Minister of State for Defence, Mrs. Olusola Obada, Tuesday caused a stir when she slumped at the celebration of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day in Abuja where President Goodluck Jonathan, along with other top government officials and members of the diplomatic corps had gathered to honour Nigeria’s fallen heroes.
The event was also held across the country where governors and others laid wreaths and paid tributes to members of the nation’s armed forces who had died in the course of defending the nation’s territorial integrity or during peacekeeping.
The ceremony included a 21-gun salute, playing of the Last Post, a minute's silence, laying of wreaths and releasing pigeons, as a mark of peace.
Obviously exhausted after standing in the scorching sun with the service chiefs and other dignitaries for about four hours and jolted by the unexpected booms of artillery gunfire at the occasion, the minister slumped, her white hat fell off and she had to be assisted by aides who led her to a seat.
But in a swift reaction to the report that she lost her bearing, the minister, through her media aide, Mr. Femi Adefila, denied that she slumped or fell during the ceremony.
The ceremony started at 10 am with the arrival of Jonathan, who is the grand patron of the Nigerian Legion, at the National Arcade Three Arms Zone, Abuja.
The president took the ritual gunshot salute shortly on arrival, after which he inspected a parade in four colours - the national and the three regimental colours of the army, the navy and the air force.
Afterwards, prayers were offered for the repose of the souls of the fallen heroes and for peace, security and unity of the nation.
It was then that Jonathan, accompanied by Vice-President Namadi Sambo, Senate President David Mark, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, and Obada, proceeded to lay wreaths at the cenotaph.
Obada, who was standing in between the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Admiral Ola Sa'ad Ibrahim, and Tambuwal before the laying of wreath almost fell down after standing for a long period but for the vigilance of the security detail who came to her aid.
Obada went on to lay the wreath about five minutes later, saw off the president and was able to speak to journalists afterwards.
After the wreath-laying ceremony and 21-gun salute, the president released some pigeons to signify “unfettered freedom, unity, peace and harmony for the country.”
However, the minister through her spokesman said she neither slumped nor fell during the ceremony.
“It is not true and it is a fallacy that the Minister of State for Defence, Erelu Olusola Obada, fell or slumped at the 2013 Armed Forces Remembrance Day wreath-laying ceremony at the National Arcade, Abuja.
“The minister as usual stood straight for about four hours in the scorching sun along with Mr. President, Chief of Defence Staff, service chiefs and other top government functionaries in honour of the fallen heroes. She also laid the memorial wreath graciously betraying no sign of exhaustion.
“The minister is used to the sight and sound of heavy military artillery and there is no way the sound of gun salute could have frightened her or made her to fall,” Adefila said in a statement issued Tuesday.
At the celebration of the occasion in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, former President Olusegun Obasanjo urged Nigerian leaders to avoid any act that could lead to war again.
He said Nigerians should learn from history and urged governments at all levels to remember the families of the fallen heroes.
“Fortunately, war is not a picnic. Unfortunately, when you engage in wars, lives are bound to be lost. That is why, if as much as possible, wars should be avoided.
“For us in Nigeria, even when we were fighting along with the colonial power, we lost Nigerians in Burma and East Africa. But since the days of the constabulary, because that is where the Nigerian Army started from, Nigerian security forces have been losing lives either in support of civil authority or in fighting local wars.
“The aim of this (ceremony) is to constantly remember the sacrifice that they have made, constantly remind ourselves that they left families behind who need to be cared and catered for and constantly to remind us that whatever might have led to the loss of lives of members of our armed forces will no longer recur. That we learn from history by constantly reminding ourselves of the history of our country,” he said.
There was, however, some mild drama during the occasion as Obasanjo declined a request by Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, to lay a wreath.
He also refused entreaties by the deputy governor, Chief Segun Adesegun, the Iyalode of Egbaland, Mrs. Alaba Lawson, to lay the wreath.
It is believed that he turned down the request because his name was not on the list of those that would lay the wreath.