leaders to immortalize this icon. From what has transpired in this particular case, may Nigeria not lack another saviour should an epidemic break to threaten the entire nation.
As things stand, it appears the boko haram epidemic is yet to be completely curtailed. If a group that is said to have been technically defeated could spring a deadly strike as could claim the life of Lt. Col. Ali, then there is so much that needs to be done to liberate the North-east of Nigeria from the shackles of terrorism. But the pertinent question is can Nigeria have the likes of Ali again? He was called the ‘lord of war’ given his heroic exploits on the battlefield. How many more officers like him can the nation boast of? Who are the likes of Ali left that would defeat boko haram for the country? Answers to these questions are a function of the way and manner the legacies of the late soldier and his fallen colleagues are preserved and/or celebrated by the country.
The national dirge over the young officer’s demise may have also been informed by the fact that he was a blue blood and son of a former military General. Like Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko of the Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA) alluded on his Facebook wall, many unknown and unsung soldiers have given their lives to boko haram that we may live ours in peace. In a tribute to another young fallen but largely unsung soldier he said: “This too is a HERO! Mustapha Kotogora was reportedly killed awhile ago by armed Boko Haram terrorists in Maiduguri… Nigeria should celebrate his like who neither children of retired Generals nor sons of Emirs… God bless your young but brave soul!” But beyond the sombre honour of his burial and the great speeches what would become of the family of the late Ali in years to come? Would his young family be forced to make remarks like Pat Okwaraji in a decade or so to come? The words of the authorities currently mourning his death should not evaporate into nothingness in the future.
It was very emotional moments when Ali and the four soldiers fell alongside with him were laid to rest at the national military cemetery in Abuja. Buried alongside Ali were Sergeants Muazu Ibrahim, Bassey Okon, Hussani Jafaru, Cpl. Chukwu Simon, Private Salisu Lawal and Seaman Patrick Paul. These brave soldiers fell to the fire power of the terrorists who attacked a military base in Mallam Fatori on November 4. The Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai wept as he read the funeral oration at the solemn event. He offered lengthy tributes to his officer and men: “They were brave, precise, professional and inspiring. They led the battle to recapture the following towns: Monguno, Baga, New Marte, Bama, Gwoza, Banki Junction, Gamboru-Ngala, Yale, Yanteke, Bita, Deruwa, Daira Kangaruwa and Mallam Fatori. In these battles, they rescued children and women, fathers and mothers, the young and the old and restored peace and hope to Nigerians. At last, on November 4, they paid the supreme sacrifice in the battle of Mallam Fatori. The deceased epitomised the very best of our military. They exemplified the values of our nation and the military which are loyalty, discipline, courage, selfless service, respect, honour and dignity.”
President Muhammadu Buhari in his eulogy promised that the nation will never let the sacrifices of the soldiers be in vain. “The selflessness of these gentlemen reinvigorates the memories of other great fallen heroes who stood firm in the defence of our dear nation and had to pay the supreme price in the ongoing fight against insurgency,” he said through his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari who represented him at the burial ceremony. He said further: “Their sacrifices, patriotism and, indeed, gallantry would surely not go in vain. Nigerians will continue to remember their outstanding efforts in securing the territorial integrity of the country. The gallantry and high sense of professionalism displayed by these gentlemen are contributions to the restoration of peace or normalcy in the North-East. It is, therefore, our resolve that the labour of these fallen heroes shall never be in vain. We will work to ensure that terrorism and insurgency is defeated so that our country can enjoy the much-desired peace and progress.
The efforts of the leadership of our Armed Forces as well as our security agencies and the support of all Nigerians towards a successful end to insurgency and other security threats in the country are commendable. I, therefore, use this opportunity to express our sincere appreciation to the Armed Forces of Nigeria for a job well done. I further urge you not to relent in the efforts. It is said that every soul shall test death. The death of these officers and soldiers is certainly a monumental loss to their families, the Nigerian Army and indeed the entire nation. But we take solace in the fact that they did not die in vain; they lost their precious lives in order that Nigeria and Nigerians will continue to enjoy freedom. The people and government of Nigeria share this moment of great pain. Indeed, it is a very sorrowful moment, but please take solace in the fact that your breadwinners have brought honour and pride to our great nation, the military and families. To these gallant heroes, I say may your gentle souls rest in peace.”
Would the President’s words be lost in time? Well, time will tell. And then citizens will have reasons to decide whether the country is worth dying for or not.
Epia, Publisher of OrderPaper.ng is on Twitter @resourceme.