One of the most profound and significant decisions anyone can make is to leave the comforts of his or her home and sign up for service in the Armed Forces of the nation in defence of his Fatherland. By taking this decision, the compatriot instinctively has accepted to put his life on the line so others may live in peace in a safe and secure environment. There is no strand of patriotism that is higher and more ennobling than this.
Therefore, we have come here this morning to pay tribute to these special breed of our compatriots who paid the ultimate price at the various theatres of war, so we may enjoy the liberty we so deeply cherish today.
We have come here today to honour these men and women who watered the seed of our national unity and cohesion with their blood and toil. We have come here this morning to celebrate and thank them for their service to our nation. As the Bible says in John 15:13, “greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”, a sentiment that the late tennis great, Arthur Ashe also echoed when he said “true heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not in the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost”. These gallant men and women put their personal safety on the line; they took bullets, got cut down with bayonets and had bombs rained on them so the liberty we seek and desire may be our eternal portion. We owe then our debt of gratitude.
As we gather here today to honour them, let us also use this moment to reflect on the state of our State and that of the Nation. Have we projected the ideals for which these heroes and our compatriots made the ultimate sacrifice? Have we banished once and for all the ancient animosities, of hatred and destructive tendencies that for long have stood between our march to greatness and sadly aided our descent into the tiny and ignoble enclaves of parochialism?
Do we see one another as representing our collective hopes and aspirations irrespective of tribe, creed, religion, political affiliations or advertised beliefs? Why are we still creating layers of hatred instead of growing and expanding the bridges of love, unity and togetherness?
As we honour these heroes, let us collectively say to ourselves that in this unfolding political climate, that we will not stoke the embers of hatred, we will play politics of inclusion, we will exercise deep sense of circumspection in our utterances and behaviour, knowing full well, that as leaders and stakeholders in this piece of God’s own real estate, words we utter and actions we take have deep and profound meaning. Let us pledge to ourselves and prove to all that Akwa Ibom State is like a city on the hill, enchanting, inviting, beguiling and as such we must protect it with every fibre in us.
One of the legacies, which we should not lose sight of so that today’s noble event will not be just another routine affair, is that as these compatriots whom we are gathered here to honour spent days, months and years in the foxholes, there was no tribe in the foxhole, there was no PDP or APC, they were all Nigerians, Akwaibomites.
When bullets were flying, bombs blasting and grenades exploding, the men in the trenches did not define themselves as Hausa- Fulanis, Yorubas, Igbos, Ibibios, Annangs, Oros or Tivs, they saw themselves as brothers in the foxholes who were united in pursuit of a cause that was stronger and greater than their primordial, personal or group interest. Let that sense of brotherhood remain with us who today are the heirs of the throne of liberty and peace for which they gave their lives.
We must let the courage and bravery of the Unknown Soldier challenge us and leave us with a deeper faith in this country. We must let his sacrifice spur us to respond to the call of our country and build a nation bound in freedom, peace and unity. Like that old World War song goes, “Old soldiers never die, they just march on…” The Unknown Soldier is not dead; he marches on in our legends and folklore. He lives on in our hearts.
As your Governor, I preach peace, I preach love and I preach togetherness. These attributes have been the articles of faith to which I am inexorably committed to pursuing and will continue to uphold no matter the push to act otherwise. I enjoin all to submit and ascribe to these laudable tendencies.
As we celebrate these heroic compatriots, let us also spare a moment and ask ourselves: Have we given back to them the corresponding sacrifice they made? How is the family they left behind faring? Are the children they left behind proud of the sacrifice their parents made for peace and security to reign in our nation?
I urge our corporate organisations to partner with Government to ensure that the sacrifices they made were not in vain. As Government, we will continue to support our legionnaires and reassure them that the pains and sacrifice they made for our collective safety is deeply appreciated. Let us stand by the families of the departed soldiers, the widows, their children and ensure that we minimize their sense of loss.
I will like to end this speech by quoting the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Reagan who during the 1983 Memorial Day speech said the following “the freedom for which they died must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply, it has a cost; it imposes a burden, and just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we in a less heroic way be willing to give of ourselves”.
May we never allow our personal interest trump the collective good and may we give of ourselves all that we can, to maintain peace and unity in this State and the Nation at large.
God bless Akwa Ibom State, God bless Nigeria.