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January 15 as peace and unity day


[FILE] From left Chief of Defence Staff General Gabriel Olonisakin, Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Ibok Eket Ibas, Chief of Air Staff Air Mashial Sadiq Abubakar and the Police Inspector General Mr Ibrahim Idris at the 2018 Armed Forces Remembrance day Laying of Wreath at the National Arcade Abuja.Photo Philip Ojisua

All countries have public holidays, mostly in honour of religious sentiments for Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Animists (Voodoo Day in the Republic of Benin). Some are set aside to mark special calendar events like the regular New Year day and the Chinese Lunar New Year. Some commemorate special global events, and other memorable events in the history of the people of the nation.
Of particular note, within America’s clove of public holidays especially federal holidays, is Veterans Day—a holiday held on the anniversary of the end of the First World War (Nov. 11) to honour US veterans and victims of all wars.

Among France’s national holidays, dominated by religious and military experiences, those that stand out are World War II Victory Day, which commemorates the end of hostilities in Europe in World War II, Bastille Day—the French National Day that celebrates the French Revolution—National Unity and the Armistice Day commemorating the end of World War I.

While the UK does not have a national day (one of two countries in the world without one, the other being Denmark), the country does observe special occasions like Remembrance Day which marks the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 when the Great War was finally over. On Nov 11, two minutes of silence are observed across the UK while leading politicians, religious leaders and the royal family gather in London for a service at the Cenotaph that features the rite of laying a wreath in commemoration.
In Africa, Algeria’s significant holiday is Revolution Day that remembers the initial outburst of revolution against the French colonial rulers on Nov 1, 1954, which eventually culminated in the Evian Accords that paved the way for the country’s independence.
South Africa’s holidays reflect a dedication to human values and some of the country’s ideal: Human Rights Day, Family Day, Freedom Day, Workers Day, Youth Day, National Women’s Day, Heritage Day, Day of Reconciliation and Day of Goodwill. Freedom Day, one of the most significant holidays, commemorates the first democratic post-apartheid non-racial elections held on April 27, 1994, which saw Nelson Mandela elected as President, while Day of Reconciliation marks the end of apartheid and is conceived to help foster reconciliation between different racial groups.
In Rwanda, the most significant public holidays are the Liberation Day, which “commemorates the Defeat of the previous regime by the Rwanda Patriotic Front ending the Rwandan Genocide” and the Genocide Memorial Day that remembers the genocide, the mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu between April 7 and July 15, 1994, during the country’s civil war.
Specific events that had profound effects on a country’s history are commemorated or remembered by public holiday or special occasions. That brings us to Nigeria. A very special historical event in the history of Nigeria remains the Civil war of 1967 to 1970 that could have led to the disintegration of the country. By the intervention of men of goodwill, hostilities ended on January 15, 1970, and the re-integration of secessionist Biafra back into Nigeria (or rather, the re-unification of Nigeria) took effect.
An eventful day as January 15, 1970, meant a lot in the life of Nigeria. Sadly, the day is hardly given its due recognition as it is presently confined to an armed forces affair—Yes, the day is officially called Armed Forces Remembrance Day. It appears as if the country and its people do not want to remember the hostilities—the destructions, lost lives, hardship and sufferings of the peoples of Nigeria from all sides—because Armed Forces Remembrance Day does not capture what that day stands for, and by implication, the historical significance of the civil war will not pass into our history to the future generations of Nigerians.
This piece is not intended to minimise the importance of the Nigerian Forces, but rather to put things in the right perspective. The Armed Forces Remembrance Day was formerly celebrated on November 11 of every year to coincide with the Remembrance Day (Poppy Day) for World War II veterans in the British Commonwealth of Nations, but it was changed to January 15 in Nigeria in commemoration of the surrender of Biafran troops to the Federal troops on January 15, 1970, concluding the Nigerian Civil War that sought to tear apart the unity of Nigeria. 


Two things of note here: One, moving the Remembrance Day from November 11 to January 15, means Nigeria no longer participates in the Poppy Day for the WWII veterans in the British Commonwealth of Nations, and two, the soldiers remembered are those on the Federal side only, and this contradicts General Gowon’s “No Victor, No Vanquished” proclamation at the end of the internal struggles and hostilities within Nigeria on January 15, 1970. No country sets aside a day for celebrating soldiers that quelled internal strife.
Within the history of Nigeria, January 15 deserves to be upheld and remembered as Peace and Unity Day. Indeed, a truly Nigerian National day, as it commemorates the end of the civil war and the return of peace and subsequent re-unification of Nigeria.
Raising the status of the day to a full national public holiday will help to promote a sense of history and generate a healthy discussion on how not to repeat the follies that led to the civil war. 
January 15 is apt for a truly Nigerian public holiday, serving as a yearly reminder of the benefits of peace and unity towards the national development and prosperity of Nigeria, consistent with the repeated calls for genuine peace and unity that have dominated national discourse since 1970 to date. January 15: a day to reaffirm the beauty, sophistication, and strength in our diversity, not merely a day for an annual celebration of military personnel. 


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