NOTHING was left to chance. Even the presidential convoy, which usually comes to the National Arcade, opposite the Eagle Square, Three Arms Zone, Abuja from the Supreme Court side of the Presidential Villa access road was changed. It came in through the outer gate leading to the Directorate of State Security Services (SSS) headquarters and arrived at the arena from the Transcorp Hilton side of the Shehu Shagari Way.
This was part of the changes introduced to security around President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday as he led top political and military officials to the wreath – laying ceremony to herald the end of the 2012 Armed Forces Remembrance Day Celebrations (AFRDC).
The AFRDC is a yearly event set aside in honour of the members of Nigerian military, who served or died in the first and second world wars, as well as peace support operations around the world and the Nigerian civil war.
All through the duration of the event, there was security lock-up within the Three Arms Zone perimeter area. All vehicular movements to the zone were diverted. The junctions were manned by regular and mobile policemen including plain clothed security agents, who directed all vehicles, except those conveying designated top officials, to alternate routes.
In the air, security helicopters routinely conducted aerial reconnaissance of the perimeter area.
The ceremony kicked off at about 10.03 a.m. when the President was led into the arena by mounted troops of the Nigerian Army. He alighted from his Presidential Limousine and was received by Vice President Namadi Sambo, Senate President David Mark, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Dahiru Musdapher and Minister of Defence, Mohammed Haliru Bello.
The Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin; the service chiefs – Lt.-Gen. Azubike Ihejirika (Army); Vice Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim (Navy); and, Air Marshal Mohammed Dikko Umar (Air Force) and the Inspector-General of Police, Hafiz Ringim, were also on hand to receive Jonathan.
Jonathan, attired in the Niger Delta traditional wear without the popular hat, then mounted the saluting dais and received the national salute and the national anthem played by the band on parade.
He proceeded to inspect the parade mounted by 202 officers and men from Five Guards comprising two from the Army and one each from the Navy, the Air Force and a detachment of the Nigerian Legion.
After the Firing Party, the President led the dignitaries to the observance of the Last Post – synchronised biggle sound in honour of the souls of the departed heroes and heroines of the Nigerian military. A minute silence was observed in their honour and followed by prayers and a ceremonial gun salute by the Nigerian Army Artillery Unit.
With the President laying his own wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, he was quickly followed according to the descending Order of Precedence.
The laying of the wreaths was followed by the Reveille, which is the release of gunshots in honour of the departed by the ceremonial burial party and the Last Post.
The President, accompanied by dignitaries, signed the Armed Forces Remembrance Day register before he released the pigeons. .
The ceremony was also witnessed by most members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), members of the National Assembly and the diplomatic corps as well as senior officers from the military and paramilitary services.
The AFRDC was first marked on every November 11 to coincide with the Remembrance Day (Poppy Day) for the world war veterans in all Commonwealth nations. It was changed to January 15 of every year in commemoration of the two civil war dates: In January 1967 when the first shot was fired to start the process that led to the Nigerian Civil War and the quest to keep the country one and January 15, 1970 when the civil war was officially brought to a close.
The day is also set aside to give Nigerians the opportunity to celebrate Nigeria’s fallen heroes (former servicemen) and remember the plight of their families and other dependants, who are in need of assistance.
However, Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State has urged government at levels to give attention to the welfare of serving and retired soldiers even as he charged the military to contribute more to national unity and democracy.
The governor, who noted the contribution of the Nigerian military to global peace and in Africa, especially in Liberia and Sierra Leone, said the situation in the country demands greater commitment to peace and unity.
Aregbesola, who spoke at the Armed Force Remembrance Day in Osogbo, enjoined the Army to refrain from being tempted to take advantage of the current crises to subvert the political authority.
Represented by the Deputy Governor, Titi Laoye-Tomori, the governor attributed the security challenges facing the country to the incompetence of the operators.