How Nigeria Can Better Serve Its People and Honour Its Dead – Japheth J Omojuwa

One of the values King’s College, Lagos teaches its students is that of respect for all persons irrespective of their religious, ethnic, national or other forms of background. But one lesson we were made to repeat via the last line of the chorus of our school song is the need to serve those alive and the importance of honouring the dead.

The line goes thus: “Let us pay by giving, as we forge ahead, service to the living, honour to our dead.” As a country, Nigeria has not left a void in its need to charge its citizens to honour its heroes. The line in the National Anthem, “The Labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain”, essentially captures that intention appropriately. Unfortunately, that intention has never been enough.

We are used to honouring people while they are in office. Where such people are not honoured by the country, they find a way to honour themselves. I really do not know how much honour comes from a president being given a honour because he or she is president against if that honour had come because he or she was a president that served the people appropriately. Go around the country, more streets and monuments are named after people mostly because they were ex-heads of state, ministers, federal commissioners, billionaires and the likes. There are few instances where monuments or streets have been named after people because of their heroism.

One of such is the naming of the former “Oregun Road” in Ikeja after “Kudirat Abiola.” The late Kudirat Abiola also has a prominent corner named after her at the United Nations in New York, United States. No one would attend UN sessions without going through Kudirat Abiola corner, adjacent E 44 street.

We recently marked the Armed Forces Remembrance Day on the 15th of January. Again, the idea of an Armed Forces Remembrance Day shows the intention of our country to pay respect to the men and women who served and are serving our country on the frontlines. My personal challenge with the way we honour these brave men and women is the limitation of such honours.

We honour them on this day and then what? Why do we have most of our major streets and roads named after men and women who stole our national wealth than we do for men and women who gave their all and lost their lives defending the territorial integrity and pride of our country? Apart from the ones who became prominent mostly by taking political offices, how many of our ex-military officers and service men have monuments named after them? We need to get real and realise that we cannot be hypocritical about honouring those who serve our country and expect coming generations to commit to serving our country in truth and in deed.

Let us even keep the honour aside. It appears to be an icing on the cake for many, an icing being that before the honour is bestowed, there are certain obligations the state owes to these men and women, past and present. How many of them have died waiting on queues to collect their gratuities? How many of them continually have their illnesses aggravated because after fighting to defend this country, they must literally fight to collect their pensions? The ones who have died and left their families behind, how many of such families still benefit from the sweat of their breadwinners.

Nigeria is where it is today because we have gotten too many things wrong over the years, one of the most critical ones is the way we treat our citizens, dead or alive. We have not learned to place value on the Nigerian life. It would be unusual but if the United States of America lost 2000 citizens today to a terrorist attack, there would never be an attempt to misrepresent the numbers. The reason is because the country and its people would be desperate to honour each dead person, they’d find out their names, locate their families and indeed honour them. The 9/11 Memorial is a telling example. You saw what France did in honouring the three police men that died during the Charlie killings.

How can we have patriotic citizens if we don’t serve those of them who are alive and honour those of them who are dead? The best place to start is by honouring our dead soldiers and service men, by catering to the needs of those alive. When that is done, we would not have to preach. We must be patriotic and allow virtues to spring forth like a plant on the riverside, naturally.

Japheth J Omojuwa is the Editor,