In the past few days, the UK and the US have been celebrating and honouring their military personnel, both dead and living.
Many of us in Nigeria got wind of what was coming when we saw UK television presenters and public officials wearing poppy pins on their dresses.
It was an inspiring sight to watch ex-servicemen, especially great grandfathers, proudly sticking out what remained of their chests to exhibit their medals.
I still wonder what tales they would have been telling their off-spring about their bravery in war, even though such acts may have come only from imagination.
The point, though, is that this was their day and they were entitled to sun their medals in the public square to demonstrate how much their nation owed them and their fallen colleagues.
They were all heroes. Have you ever heard of a defeated nation celebrating any war?
In all the places where official celebrations were held, citizens trooped out in their thousands in gratitude to the brave who faced enemy fire.
My mind went back to the now familiar military funerals accorded to dead servicemen when their bodies return from Iraq or Afghanistan.
Drawing a line
Apart from the airport ceremonies that are attended by senior officers, the motorcade to the soldier’s home town evokes strong sentiments of an appreciative nation – no-one seems to bother about how lowly the soldier’s rank was – his death at the front line had raised him into the ranks of the venerated.
The wars in which these military men met their death may not have received popular support.
From Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, the US, with the UK in tow, has been fighting wars which have little political support at home.
Even when there is substantial public support in the beginning, Americans start to shift uncomfortably as soon as the first coffins are brought home.
The shift becomes a mass movement of opposition with the rise in casualties.
Most people in the US and UK draw a line between political decision-makers and military personnel who must obey the orders of their political masters.
Any public antagonism is towards the politicians while the military grows in respect for their professionalism.
That brings me home to the bloodbath in northern Nigeria, where the security forces are battling Islamist militants from the Boko Haram group.
On Friday, the spokeswoman of the State Security Service gave a chilling report on television of how some youths were « clapping and cheering as miscreants were attacking and killing security agents » in Yobe state – where Boko Haram carried out bomb and gun attacks on churches and the police headquarters, leaving more than 60 people dead.
It seemed to the police spokeswoman that, on that occasion, Nigerians cherished football more than human life.
She warned of the extreme danger of Nigerians frustrating or demoralising law-enforcement agents rendering a legitimate service.
In the US and UK, the military and police are also accused of committing abuses – but they are still respected for their overall professionalism and service to the nation.
The average Nigerian police constable, soldier or other security operative may not have attained UK and US levels of professionalism but they can only be as effective as the nation and government allows them to be.
Surely, they will not become better when we start killing them or cheering those who do.
Remember, we cannot do without them.
By Sola Odunfa