General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma’s statement at Taraba State University, Jalingo, was double-barreled: That the Nigerian Army is not neutral in the killing crisis that is gripping Nigeria, and that the people must defend themselves otherwise they would die one by one. Both components of the statement have generated mixed reactions. He has been applauded and pilloried in varying degrees by various people and interest groups. These include government and military spokesmen, retired army officers, ethnic jingoists, political flunkeys and dispassionate analysts. In a democracy, we should always absorb both sense and nonsense in our national conversation, especially in this era of unfiltered information from the social media. But, in the final analysis, we must interrogate the issues raised by the outspoken general so that we do not leave the ball and kick the leg. The result will be unintended consequences.
General Danjuma is a deliberate and serious-minded person and I do not expect him to make such a weighty accusation against his former constituency without evidence. He has also been in Buhari’s corner even as a non-politician. If the government is interested – and I think it should be – in investigating the allegation, it could ask him to buttress his allegation. Most nonpartisan Nigerians tend to believe what Danjuma has said without necessarily having hard facts, except what some of the security high chiefs have said. Their partisan statements, which I have no interest in repeating here, clearly give them away. Secondly, those who have been victims of the murderous gangs have been unburdening their hearts in the media and making direct accusations, which, if true, solidify the case of partisanship against those accused. But these accusations can only be ascertained through a thorough investigation done not by the accused but by an independent investigating authority chosen by the government.
In the series of brickbats thrown at Danjuma, some of them seem to be an exercise in sophistry. One of the queries issued to him is why he, a national figure, would choose the platform of a local university to make a statement on national affairs. I do not think that a university is defined by its location near the bush that surrounds it or the skyscrapers that look down at it. It is defined by what it does and how well it does its teaching, learning and research into old and new ideas. Ideas cross borders and fertilise the ground everywhere, deserts and forests, valleys and hills. It is this cross-fertilisation of ideas that gives universities, irrespective of where they are located, their aura of universality. Danjuma did not have to speak at a platform in Abuja for his ideas to have wings. It is the weight of the ideas and the weight of the midwife that are more important than the place of their birth. That is why Danjuma’s views volunteered in a university in the “bush” have not died in infancy. They have, instead, received both a friendly and unfriendly welcome in the public space.
Some of the commentators have referred to Danjuma’s role in the July 1966 coup and subsequent coups and come to a debatable conclusion about his allegedly ignoble role in the nation’s affairs. I doubt whether Danjuma considers himself a saint. I doubt also whether there has been a saint in the nation’s affairs. A string of ex-coup plotters, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha, has run or ruined the affairs of this country and we have all meekly come under their leadership. I see no time in the near or distant future when the national conversation or indeed the affairs of this country will be conducted only by saints because those “beautiful ones are not yet born.”
The gravest accusation against Danjuma is that his statement is an invitation to anarchy. Some have called it treasonable. Luckily for those who do not share that view a number of eminent lawyers have affirmed that self-defence is allowed by the Constitution. In any case, most people in various communities have been defending themselves long before Danjuma’s statement. Those who think Danjuma is saying something new probably have never heard of Bakassi Boys, Egbesu Boys and Odua Peoples Congress (OPC), who have for many years now been the defenders of their communities. Individuals install CCTVs in their homes, have dogs in their compounds, arm their security men with bows and arrows, matchets and guns, crude or sophisticated, to defend themselves. A number of estates are gated with a well-organised security system to protect their residents who pay yearly fees for the security service they receive. Various communities in various parts of Nigeria have established vigilance groups or neighbourhood watch groups. When the Badoo cult group in Ikorodu town, Lagos State, thought it was the de facto government in Ikorodu it was the people who formed a vigilance group that uprooted the touts from the town. That was many months ago. They took their destiny in their own hands without any prompting by Danjuma.
Several state governments have also formed different types of vigilance groups to assist the Nigeria Police in their territories. Cross River State has its Green Sheriff and Homeland Security, Kano State has had Hisbah, the Sharia police, as they are nicknamed. Katsina has just recruited 1,000 able-bodied men to assist in beefing up its security architecture. The Rivers State government has just established its Neighbourhood Safety Corps Agency, which will work with the police to keep trouble away. A few other states have their own guards that bear innocuous names to avoid conflict with the Nigeria Police. The emergence of all of these groups points to the fact that our statutory security agencies cannot fully meet the security needs of the country today. That much was admitted recently by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. He said recently that the Federal Government cannot adequately meet efficiently the security needs of the country today. He then said that the establishment of state police is now inevitable. A grudging admission but it is the right step forward in the light of current realities. But what steps has the Federal Government taken by way of legislation to actualise this?
Those who think Danjuma’s statement is a recipe for anarchy are grossly, grossly mistaken because people have been defending themselves long before now as I indicated earlier. Secondly, the seeds of anarchy have been sown by various acts of omission or commission by the managers of our security and governance architecture. If the Commander-in-Chief gives directives to security operatives and those directives are flouted, then we are on the highway to anarchy. If people kill others unlawfully and they are not arrested and tried then we are paving the road to anarchy. If people commit crimes and the security agencies look the other way, it is the footpath to anarchy. If security agencies engage in fruitless blame game and buck-passing and argumentation while the citizens are carted away by terrorists as it happened in Dapchi, then that is the easiest route to anarchy. We may not be inside the Palace of Anarchy now but, all things considered, we seem to be at its door. Look at the diary of disaster; do a census of the number of people who have been killed, men, women and children in Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Enugu, Abia, Cross River, Ebonyi, Rivers, Borno, Yobe, Kogi, Zamfara and Kaduna states. We have never had so many rivers of blood desecrating our land since 1970. The issue of finger-pointing will not help us. Let us do a reconfiguration of how we want to secure ourselves. Our security agencies are overwhelmed and understaffed. The criminals are increasing in sophistication. So are their equipment. Twenty years ago, there were no illegal bomb-making factories in Nigeria. In the last few years, a few such factories have been discovered and dismantled. We do not know how many more are still in existence undiscovered.
Illegal arms are all over the place. The youths are on hard drugs, beefed up by funds provided by desperate politicians. Many years ago, cultists were largely seen in our tertiary institutions. Now they are around in our villages and cities, causing mayhem. They want to govern the villages and towns with the ethics of the underworld, where violence is the article of faith. They engage in gang wars against members of their communities, killing and maiming them.
We can beat a retreat by admitting that where we are now is not where we would like to be. That admission is the beginning of a realistic search for a solution. When we are able to locate when and where the heavy rain began to beat us, we are on the way to finding a new paradigm for solving our intractable security problems.
The military appears to be overwhelmed by the avalanche of challenges it is confronted with when matched with its manpower and resources. If it is not possible to increase its manpower and resources due to competing commitments of government, it should, therefore, prioritise its engagements. Its deployment should be to the more strategic and vulnerable areas of the North where there is actual war. It does not need to engage on python smile and python frown adventures in areas that the police and other security agencies can handle.
In security management, information is absolutely important. Are our various security agencies sharing information? Or are they working separately as separate parts of a jigsaw puzzle? Is there a central intelligence coordinating centre or each organisation is strictly on its own such that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing? Isn’t it possible to extend the whistleblower policy to intelligence gathering even though all the security agencies already have a budget for informants? If it is institutionalised it will be better known as a policy and we may be surprised how much dividends we may reap. We also need to encourage communities to work with their local and state governments and the police in the area of establishing neighbourhood security outfits. All communities must show interest in how they are protected by established security bodies and their local security outfits.
The major benefit of Danjuma’s statement is that it will make us start the search for more effective ways of keeping our country safe. Societies are dynamic. Our security strategies also have to change with the changing faces of crime. We need a paradigm shift. Instead of demonising Danjuma and searching for motives let us spend quality time searching for more sustainable ways of managing our safety. We should not get stuck in the past.