The 2023 Armed Forces Remembrance Day set out to celebrate and remember the fallen heroes and those who had paid the supreme price for the unity of Nigeria has come and gone.
The day witnessed funfair including the laying of wreaths by the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, state governors, and notable Nigerians as a mark of respect and honour to the deceased officers and soldiers of the Nigerian military.
Cantonments and Barracks across the country held various ceremonies with cultural displays that precluded service prayers in mosques and churches where prayers were offered for the repose of the souls of the fallen heroes.
While these activities are held, what many don’t know is that while Nigerians prayed and celebrated the fallen heroes, the plight of the soldiers who fought alongside the fallen heroes, as well as that of the family members of the fallen heroes are in a horrible and pitiable condition with many of them who could be described as living legends wallowing in abject poverty with neither the government nor the society celebrating them alive.
The living conditions of some of these ex-soldiers and veterans who sustained various degrees of injuries including gunshot wounds in ensuring that the country remained a united nation is a depiction of the Nigerians’ attitude of celebrating the dead instead of the living.
Mohammed Isa, a civil war veteran is one of those languishing at the Nigerian Legion’s office in Maiduguri where he lives as destitute having been rendered homeless by the Boko Haram terrorists, in addition to paralysis he is suffering due to a fracture of his bones while struggling for his pension on a visit to Abuja.
According to the veteran who was enlisted into the Nigerian Army in 1963 and retired in 1979, when Boko Haram terrorists invaded Bama his home town in 2015, the terrorists burnt all his documents that would have facilitated his pension.
But when he later obtained a permit to travel to Army Headquarters in Abuja for verification of his pension, he slipped down and had a bone fracture which has crippled him to date while trying to perform ablution.
Although, the Nigerian Legion, Borno State Chapter made efforts to rehabilitate him by taking him to Maimalari Cantonment Military Hospital, after a while, the authority of the hospital returned him to the Legion’s office where he has been living under the care of the legion since the past two years, defecating and urinating in the same place he is sleeping.
For Ashilu Isa, another displaced civil war veteran who has turned the Legion’s premises into his living home following Boko Haram invasion of his community, lamented the neglect from both government and the society he had laboured has become a source of trauma to him.
Like Mohammed, he said he escaped from the grip of the terrorists who abducted him in Bama and fled to the Legion’s office in Maiduguri where he has been living for the past two years.
“Boko Haram terrorists abducted me in Bama, but I escaped from their grip and since then, I have been living in the Legion’s premises since I don’t have a house of my own and the little pension I am receiving cannot afford a living home for me. Government should come to our aid. Some of us are receiving as low as N13,000 as pension despite the rising cost of things. We can not afford to pay our children’s school fees over lack of funds,” he said.
The duo of Mohammed Kyari and Shettima Ahmadu, have also turned the Legion’s premises into a living home with little to fend for themselves except for the help coming to them from the office of the Borno Chapter Legion.
Both ex-soldiers and civil war veterans are bitter over how the government has abandoned them, saying that the government’s attention is more focused on the younger generation of soldiers than them.
They equally frowned at the situation where their children were denied recruitment into the Nigerian military despite the sacrifices they have made to the country by fighting to keep it as one united nation.
Shettima Ahmadu said: “I retired from the Army in 1979. Despite how we suffered to keep the country as one, the government has neglected us with many of us living from hand to mouth. I was shot twice in Owerri during the Civil War while we were trying to open the road then. After that incident, many of us were dumped with our injuries in a hospital at Owerri then.
“Government has sometimes promised us a welfare package, which was estimated at N5 million each but till date, nothing has reached us,” he said.
Also, Ayuba Bitrus, a 1979 retiree, said there are series of challenges facing ex-servicemen and veterans which ranges from neglect to abject poverty among others.
He said he retired together with former President, Maj. Gen Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd), Maj. Gen Theophilus Danjuma (rtd), Maj. Gen Mamman Shuwa of blessed memory (rtd) before power was handed over to former President, late Shehu Shagari.
“Since we handed over power to Shagari, I stayed for 23 years without my pension. When Obasanjo took over, he assembled all the veterans and it was in 2001 that I started receiving pension ranging from N10,000 to 31,000 that I’m receiving now.
“I have nothing at hand that I’m doing. The President recently promised to give veterans N5 million each, but what we are getting in our account is N23,000. When we asked we were told that the money is under processing, but till date, we have not received anything.
“We entered into the Nigerian military with all sense of patriotism but today we are wallowing in poverty with our children. Our children are even denied recruitment into the Nigerian military, as well as the police force. Sometimes, we are asked to bribe so that our children would be recruited. Besides, being a bad idea we don’t have the money to do that,” he said.
For Falmata Mallam whose husband died two years ago, life has not been easy for her and her children because nothing was left for them by their father.
The fallen hero’s widow said she and her children are surviving from the help of the legion and we’ll spirited individuals, adding that she can’t afford to continue with such ugly life amid the rising cost of living.
She called on the government to create a special empowerment programme for the widows and orphans of fallen heroes.
The chairman of Nigerian Legion, Borno State Chapter, Col. Willian Mamza, said apart from what they get from the Borno State government periodically, no assistance is coming in the way of the widows.
He, however, commended governor Babagana Umara Zulum for donating 200 bags of rice, N10 million, Hilux, among other items during the Armed Forces Remembrance Day at the Ramat Square in Maiduguri.
He said the 200 bags of rice donated by the governor were shared to the 760 widows to cushion the effect of the economic challenges witnessed presently in the country on them.
He called on all well spirited individuals to come to the aid of the widows of the fallen heroes and the living veterans who are wallowing in abject poverty due to lack of basic needs of life.
Also, the Nigerian Legion, Borno State Chapter has called on President Buhari to probe the disbursement of Security Department Allowance approved for veterans and serving officers and soldiers which each veteran was promised N10 million.
He said the SDA was announced by the President who said that the federal government will give N5 million each to the veterans out of the N134 billion security department allowance.
Col Mamza said last Friday the department started to pay the money with some receiving N23,000, while some received N20,000, adding that the highest that was received by his members in Borno was N50,000 as against the N5 million promised.
He regretted that while the veterans are getting as low as N20,000 to N50,000 their counterparts and even those that are their juniors and are serving are receiving N800,000 to N1 million.
“Soldiers who just joined the Army in 2017 and 2018 are receiving N600,000 to N1 million and above while the 1963 NA who fought the Civil War and went for peacekeeping in Liberia, and Sudan among others are getting peanuts. They just forget us. If the N134 billion SDA fund is disbursed properly, each veteran will get about N5 million instead of the N23,000 they are receiving.
“Some of us have not even received the N23000 including me. If the President wants to take care of us, he was supposed to follow up on the matter with seriousness. He is the president who announced the Security Department Allowance. He is supposed to probe the payment and inquire from the Minister of Defence and Finance how the money was disbursed.
“Government is not looking after us very well. If they want to look after us very well and know that we exist, they would not have abandoned us. Many of us have died of hypertension due to the miserable condition we have found ourselves,” Mamza said.
He, however, commended governor Babagana Umara Zulum for his assistance to the fallen heroes especially, with his donation of 200 bags of rice, N10 million, and a Hilux vehicle during the Armed Forces Remembrance Day.
He said the Legion has a special corps programme designed for the training of the children of the fallen heroes so that in turn they will work as guards in companies to raise income for their families.
The chief executive officer, Care4Heroes Initiative, Ahmed Tijjani, said the challenges of military widows are diverse.
He said while some need food, school fees, others need house rent since they have to live outside the Barracks.
He lamented the lack of commitment from the military high command to cater for the needs of the families.
He said, “No direct support from the Armed Forces. This Initiative has adopted 12 families and others are in the process of being adopted in other to bring succour to their plights
He said, “We engage families of the fallen heroes and then find out what the issues they have ranging from house rent to school fees for those unable to get into the military scholarship programme.
“We get to find out their challenges and then we get them solutions and channels to their specific needs. We have adopted 10 families and we are paying school fees and house rent for different people at different levels. All of them have different challenges and we try to come to their rescue. At the end of every year, we do an assessment of what we have been able to achieve and then we prepare a budget for the next year based on the people we are supporting.
We have come up with different initiatives to bring to public notice what we are doing such as sports and entertainment.
He said a recent interactive session with military widows revealed a lot that needs to be quickly addressed.