General Theophius Yakubu Danjuma did not intend to be a soldier even though he was tall and athletic. When he enrolled at the Nigerian College (now Ahmadu Bello University), he was eyeing an honours degree in History. He hoped to teach the subject to some secondary school students. However, he filled the form for a cadet course as a joke. He was invited for the entrance examination. He passed well. And when he was invited for the interview he failed to show up because his father had vigorously opposed an Army career. However, he got a surprise the following year. The Nigerian Army wrote to remind him that he had passed the entrance the year before. Could he appear for the selection interview? That sense of duty and diligence by the Army impressed him. He went for the interview without his father knowing. His father only found out the closely-guarded secret three months later by which time his son was already wearing the sparkling, heavily starched uniform of a cadet. His love for history and teaching were buried in the trenches of the cadet training school. As is often said, the rest is history.
Danjuma, now 80, former Chief of Army Staff and former Minister of Defence, is a troubled man to whom history has beckoned. He and all of us are living in very unhappy times, certainly the worst period of our lives since the Biafran war. Two former Presidents, Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida, have raised their voices against the nimbus cloud of insecurity, corruption and the failure of the political elite to efficiently tackle the problems that threaten to consume us. Both of them have been members of one of the nation’s political parties, PDP, so some critics or cynics have uncharitably dismissed their honest interventions as the ramblings of naysayers or political jobbers. But Danjuma is not a politician. He is simply an honest broker in the nation’s project. Now he has spoken and spoken loud and clear.
Danjuma is famous for his taciturnity. He speaks sparingly and sincerely, frankly and fearlessly. When he speaks, he pulls no punches but because he has an organised memory and is a believer in the fairness doctrine, he hardly hits below the belt. At a recent convocation of the Taraba State University, Jalingo, he brought out his heavy artillery to show that he was deeply worried about the goings-on in the country, especially in security matters. He said in the authoritative voice of a knowledgeable expert: “The armed forces are not neutral. They collude, they collude, they collude with the armed bandits that kill people and kill Nigerians. They facilitate their movement. They cover them.” He went further: “The peace in this state (Taraba) is under assault. There is an attempt at ethnic cleansing in this state and of course all the rural states of Nigeria. We must resist it. We must stop it. Everyone of us must rise up. The armed forces are not neutral. If you are depending on the armed forces to stop the killings, you will all die. I ask everyone of you Nigerians to be alert, to defend your country, defend your territories because you have nowhere to go.”
This statement has weight not only because of the speaker’s standing as a respected retired Army General but because it speaks to the heart of what most Nigerians have been debating everywhere in the country. It is like a bullet driven into the heart of the Nigerian Army because, if the Army is not neutral, if it is partisan, then we have lost it as a nation. One hopes that we do not get back to the point we were in 1966, when the Army was segmented along ethnic lines. The director of Defence Information, Brig-General John Agim, has said that Danjuma’s statement has been taken seriously because of his stature and that the military would investigate. He said further that any military personnel found culpable would be punished accordingly. But Brig-General Agim is sidetracking the issue. No officer in the Army can do anything contrary to the directives of the Army’s high command without penalty, except there is partisanship. The danger in what Danjuma said is that the acts of apparent complicity and or condonment of the security infractions are institutional, not individual. This is why the heads of the Armed Forces and the Commander-in-Chief should be worried. The repetitiveness of the infractions, the failure to check them or to punish the perpetrators are a cause for grave worry. The second danger that the retired general mentioned is the ethnic cleansing dimension. If people of a particular ethnic group are being systematically attacked and killed without restraint by another ethnic group whose leaders have the monopoly of access to violence, then a prima face case would appear to have been made on ethnic cleansing.
The most important point in all these insecurity issues is: why are things always going wrong? Where is our intelligence gathering asset pool? The Dapchi schoolgirls’ abduction in February 2018 happened in the same fashion as the Chibok girls’ abduction in April 2014. The security agencies were alerted in both cases a few hours before the abduction took place. The terrorists drove unchallenged in several trucks for several kilometres before reaching their destination. In the Dapchi case, they even had to stop and ask for the way to the school. Also, in each of the two cases, there was a withdrawal of troops from these areas a few hours before the abduction took place. Were these mere coincidences or sabotage or conspiracy? In a system where there is respect for transparency and accountability, these issues must rank high as deliberative issues in government. It would be a way of learning some lessons and making amends for the future. But our system seems to be muddied right now by suspicion, propaganda and the gambling game of 2019.
The opposition parties think, rightly or wrongly, that the Dapchi tragedy – the abduction and release – was stage-managed for political points. These accusations arise apparently because of the lack of transparency by the military and the government on these matters. They leave a lot of room for questions, which intelligent people who are not politicians are asking. The Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, delights in telling us that there was no ransom paid and no release of Boko Haram prisoners. He says these things and keeps a straight face. The last time he said these, some of us took it with a pinch of salt. It turned out that not only did money change hands but we also opened the prison gates for the terrorists to walk away. How can we be expected to believe that terrorists who risk their lives and travel many kilometres to abduct young school girls are just funseekers who want to sexually molest the girls and then let them go. By convention, they always ask for their mates to be released and for money to be paid. Personally, I have no problem whatsoever for any negotiation with terrorists by the government. Terrorists don’t value their lives. That is why they are in the kind of business in which they are. But the lives of our young girls must rank exceptionally high in our hierarchy of priorities. The right to the lives of its citizens is highest right for which any government must pay its 100 per cent attention. Unfortunately, human life has been severely devalued in Nigeria even by the government that ought to spend its last kobo to protect it. People take other people’s lives unjustifiably and nothing happens, no arrests, no prosecution, no repercussion whatsoever. This nonchance inevitably leads to impunity and impunity leads to a further debasement of human life. It is these gaps in the management of our security that leads to questions and doubts and debates in the public arena. That is what makes democracy meaningful. But it does appear that officialdom is miffed by these questions and doubts and debates but the lack of transparency ought to be interrogated as the culprit. The President says people are trying to politicise security issues. If those who manage the country’s security architecture had done their work without fear or favour, affection or ill will, a lot of the crisis would have been contained and criticisms curtailed.
Our political elite must not shut the voices that do not sound sweet in their ears. Our government must be humble enough to realise that there is a lot of valuable information outside the government that it can benefited from. We had to cancel our attendance at the free trade signing ceremony in Rwanda recently because we treated it as a closely guarded secret. It was at the last minute that we discovered that the manufacturers and labour unions had valuable inputs that could make a difference to our nation’s benefit. This is evidence that government is not necessarily omniscient. We should also learn a lesson from the gamble by the American and British governments in Iraq. They both told the world that President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. They both blocked their ears to contrary information and made a futile entry into the Iraq desert for a futile war that cost many lives, humongous sums of money and loss of credibility and prestige. At the end of the day, no weapons of mass destruction were found. The people of both countries who expressed a healthy dose of skepticism were vindicated.
General Danjuma’s deep-buried fire of anger did not seep out until now. This dust-up of the military by someone whose life is defined by excellence in the military profession must worry the military and political elite. The danger we face today is not the equivalent of an invisible dagger. It is real. We are seeing it; we are feeling it; we are hearing it. We are witnesses of truth because these things are happening before our very eyes.
What Danjuma has done is to confirm what most people may have suspected all along, namely that there is probably an inexplicable case of collusion or conspiracy or complicity or condonment. Whatever it is, the ball is in the court of the President, who is the Commander-in-Chief. Danjuma has found to his chagrin that the Nigerian Army that treated him kindly in 1960 is vastly different from the one we have today.