As usual, this year’s Armed Forces Remembrance Day (AFRD), also known as Remembrance Day, was marked eight days ago. The AFRD is an annual event organized in Nigeria on January 15 every year to honor members of the Nigerian Armed Forces and its veterans. Being a former British colony, Remembrance Day was formerly celebrated on November 11 as Poppy Day in recognition of the end of the First World War. Upon the victory of government against Biafran troops on 15 January 1970, “the holiday was moved off the calendar of the Commonwealth of Nations and was changed to January 15 in commemoration of the conclusion of the Nigerian Civil War that sought to tear apart the unity of Nigeria”.
To mark this year’s occasion, events were held at the federal, state and local levels including military parades. The wreath laying ceremony performed by President Muhammadu Buhari at the National Cenotaph in Abuja’s Eagle Square was the peak of the AFRD events. Three volleys of 21 gun salute were fired at the event, and were followed by the signing of the Remembrance Day anniversary register by the President Buhari who thereafter released white pigeons to signify harmony in the nation.
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The same date, reminds us of the 1966 Nigerian coup d’état, which began on January 15 1966, when mutinous Nigerian soldiers led by Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and Emmanuel Ifeajuna killed 22 people including the Prime Minister of Nigeria, many senior politicians, and many senior army officers (including their wives). The coup plotters attacked the cities of Kaduna, Ibadan, and Lagos while also blockading the Niger and Benue River within a two-day span of time before they were subdued by government troops. Civilian casualties of the coup include Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Premier Ahmadu Bello, Premier Samuel Ladoke Akintola, Finance Minister Festus Okotie-Eboh, Ahmed Ben Musa (Bello’s Senior Assistant Secretary for Security), Hafsatu Ahmadu Bello, Mrs Latifat Ademulegun, Zarumi Sardauna, and Ahmed Pategi (Ahmadu Bello’s driver).
Our discourse this week intends to look back at the servant leadership of some of Nigeria’s First Republic leaders in contrast to the overlord rulers we have today. The nostalgia with which we remember those foremost leaders suggests they were nearer to Allah in faith and practice; corroborating Allah’s assertion that those who have come and gone were nearest to Him (SWT). Allah (SWT) affirms in Qur’an 56: 10, 11 “And those foremost (in faith) will be foremost in the hereafter; these will be those nearest to Allah”.
Nigerians particularly from the northern part of the country are, today, compelled by bad leadership in the region to recall the genuine sacrifices and personal discipline of its past leaders including the late Sir Ahmadu Bello (Sardaunan Sokoto) and late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa; may Allah (SWT) have mercy on both of them, amin. They were apparently nearer to Allah (SWT) than most of our today’s governors, ministers, senators, and members of the house of reps. If these two servants of Allah (SWT) were to be brought back to present-day Nigeria, I guess both of them would prefer to remain where they have been since January 15, 1966.
First Republic leaders of Northern Nigeria left behind a region that basically earned her revenues from agriculture including groundnut and cotton pyramids. They founded a civil service where people in positions of authority eschewed self-centeredness, bribery and corruption. Others, not their family members, were first considered in the privileges at their disposal. Merit, not ‘connection’, was the basic criteria for admission into schools and employment into public service. Those God-fearing leaders left a political climate and a class of politicians that neither rigged elections nor assassinated opponents. Six decades after their demise, the foundation of almost all the economic, social and political structures laid by them have been destroyed by those they trained to succeed them. Today, even the blind and the deaf in Nigeria know that the country is sick.
Nigeria’s foremost leaders considered political offices as positions of responsibility. They stood by the vows in their Oaths of office. The welfare of the masses was their primary concern. They never allowed their personal interests to conflict with their official duties and responsibilities. They neither maintained nor operated bank accounts outside of Nigeria. Those leaders neither made appointments into ‘juicy’ public agencies as the exclusive preserve of their family members nor of one ethnic group.
The servant-leaders of yester-years refused to abuse their offices as their properties, assets, and liabilities were fairly attributable to their lawful income. Most of our foremost leaders didn’t have more than a car at a time, which many of them acquired through government soft-loans. Their private and public life suggested that they lived within their means. Majority of servant-leaders of yester-years died without building a house of their own. In fact, many of them who lived outside of their places of birth stayed in rented accommodations.
These reflective memories shared on this page do not in any way suggest that Islam or the Nigerian constitution prohibits personal acquisition of vehicles or houses. What seems to prompt some of these interrogations is the superfluous wealth displayed by many of today’s public officers and civil servants. The assets owned by some public officers in Nigeria today only portray them as kleptomaniacs. Our foremost leaders were so conscious of their rights, privileges and responsibilities that they utilized and managed government or public properties entrusted in their care in the same manner they handled their personal possessions. Those of them who had official vehicles attached to their offices never used them outside of official working hours or duties.
Let us realize that as we talk about the late Sardauna and Tafawa many years after their departure, soon shall others talk about us after we might have joined the late premier and prime minister in the world beyond. Posterity will not forgive us for uprooting what we did not plant. May Allah bless us with the sense of altruism, honesty, discipline, decency and the fear of Allah (SWT) needed to make Nigeria great, amin.