Many years after some Nigerian soldiers paid the supreme price in the cause of defending the territorial integrity of the country and protecting the citizens, many families of the fallen heroes are still living in agony. Daily Trust examines the status of the fallen heroes’ relatives and associates as Nigeria marks another Armed Forces Remembrance Day.
As Nigeria marks this year’s Armed Forces Remembrance Day, a cross-section of relatives and associates of soldiers who lost their lives while battling Boko Haram insurgents in the North East, bandits and kidnappers in the North West and other security challenges across other regions of the country have continued to cry for help.
Daily Trust reports that, while many soldiers fighting Boko Haram insurgents in the North East have been killed in the war front, many others lost their lives while tackling other security challenges in different parts of the country.
The Armed Forces Remembrance Day is observed yearly by countries around the world to honour their military forces.
In Nigeria, it is marked every January 15 to honour members of the Nigerian Armed Forces who fought in the first and second world wars and those who served or are still serving in various peace support operations worldwide.
The day is also marked to appreciate those who fought in the Nigerian Civil War.
The event, which is usually held at the federal, state and local levels, has become a national ritual as military personnel including the Army, the Navy, the Air force and the Nigerian Legion converge to celebrate and give honour to the fallen and living heroes.
The exact number of soldiers killed in the war front is not given by authorities because of secrecy in the military circle, and because of the belief that giving such information may demoralise other personnel on the battlefront while empowering the enemies.
Relatives and associates told Daily Trust Saturday that they learnt about the deaths of their loved ones through other sources as the military refused to inform them officially.
Nigerian military operatives have been involved in Internal Security Operations (ISO) in virtually all 36 states of the federation to contain different threats including Boko Haram insurgency, farmers/herders’ clashes, banditry, kidnapping, ethnic confrontations and militancy.
The military had also recorded huge successes including liberating many communities, rescuing thousands of kidnapped victims and rehabilitating and paving way for reintegration of repentant criminals.
Our pains have continued unabated – families
In Benue State, the widows of fallen soldiers are seeking the intervention of military authorities to ameliorate their sufferings occasioned by the death of their breadwinners.
Some of them who spoke to one of our correspondents in Makurdi described their ordeals and plight as devastating as well as pitiable.
A 28-year-old widow, Victoria Elijah, whose husband died eight years ago while still serving in Enugu State, said life had not been the same for her and their three children.
She stressed that she struggled hard daily hawking fresh pap to make ends meet after her bid to join the Nigerian Army failed, having been sent packing from training at the Kaduna depot for declaring herself an Anambra indigene when in reality she hails from Benue State.
Victoria, the widow of Private Elijah Samuel, explained that the Nigerian Army initially offered two of her three children scholarships but dropped one of them later, stressing that she currently works hard to enable the two others to get quality education as well as payment for accommodation outside the barracks.
Also, Juliet Onwuzuruike, a widow with seven children whose husband died eight years ago of an ailment that prevented him from going to fight insurgency in the Northeast of the country, has appealed to military authorities to do more for the fallen heroes’ families.
Onwuzuruike said after her husband’s death, all their children stopped schooling at a point following the delay in payment of their father’s death benefits, saying they all relied on good-spirited neighbours for survival until part of the money was later paid.
She said her husband’s relatives refused to help them, adding that they pressured her to declare his hidden assets which they erroneously believed he acquired during a foreign peace-keeping.
“The Nigerian Army hasn’t recognised us effectively.
“I’m even regretting why I married a soldier. The army’s sponsorship isn’t forthcoming for the children and we have been out of the barracks, living in rented apartments,” Onwuzuruike said.
Similarly, Patience Adojoh, whose husband died at the war front in Borno State in 2014, narrated that it’s been God helping her to cater for the four children left behind through the petty trading in a school environment which could hardly yield a reasonable profit.
Our correspondent reports that Adojoh still lives in one of the army barracks in Makurdi with her children aged between 9 and 16. Hardship for them, according to her, became severe during the lockdown occasioned by COVID-19.
In the case of Margret Tsebee, her husband, a Captain in the Army, retired before his death four years ago and left her with five children to cater for.
Tsebee, a golfer, who said she was not satisfied with the level of recognition accorded to widows of fallen soldiers, however, appreciated the army authority in the state for providing her accommodation within the barracks to live and do a mini restaurant business to cater for her household.
“It has not been easy without my husband. I play golf and golfers have assisted me greatly.
“The golfers club attached to the military environment is where I’m allowed to do mini restaurant business,” Tsebee added.
Widows of fallen heroes in Akwa Ibom State are still crying over neglect, saying since their husbands died, they and their families have relied on God for survival.
Some of them who spoke to one of our correspondents during the Armed Forces Remembrance Day said they have not received the entitlements of their husbands.
They called on the government to support them with money to engage in businesses for their well being.
One of the widows, Elder Agnes Etukudo, said since her husband died in 2013, she has struggled to survive.
“My husband died in 2013 and was buried on December 27, 2013.
“I left for Eket with my children but nobody attended to me.
“My husband died very young as a sergeant, though he was not sick.
“Without God, I wouldn’t have been able to eat or survive till today.
“I attend African Church and the Church has been very supportive.
“I trained my children, and today, one of them is a graduate but has no job.
“This is the first time I am attending the Armed Forces Remembrance Day.
“When items are distributed to widows, I don’t get any. I was not able to get my husband’s entitlement because the head of where my husband worked then didn’t attend to me.
“I want the government to assist me. I can’t work again without relying on people to assist me,” she stated.
Another widow, Mrs Esther Edem, said, “We were in Ugep and from there, my husband was transferred to Bauchi, where I left my husband at his station and returned home.
“Then, I was just delivered of a baby and had to take care of my little children.
“My husband was sick and died in 1999.
“Since he died, I have not received his entitlements, I didn’t even process it because I had no one to guide me.
“I have three children. I want the government to assist my children with jobs.”
Mrs Philomena Etim, a 51-year-old widow whose husband died in 2018, said one of her children processed and collected her husband’s entitlement, but the child didn’t give her anything.
“My son collected my husband’s entitlements but since he collected it, there have been quarrels and arguments. I have not gotten any money from my husband’s entitlement from him.
“I have been very sick and just came back from the hospital.
“I had 8 children but now they are 5. My children have tried their best but I need support from the government.
“I want them to give me money for business,” she explained.
Also speaking, Mrs Agnes Etim said she was not able to collect her husband’s entitlement for want of a guide.
She said, “Since my husband died, we have not collected any entitlement from the government.
“One of my children who applied for my husband’s entitlement died, and after that, we have not been able to process his entitlement.
“I still have two children but they don’t have any job.
Another widow, Mrs Sunday Amos, explained that she was awaiting the return of her son, to process her husband’s entitlements.
“My husband died in 2019 after a brief illness.
“He was stationed in Calabar but since he died, I have not collected his entitlement.
“I am awaiting my eldest son, who is a soldier, to come home so he can process my husband’s entitlement.
“God has been taking care of me but I want the government to give me money to begin a business so I can train my children,” she said.
“I have been paying my children’s school fees since the death of my husband, widow of Lieutenant Colonel Abu Ali, Samira said.
Lt. Col. Abu Ali, who commanded the Army’s 272 Tank Battalion and was killed in an ambush by Boko Haram in Fatori, Borno State on November 4, 2016, touched many Nigerians, especially in the role he played in the fight against insurgency in the Northeast.
His wife, Samira, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said, “Since my husband died in 2016, I have been paying my three children’s school fees even though the army authorities publicly announced that they will take over the education of our children.
“When people hear that I am paying my children’s school fees, they are very surprised because of the sacrifice my husband made and the way he was mourned.”
She, however, confirmed that his allowances and entitlement had been fully paid by army authorities.
The Nigerian Army has continued to be a pillar for me since the death of my husband in 2017, Aisha Saidu, wife of Sergeant Saidu Isa has said.
Recalling how her husband died while speaking to our correspondent, she said, “My husband came for a course in Jaji, unfortunately, when he arrived, he was told that his name was not among the list of participants for the course. So, on his way back to his unit, he had an accident and died.”
She added, “Since his demise, the army has taken over the education of our three children and they have been taking care of us, but you know that for any woman that has lost her husband, no matter what you do for her, it will not be like when her husband was alive, but they are taking care of us to the best of their ability.”
She appealed to the authorities’ concerned to pay the remainder of her husband’s entitlement and prayed God gives them the ability to do so within the shortest possible time.
Another widow, Habiba Maina, said, “After the death of my husband in Maiduguri in 2019, the Nigerian Army took over the education of our three children.”
According to her, “Army authorities have been taking care of the widows to the best of my knowledge. Normally, when you lose your husband, they take responsibility for four of the children of the ex-serviceman, so presently; three of my children are being trained by the army.
“They show concern towards us and they do not want to see us cry. As I speak to you now, I am still living in the same accommodation I lived with my husband in Jaji when he was alive, the military authorities allowed me to stay pending when they finish paying my husband’s entitlements and when I secure another accommodation.”
A retired Captain, Yusuf Abdulmalik, said the quality of life is very poor after service nowadays and the way ex servicemen are treated is very poor and uncalled for.
“Everything is very bad and poor, nobody takes care of us, I usually complain of this, honestly almost every year, I call for the abolishment of Remembrance Day because it has no use.
“The money that was contributed, we don’t know where it gets to.
“Last month, N10m was donated and state governors donated as well.
“It is just a waste of time and energy, they don’t take care of ex-servicemen and widows,” he said.
He added, “When you become a widow, nothing for you; all the widows are lamenting.
“Those of us who served and are still alive know what we are facing, nobody takes care of us at all.
“We are hoping that the president will do something because he promised us in 2015 that he will take care of us. We are still expecting him to fulfil his promise.
“With over 15 different associations of ex-servicemen, still life is too bad.
“It was one before – Nigeria legion, and retired army, air force, navy association but now there are 15 of them.
“We don’t even know some of them. Since 2018, a bill before the national assembly to approve a unified one has been foot-dragging.
“We are still waiting for them on that.”
Help us, widow’s association begs corporate organisations
In the meantime, the President Military Widows Association of Nigeria (MWAN), Mrs Veronica Aluko, has called on well-meaning Nigerians and corporate organisations to support the association in its quest to empower its members.
Aluko said the government and the military had done a lot to support the widows and their children, adding that the association was desirous of making its members be self-reliant.
She noted that a solid foundation had been laid by the association to ensure that military widows and their wards were not left to struggle in the area of education and health care.
Your issues will be addressed – Nigerian Legion
The National Chairman, Nigerian Legion, retired Brig.-Gen. Adakole Akpa said the legion is committed to uplifting the nation’s ex-servicemen out of hardship through its various programmes.
Akpa, in an interview with newsmen on Friday, shortly after the Wreaths Laying ceremony to mark this year’s Armed Forces Remembrance Day, said the legion was established by an Act of Parliament in 1962 to take care of the welfare and other needs of those who fought and sacrificed their lives for the nation.
According to him, the body had been engaged in diverse businesses such as agriculture, agro-allied businesses, transportation among others to empower its members economically, adding that the desire to move ex-servicemen from alms begging to entrepreneurship had been the focus of the legion under his leadership.
They are in partnership with different organisations to achieve this.
“We have programmes such as scholarship for children of the slain personnel, agriculture and agro-allied industries are areas that we are engaging in, as well as transportation – air, land and sea and so many other things.
“In the legion, all the businesses that you can think of are there and we have partnerships both internally and externally that will take us to the next height so that in future, we will fulfil our mandate.
“We have partners like the British Royal Army in terms of providing succour so that we will be seen as strugglers.
“Before we came on board, the Nigerian legion hardly had an address but today we have a website and we know where everybody is and their status.
“That is why we are telling everybody to link up with the legion because it is the only one that can take care of their needs,” he said.