1. We are gathered here today on this hallowed ground that speaks to bravery, valour and unbridled spirit of patriotism to honour those great and gallant Nigerians whose blood and toll helped water the trees and fountains of our unity and cords of brotherhood. Every year, at various locations spread all over the vast expanse of this great Nation, grateful Nigerians will gather on this day, to celebrate the gallantry, bravery, sacrifice, deep spirit of volunteerism and patriotic fervour of the men and women who elected without conscription, to sign up to defend the territorial integrity of this Nation. By accepting that singular patriotic act, these men and women of valour and bravery agreed to pay the ultimate price so the freedom and peace we enjoy today may not be compromised or put in jeopardy.
2. As the American Gulf War 1 hero, General Norman Schwarzkopf once said “it takes a hero to be one of these men who goes into battle,” the general absolutely knew what he was talking about. Signing up for war is the greatest act of patriotism and we owe those who left the comforts of their homes and their loved ones to dodge or swat away bullets. We owe these heroic Nigerians our eternal gratitude and deep appreciation for staying in the foxholes, denying themselves some of nature’s basic comforts and choosing death, which many unfortunately, eventually did succumb to.
3.These gallant Nigerians without prompting, had hearkened to the Biblical injunction as contained in the Book of Mark 10:45 “for even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.” These heroes served our Nation and offered their lives as ransom for the preservation of our territorial integrity or against internal and external aggressions.
4. Their service was borne out of sacrifice and sacrifice must and should come with corresponding gratitude and appreciation. Former President John Kennedy drove home this point when he stated during an event marking the Veterans’ Day that “as we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
5.Today, I stand here to re-echo the words of Late President Kennedy to ask that we all rise up and do all we can to ensure that the sacrifices our gallant heroes made were not in vain. We must not only utter words of encouragement and appreciation but must spare our thoughts and wallets to the families they left behind. We must not allow the memories of the gallant men and women whom we are honouring here today rot in the wilderness of neglect, squalor and forgetfulness. We must honour their sacrifices by lending our shoulders to their survivors, and soak their veins with love, care and eternal gratitude.
6. On our part, we have worked in close collaborations with the Armed Forces establishment, to add a bit of value and appreciation to the improvements of the living standards of our gallant men soldiers. In year 2019, we fulfilled a promise I made when I visited one of our military formations at Ibagwa and saw the acute need to intervene in the improvements of the living conditions of our gallant and brave soldiers. I had made a promise to remodel and renovate blocks of flats for the officers and men of the Battalion. The first phase of the renovated blocks of flats were handed over to the Battalion in 2019 and last year, we also handed over additional blocks of flats, bringing the total blocks of flats so far remodelled to 168. We have also done the water reticulation to improve the quality of water in the barrack. We are working hard to ensure that power and other quality of live amenities are upgraded in the barrack. We are determined God willing, to replicate this gesture across other layers of our security architecture.
7. Let me end this speech by calling for an urgent need to lower the temperature of our national discourse. We should not fan the embers of division in our dear Nation. Let us restrain our impulses in agitating those things that only help to create chasms of alienation and division in our dear country. Let us create a nation of equal opportunities, where the building blocks remain our common humanity, where ethno-religious passions are subsumed by the ennobling ideals of tolerance and diversity of ideas, culture and ethos.
8. Let us work to create a nation where talents trump geography, where we strive to reward the best and encourage all to dream and strive; a nation where our youths are conditioned by the passion of volunteerism, of applying ideas to create wealth as opposed to a cradle-to-grave entitlement mind-set. Let us create a nation where a certain Akpan from Akwa Ibom State can in future aspire to be voted into office in Kaduna State or where an Abubakar from Katsina State can be a Senator representing my Eket Senatorial District in the National Assembly.
9. We can begin this conversation today and let the idea sink in the consciousness of our leaders. If the Western World can knit their diversity in a tapestry of common values and brotherhood given the history of ultra-nationalistic foundations of those societies and today, have turned their societies into a beacon of multiculturalism, we can replicate same here. When we guarantee an equality of aspirations and create a level playing field, the resort to the drum beat of ethno-religious conflicts and other agitations which had led to certain conflicts, for which these noble and gallant Nigerians gave their lives to neuter, will certainly be replaced by the sweet symphonies of love, brotherhood and oneness. May affliction never visit us a second time.
10. God bless our Nation, God bless our Flag, God bless our President and Commander-In- Chief, God bless us all.