1. Today, all over our dear nation, eternally grateful Nigerians have gathered at different locations for this annual sombre occasion where we celebrate and salute the courage of our gallant soldiers, our heroes and patriots who willingly put their lives on the line so we may enjoy the peace and freedom available to us today.
2. Perhaps no thoughts illustrate their heroism better than the deeply searing quotes from an Unknown Author “Our flag does not fly because the wind moves it. It flies with the last breath of each soldier who died protecting it.”
3. This sentiment applies to the 22 soldiers who died on January 8th, 2020 while protecting our flag – the pre-eminent symbol of our sovereignty. The news report on Aljazeera Television on that chilly morning of January 8th, 2020 was jarring. Even the news presenter couldn’t hide his emotions as he read the news that 22 soldiers were ambushed and killed in the town of Monguno-Borno State by insurgents thought to be Boko Haram.
4. On January 1, 2020 like every one of us, the twenty two soldiers had celebrated the New Year with their families and may have made elaborate plans for what the New Year and the new decade may represent in their lives. Their children may have looked forward to their fathers driving them to school on the first day of resumption of classes among other little tasks that cement the bonds of family.
5. But because they had pledged allegiance to the flag and the preservation of our territorial integrity, when called upon by their superiors to respond to the call of duty, family took a back seat; they hurriedly kitted themselves in their various battle gears and off they went to the theatre of war. As they sped to their operational zones, they knew the ride may be their last, as the possibility of an ambush was a clear and present danger. And, that’s exactly the fate that befell them. They were brutally killed, laying down their lives for a cause greater than their own.
6. As we mark this solemn day, let us spare a thought to the widows of those 22 soldiers, their children, dependants and indeed thousands of others who had previously given their lives at various theatres of war so we may live in peace and tranquility.
7. The Bible states so eloquently in John 15: 13 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” and if I may add, his nation. These patriots who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our sake, these gallant and brave men and women who daily are summoned from their foxholes to face an enemy combatant whose main motivation is to kill and decimate their ranks deserve the best accolades we can give; they deserve our eternal gratitude not only through flowery speeches but through practical ways of ensuring that the sacrifices they made and are still making are not in vain.
8. I know that Government, through various agencies tasked with the responsibilities of ensuring the welfare of our soldiers-serving and retired are doing the best they possibly can, to take care of the families of our dead heroes. I hereby call on corporate organizations to join hands with government to ensure that the heroism of these gallant men and officers of our Armed Forces are appreciated. As is obtainable in the Western world, individuals and corporate entities can institute scholarship schemes to educate the children of the departed heroes. This, in my opinion represents the biggest burden placed on the shoulders of widows of our brave men- the task of educating the surviving children of our dead patriots.
9. On our part, we have demonstrated in practical terms our deep and profound appreciation for the role the Armed Forces and other security agencies have played in our collaborative efforts to ensure that we have a safe, secure and peaceful State that is ready to welcome the world in our push to rapidly industrialize this State.
10. Last year, I commissioned the remodelled and renovated blocks of living quarters at Ibagwa Barrack as part of our contributions towards the improvement of the living condition of our brave soldiers and their families. Our strategic alliance with the 2nd Brigade remains deep and enduring. We will continue to work closely with our brave men and women and indeed the leadership of the various security agencies based in our dear State.
11. On this solemn day, let me again call for unity and peace amongst our political class. The reason why nations go to war and place the burden of such actions on our gallant men and officers is simply because those who should advance the cause of peace instead often place their personal or group interest above the common good. Through the din and echo chambers of competing interests; voices of reason and moderation are muted, giving room to the raw and inflamed passions to take the centre stage. The end result is often wars of choice as opposed to wars of necessity.
12. Let me again extend my hands of brotherhood to our compatriots on the opposite side of the political spectrum. The political season is over and heating up the polity with unnecessarily charged rhetoric should stop. The people have spoken and have elected their representatives, senators and governors. The winners should be magnanimous in victory and the losers should sheath their swords and join hands with the victors to work for betterment of the society and our children.
13. That has been my message to my brothers and sisters, since March 9th, 2019 when our good people returned me to office for a second time as their Governor and Team-Lead and I am using this occasion again, to appeal for them to show a greater investment in the Akwa Ibom Project than their personal interests.
14. My doors remain open same with my phone lines. If the soldiers we are honouring today, gave their lives for the sake of our corporate existence, we, the political class must also show the world that raw political impulses can never negate the deeper elements of the Akwa Ibom spirit which is anchored on the immutable bonds of brotherhood and shared destiny.
15. Let me end this speech by quoting from Minot Judson Savage, the popular American 19th Century author and a Minister of the gospel “the brave die never, though they sleep in dust, their courage nerves a thousand living men”. May the courage of our dearly departed soldiers, the sacrifices they made, their deep patriotism and gallantry provide the added nerves for those of us alive to love more, do more and be more to our fellow Nigerians irrespective of tongues, creed or geographical locations.
16. God bless Nigeria, God bless Akwaabasi Ibom State, God bless us all!