Today, January 15, Nigeria marks Armed Forces Remembrance Day.
It is a day that has been set aside to remember military personnel who lost their lives in the service of the nation.
This date is specific to Nigeria because, unlike other parts of the world, particularly Commonwealth members where Remembrance Day is marked on November 11 because of World War II veterans, ours was changed to January 15 to commemorate the surrender of Biafran troops to federal troops on January 15, 1970 to formally end the civil war.
Every year, the government sets out several activities to mark Remembrance Day, ending with laying of wreaths at cenotaphs and tombs of the ‘unknown soldier’ in state capitals and Abuja.
That’s Remembrance Day of January 15.
Actually, some of us recognise January 15 for another major reason and event.
It was exactly on that same January 15 date that Nigeria’s young democracy was truncated just a few years after independence by the military – nay, the army – in the bloody coup of 1966 that led to the death of at least 22 people including Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, regional premiers, ministers and senior Army officers.
We lost our innocence and democracy on January 15 1966.
General J.T.U. Aguiyi-Ironsi took over as Head of State and there began a long train of military dictatorship. Ironsi himself was succeeded by General Yakubu Gowon in July of same year in another bloody coup and Gowon was in power until July 1975, when he was overthrown in a bloodless coup.
General Murtala Mohammed who succeeded Gowon in 1975 was in February 1976 assassinated by Colonel Bukar Sukar Dimka and others in a violent coup attempt. Murtala Mohammed’s then deputy, General Olusegun Obasanjo succeeded him as head of state.
Obasanjo ended that military journey when he handed over power to a democratically elected government led by President Shehu Shagari in 1979.
That was the nation’s second republic which did not last long as Shagari was overthrown in 1983 in another coup that brought the military back to power with General Muhammadu Buhari at the helm.
Buhari ruled until 1985, when he was overthrown by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, IBB, who made himself President of Nigeria.
After eight years in the saddle, Babangida, after annulling Chief MKO Abiola’s victory temporarily handed over power to an interim head of government, Chief Ernest Shonekan Ernest in 1993 in an action he said was to enhance the democratic process after the famous June 12 annulment.
However, Shonekan was overthrown by General Sani Abacha who’s easily regarded as the meanest of all the country’s military rulers to date.
Death cut short Abacha’s reign in 1998 and General Abdulasalami Abubakar took over and held the fort for barely a year when Olusegun Obasanjo was elected civilan President to end military rule and establish the 4th Republic.
From Obasanjo through Umaru Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and the current tenure of Muhammadu Buhari as president, Nigeria has limped on.
But there’s no doubt that we lost it on January 15, 1966 with the first military incursion from the barracks into our political life.
Happy January 15. Happy Remembrance Day.