In memory of our fallen heroes

What is not clear in all the instances, is whether the culprits were among those killed by the soldiers or just the aged and invalid

By Emeka Alex Duru

Emotions again, ran high on Wednesday, as 17 military personnel killed in the Okuama community in Delta State, were buried at the National Cemetery, Abuja. They were responding to a distress call over a land dispute in Bomadi and Okuoma communities when they were ambushed and killed.

Nigerians have risen in anger and condemnation of their death, with President Bola Tinubu, giving the Defence Headquarters order to fish out those behind the heinous act. That is the least expected of the authorities.

The soldiers must not die in vain. Those that killed them must be brought to book. That is the only way just can be served the fallen heroes, their assailants and the society. Any other thing amounts to mocking the dead. Our prayers are for the peaceful repose of the soldiers and for their families to bear the huge losses.

But while mourning the Okuama 17, we will stretch the term, fallen heroes beyond the personnel of the armed forces and other para-military organisations who died in service. Nigeria, as a country, is a jungle of sort. Therefore, every citizen that has seen action and paid the supreme sacrifice either in the battle field or in the hands of callous and unscrupulous leadership in the land, falls into the category.

Of course, you may accuse those that call Nigeria a fraud, as being too harsh. But beyond the sentiments of patriotism and national pride, it may be difficult to fault them. This is a system that eats its own; an entity where those that put in the most, take the least, while those who literally do nothing, decide what happens to the rest. For want of better expression, Nigeria, as presently constituted, qualifies as a theatre of the absurd.

Unless there is sudden and unusual change of heart and attitude, the soldiers that died in Okuama are gone and their families left to nurse their pains. Whatever pledges and vows made at their grave sites, may remain and end there. And life goes on, as they say. Before the next two weeks, one other sordid development may crop up and overshadow the wound inflicted on the country by the murder of the soldiers. That is our style; how we operate. Sadly!

Nigeria mirrors a certain Wilson Tagbo, the major character in late Professor Anaezi Okoro’s book, “One Week, One Trouble”. Tagbo, from the first day of his admission to secondary school, stumbled from one trouble to another. One of his escapades included sniffing around the Chemistry laboratory in his school, and inhaling nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, and subsequently passing out. No week passed by without Tagbo getting in trouble until he finally joined a cult group in his Class 5 and was finally arrested. That is our story, here.

On daily basis, Nigeria gambles with its people and future. Today, the anger and sabre-rattling are on those behind the Okuama mayhem. Arrests are being made, houses razed. Some indigenes are equally being killed in reprisal attacks. When similar incident occurred in predominantly Ijaw town of Odi, Bayelsa state in 1999, the community was sacked. It was estimated that over 900 civilians were killed in the offensive. Subsequent Zaki-Biam, Benue state episode of 2001, witnessed execution of hundreds of unarmed Tiv civilians by irate soldiers.

But what is not clear in all the instances, is whether the culprits were among those killed by the soldiers or just the aged and invalid. The crucial question thus remains, how far the country gone in serving justice to the real suspects whose crass indiscretion inflicted pains on others and attracted destruction to their people? There is nothing to suggest that beyond the initial expression of fury and outpouring of emotions, much has been done in getting to the roots of the crisis.

That explains why each time there are abductions of school children and travellers, after the momentary threats of apprehending and dealing with the kidnappers, the government moves on, leaving the pains and drudgery of securing the release of the victims with their respective families.

Since April 2014, when 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped from a government secondary school in Chibok, in Borno State; through February 19, 2018, when 110 students aged 11–19 years old were abducted from the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi, Yobe State and December 11, 2020, when over 300 pupils were kidnapped from a boys’ secondary boarding school on the outskirts of Kankara, Katsina State and the recent kidnap of school children in Kaduna, Nigerians have been at the mercy of hoodlums, without any reasonable answers from the government.

So, while the President issues orders on the arrest and prosecution of the hoodlums in Okuama, there is need to walk the talk. Other incidences that had been papered over should also be reopened. These include Nigerians who have lately been crushed while queueing for food items in some parts of the country.

In Bauchi state, seven people were confirmed dead from a stampede during an almsgiving exercise. The stampede occurred at the Shafa Holdings Company Plc headquarters when the company was holding its annual Zakat exercise, otherwise known as almsgiving, to help the less privileged in the state.

Four students of Nasarawa State University died in similar manner during the sharing of free rice by the state governor. In Lagos, seven people were killed while struggling to buy confiscated rice being sold by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) to the public as an intervention in the current economic hardship and hunger. This is unfortunate.

As Labour Party (LP) presidential candidate in the last election, Peter Obi, remarked the other day, there is no reason for any Nigerian to die of hunger or because of it. We agree with him. It is an irony that with vast expanse of land and enormous youth population, Nigerians are hungry. Niger State for instance, has 76,363sq km of land but the people cannot even feed themselves, let alone exporting something. Comparatively, Netherlands is 33,100sq km of land, exporting agricultural materials of $120bn, while we earn only $18bn from oil.

Nigeria currently occupies the odious position of 109 out of 125 countries in the global hunger index. It is ranked among the top 20 of the hungriest countries in the world. That is a sad reality that must be reversed if the leaders have any shred of conscience.

Going forward, no Nigerian should die in questionable and ignominious circumstances. Whether as soldiers in service, stowaways in search of greener pastures or victims of stampede, their death in avoidable circumstances diminishes us as a people. They are also our fallen heroes.

DURU is the Editor, TheNiche Newspapers, Lagos (08054103327,

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