Amid allegations of embezzlement of emblem funds and non-payment of pension arrears, the grand finale of the 2017 Armed Forces Remembrance Day was celebrated across the country yesterday.
At the celebration in Abuja, President Muhammadu Buhari who led Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and other top government officials to the Eagle Square, venue of the event commended the armed forces for their contribution to the survival and development of the country.
These allegations have thrown up the need for the government to pay more attention to the welfare of its former military personnel. This would boost the morale of those who are currently in service and are faced with risks in a bid to protect the country or as peacekeepers outside the nation.
Buhari, through a satellite video-conferencing medium, interacted with Nigerian troops of Operation Lafiya Dole fighting in Sambisa forest, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) as well as the Air Force base in Yola as part of activities for the event.
The president spoke through Major General Victor Ezugwu, Acting GOC, 7 Division, Nigerian Army (Sambisa Forest); Major General Salihu Uba, Force Commander for the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL); and Air Commodore Charles Owoh, Air Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Air Force Base Yola. Buhari lauded the courage and gallantry of the troops, and said Nigerians were proud of them.
Also present at the event were the Senate President, Bukola Saraki; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara; the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen; service chiefs; and the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris.
The president laid the traditional wreath at the foot of the statue of the unknown soldier, followed by the vice president and other top government officials.Other activities included the inspection parade carried out by the president, traditional 21-gun salute, signing of anniversary register, and release of white pigeons.
At the celebration in Kano, retired soldiers expressed displeasure with the management of monies being generated on armed forces emblem and accused the leadership of the Nigerian Legion in the state of embezzling the annual donation.The ex-service men who spoke at Mallam Kato Square, venue of the celebration, expressed regret that those primarily meant to benefit from the emblem funds never had the opportunity.
The Spokesman of the Retired Army, Navy and Air forces Association (RANAO), Captain Abdulmaliq Yusuf, called for the abolition of the yearly ritual, describing the celebration as a waste of resources which ought to have been deployed to take care of retired soldiers.
The call came after Governor Abdullahi Ganduje applauded the patriotism, commitment and sacrifice of Nigerian Armed Forces in tackling internal and external threats.One of the retired soldiers, Abubakar Aminu told journalists that he never benefitted from the yearly donations just as he questioned the credibility of those entrusted to manage the funds.
“We only hear millions of naira every year, we don’t know where the money goes. Nobody, not even the leadership of the legion would tell us where the money is going and when you ask the chairman, no serious response,” Abubakar explained.
Another ex-service man, Iliasu Tsoho said: “ The purpose of the money being generated we were told is to be used to assist families of the late soldiers. Many children who lost their fathers on active service don’t have any source of finance now. If you go to the state secretariat of the legion you will see how many of the retired soldiers who cannot feed themselves left alone send their children to school. Honestly so many soldiers are suffering because they were unable to receive their pension for several years.”
In Plateau State, the Chairman of the Nigerian Legion, Col. Danladi Rwang (rtd) appealed to the Federal Government to pay them their nine-month pension arrears.Speaking yesterday at the wreath laying ceremony at the J.D. Gomwalk Secretariat Round About Cenotaph, Jos , Rwang commended Governor Simon Bako Lalong for donating N3million to the legionaries.