We are gathered here today, as is being done all over the Nation, to celebrate and honour the sacrifices, patriotic fervour, gallantry and spirit of volunteerism of the Men and Officers of the Nigerian Armed Forces.

It was the famed World War 2, hero, General George Patton who made this aptly reflective observation that “It is better to fight for something in life than to die for nothing”.

The brave warriors we are honouring today, believed in something, an ideal or causes higher than their collective or personal interest, and that’s why they elected through volunteerism, not by conscription to sign up to fight for the preservation of our territorial integrity against foreign or domestic enemies.

These gallant men and of course women, went into battle fields spread across the world knowing full well that, they may pay the ultimate price which most did, but because they believed in something – our unity, our freedom, the capacity for us to live in peace and harmony, they willingly offered to pay the ultimate sacrifice. Today, as Benjamin Disraeli once said, we are the heirs and heiress or those who have earned the “inheritance of a great example” they set.

Perhaps it is pertinent to ask: Have we rewarded these brave and gallant men and women who even as we speak are being shot at, attacked and killed by such non-state actors as Boko Haram, bandits, agents of separatist movements or those who are at different theatres of war outside our shores? Have we correspondingly appreciated and rewarded them for their labour and sacrifices? What have we done to show in practical terms that the labour, the toil, the psychological scars, the emotional trauma which invariably led to such post-war stress syndrome as depression, suicide etc., were not in vain?

It is one thing for us to gather here every year to eulogize these patriotic and brave men and women, but as Ronald Reagan once enjoined “if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice”.

On our part, we have shown in practical terms our deep appreciation for the sacrifices our gallant patriots made. We are grateful for the deep collaboration we have enjoyed from the Nigerian Armed Forces especially those with command locations in our State, such as the 2 Brigade of the Nigerian Army, and other arms of the Services. That we are nationally celebrated as one of the most peaceful States in the nation is a testament to the cooperation we have received form the Armed Forces and other allied security agencies.

We have to date, built 168 blocks of flats for the Officers and Men of the Nigerian Army Battalion located in Ibagwa; we have done the water reticulation aimed at ensuring the residents of the barracks have clean water. We are determined to intervene in other quality of life projects. This is, just a little effort on our part to show that we appreciate the sacrifices the Men and Officers of the Nigeria Armed Forces are making to keep us safe and secure.

Let me use this opportunity to appeal to our people to eschew tendencies that helped provide the ferment for conflicts. We are a nation rich in diversity, and our diversity should represent our strength and not platforms to enlarge our fault lines or differences. God has given us all that we need to succeed and excel. We must weld and meld these layers of our diversity and knit together a tapestry of oneness, brotherhood and unity based on justice, equity and fairness.

Most of the issues that led to conflicts where these gallant patriots paid with their lives could have been resolved if we had listened to one another and appreciated the concerns and grievances our aggrieved compatriots had brought to the table of discussion. Unfortunately, we were stuck in our set of demands and were unwilling to make compromises. We must learn to jaw-jaw instead of war-war.

Today, our nation is faced with some of those similar sentiments that had led us to fight one another, and the drum beat and rhetoric of division are being beaten and enlarged by various echo-chambers. We must neuter these divisive and incendiary rhetoric and agree to build a nation that our founding fathers had envisioned, based on our diversity and inherent greatness.

As we get ready to elect our next set of leaders, let us be reminded that national interest should and must trump or override our personal or group interest and those things that may heat upon the polity and strain the cords of our unity must ne avoided. We cannot afford another national conflict; we cannot afford to send our youths to fight over issues that could have been addressed peacefully in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust.

May the labour and sacrifices of those we are gathered here today to celebrate NEVER be in vain. We salute their patriotism, we salute their bravery, we salute their sacrifices and we owe them our everlasting gratitude.

God bless the Nigerian Armed Forces, God bless Akwa Ibom State and God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

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