Let me begin this address by quoting the aptly reflective words of the late American author and poet, Maya Angelou “a hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself”

2. December 8th, 2018 was a day of great joy for Flt Lieutenant Perowei Jacob. Decked in his ceremonial uniform, the young Air Force Officer was a picture of happiness and unbridled excitement.  He had every reason to be happy; he was a few hours away from marrying his sweetheart.

3. The venue of the wedding was festooned in bright colours and as he was being serenaded into the hall, his equally young bride in tow, the enthusiastic guests, colleagues and friends burst into a rapturous applause.  Flt Lt. Jacob was full of smiles and atmosphere in the hall was infectiously convivial.  Few hours later, the newly married couple retired home to begin what he had thought would be a lifetime of marital bliss and happiness.

4. On January 2nd, 2019 a day after ushering in the New Year and making grand plans for the New Year, Flt Lieutenant Perowei Jacob was dead, killed in an helicopter crash he piloted while providing air cover and surveillance to the ground troops fighting the Boko Haram insurgency. He was married for just 25 days.  I remember looking at the picture of his wedding on the front pages of national newspapers, and my heart bled.

5. Flt Lieutenant Jacob’s death illustrates the danger, the sacrifice, and the heroism that the officers and men of the Nigerian Armed Forces face daily at various theatres of war. While we go to sleep daily in the comforts of our homes, our gallant officers and men of the Armed Forces are in the foxholes, swatting away and dogging bullets, evading exploding bombs. As they speed away to the hot spots, they may be ambushed and killed in the most horrendous and terrible manner.  As the beneficiaries of the peace and security for which they paid the ultimate price, we owe them a debt of gratitude.

6. Today, on this solemn occasion, we are gathered here to honour the sacrifices of our heroic and gallant soldiers, their spirit of patriotism, the blood and toil they shed so we may have a nation we can call ours; so we may live in peace and safety, so our territorial integrity will remain sacrosanct.  We are gathered here to celebrate the heroism of these special breed of Nigerians who knew the danger and peril they faced, who knew they were signing away their lives, their comfort, the bond of family, who knew their wives and children may be widows and fatherless – yet they happily signed up to defend their Fatherland. This is the height of patriotism.  May we please rise to our feet, and observe a minute of silence in utmost gratitude to these heroes. Their heroism is captured by the emotionally searing words of Daniel Webster, an American politician who stated thus ”although no sculptured marble should rise to their memory, nor engraved stone bear the records of their deeds, yet will their remembrance be as lasting as the land they honoured.”

7. As we honour these gallant heroes today, perhaps we should ponder over these questions: Have the ideals of unity and brotherhood that propelled them to pay the ultimate price been achieved? Are we living in a nation where fairness, justice, equity and fair play form the building blocks of our engagements? Are we living in a land where “though tongues and tribes may differ, in brotherhood we stand”?  Have we banished those ancient and primordial animosities that provided the ferment for the wars these heroes paid the ultimate price? Are the chasm of ethnicity, of religious intolerance, of zero-sum game approach in our politics, polity and governance been banished?

8. Have we given the survivors and the families of the dead the reason to be proud of their service to our nation? Some of the victims of the January 2, 2019 helicopter crash left behind very young children. What will be the fate of the young children they left behind? Will they be left to the vagaries of time because their breadwinner paid the ultimate price so we may live in peace?

9. We must spare our time, our resources and our blessings to remember these heroes always, not just in January of every year, but in our daily activities. We must reach out to these families and show them that the sacrifices their breadwinners made were not in vain.

10. On this day of remembrance of our gallant soldier, let us rededicate ourselves to the ideals of national unity, of peaceful co-existence. When our gallant soldiers went to the theatre of war during the First and Second World Wars in far flung places like Burma, or Myanmar, when they were in Katanga Province in the Congo during that nation’s  turbulent years, when he was killed at various hot spots during the Nigerian Civil War or in Liberia, they were not labelled PDP or APC, neither were they defined as Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba or Igbos, Ibibios, Annangs or Oros;  they were not called to the parade grounds  based on their States of origin, they were all Nigerians joined together by patriotic fervour ad a passion to serve.

11. We must honour their memory by doling all we can to negate those issues and tendencies that had led us to war in the first instance. As we prepare for the elections, let us allow the will of the people to stand, let us resist the temptation to create tensions in the land just to satisfy the inordinate ambitions of certain individuals.

12. Let us play politics of ideas as opposed to that of character assassination or other devious machinations. Let us resist the urge to use the gallant men and officers of the Armed Forces or the Police and other security agencies to subvert the will of the people. The gallant heroes we are honouring today gave their lives not to satisfy the ambitions of individuals, but for a cause greater than their own. No individual therefore, should attempt to use the gallant men and officers of our Armed Forces to perpetuate illegality. The Nigerian Armed Forces have a rich history of total adherence to the core dictates of professionalism, values of service above self, of obedience to the Constitution, of defending with their lives the ideals of patriotism and altruism.

13. Here in Akwa Ibom State, in the three and half years since I was inaugurated, we have partnered with the security agencies to have a State that is peaceful, safe and secure.  We have given the people a reason to go out there and undertake their legitimate businesses without entertaining any fear over their lives or safety. The cardinal reason why Government was established remains the guarantee of safety of persons and property and this, we have done exceedingly well, and the testimonial bears us out.

14. The General Officer Commanding (GOC) the 6 Division of the Nigerian Army, Major General Jamil Sarham, whose areas of operation cover Akwa Ibom State during a courtesy visit last year told us that of all the States in his area of operations, Akwa Ibom State has the least crime rate. We couldn’t have achieved this feat alone, but for the active collaboration and cooperation of the men and officers of the Nigerian Armed Forces and other critical actors in the Nigerian security architecture. We owe you our debt of gratitude.

15. The sacrifices of the gallant heroes we have gathered here to honour can be summed up in the Holy Book, John 10:10 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”.  Our gallant heroes paid the ultimate sacrifice so we may live in peace. May their sacrifices not be in vain.

16. God bless the men and officers of our Armed Forces, God bless our gallant men and officers of the Nigerian Police, the DSS, the Customs and Immigration, the Civil Defence and indeed, all those who daily put their lives on line, so we may live in peace. God bless Nigeria, God bless Akwa Ibom State.

17. Thank you all!

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