From Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
For officers and men of the Onitsha Military Cantonment, the day was different. It was not a day of war. Thus the music boomed instead of guns from the giant loudspeakers as the disc jockey dished out vibes from the console.
The usual stern-looking soldiers who normally guarded the gate and different formations of the cantonment gave way for smiling military men who dropped their uniforms for ceremonial dresses.
It was the 2017 West African Social Activity day (WASA) that brought out the entire barrack community comprising the officers, men and their families to a celebration.
The soldiers had looked forward to the event which was supposed to be an annual event, but could not unfortunately hold under two previous commanders.
There was the display of the rich culture of the country from the performances by the Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Tiv, Idoma, and other minority groups, just as little children from the barracks also gave a scintillating performance.
The tug-of-war competition between the soldiers’ wives and other barracks women sent spectators reeling with laughter.
Indeed, it was a day of stocktaking by the army in Onitsha, as well as an opportunity for them to interact freely with members of the host community in Onitsha, Obosi, Nkpor and other neighbouring communities who trooped into the arena to rejoice with them.
The Commander, 302 Artillery Regiment, Col. Idongesit Akpan who appeared in a Niger Delta dress appreciated the warmth, hospitality and solidarity shown to them in the cantonment by the civilian friends.
He traced the history of the event back to the days of the West Africa Frontier Forces (WAFF) during the colonial era, when personnel from different ancestral background with various traditional practices started joining the army.
“During the time for stock-taking such as harvests or the beginning of new planting seasons, sacrifices were usually offered to the gods and ancestors for a peaceful and prosperous New Year.”
In order to ensure full participation by the soldiers during these occasions, he said that the authority for their release was usually sought by the village heads.
“Of course, this trend always perplexed the colonial authority who administered the WAFF.
“Instead of releasing soldiers yearly to perform these rituals, the military authorities resolved to incorporate this important event in the activities of the army and christened it WASA.
“Today, as the Nigerian Army continues to evolve as a potent tool for nation building, this tradition is still being upheld in order to foster espirit-de-corps among the troops. It also serves as a veritable forum for the promotion of good community relations between the barracks community and members of the contiguous communities,” he said.
The commander noted that a lot of successes were recorded by the two units comprising the Artillery Regiment and the Engineers Regiment domiciled in the cantonment in 2016.
This, he said, included excellent performances in competitions and exercises at unit, formation and army levels with a resolve to do better in this year.
He lauded the outstanding cordial civil-military relations existing in Anambra State and what he called the uncommon sense of co-operation and support which they have always received from the security agencies and other para-military establishments.
While expressing special gratitude to Governor Willie Obiano for his fatherly, moral and material support to the army, he assured that the army would continue to diligently perform their assigned tasks in the state.
Governor Obiano who was represented by his Special Adviser on Security Matters, Chief Chikaodili Anara thanked the army for their complementary efforts in maintaining security in the state.
The governor described the Onitsha Military Cantonment as one of the most important federal institutions in the state and promised to always support its activities and operations.
Popular transporter and Chairman, G.U.O Motors, Chief Godwin Okeke said that the event has given Nigerians hope that the younger ones were still ready to defend the country no matter the circumstances.
He said that the display of various cultures and ethnic group by the army has shown that one Nigeria would continue to remain a reality and that no one has any right to drive another person or ethnic group out of the country.
He attributed the present security of lives and property in Anambra to the unity existing among the security agents and the efforts of Governor Obiano.
Also speaking, the Chairman, Sergeant Mess, Chief Collins Eden, described the 2017 WASA as a great success.
He commended the commander for deeming it necessary to hold this year’s event, as he described the present relationship between the military and civilians in Anambra as very cordial.
The President General,
Ogidi Building Materials International Market, Chief Jude Nwankwo said the WASA celebration has again reinforced the fact that Nigeria is one nation under one federation.
Some soldiers were also honoured for their exemplary conducts while others like Governor Obiano, Commander, Naval Outpost, Onitsha, Navy Captain Muhammed Dahiru and other heads of security agencies in the state were all given awards of commendation.
Commanding Officer, 14 Field Engineers Regiment, Lt. Col. Abubakar Saleh in a closing remark described the event as a grand success.
He thanked their guests for their presence and assured them of continuous harmonious relationship between the army and the host communities.