On 24th March, 2018, former Defence Minister, General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma (retd), called on defenceless Nigerians to stand up against murderous attacks from armed bandits in the country. Apart from accusing the nation’s Armed Forces of colluding with these armed bandits that have left trails of blood and hair-rising destruction in various states of the federation, the retired military officer called on Nigerians to defend themselves.
Danjuma’s call was coming on the trail of the Dapchi saga that left several questions unanswered in the manner no fewer than 110 students were abducted, and about 104 returned by a faction of Boko Haram. Various reactions to Danjuma’s call by Nigerians only serve to reveal the underbelly of a nation incapable of rising up in unity to confront a collective tragedy.
Hate or love him, the Mambilla General epitomises the leadership of non-core Northerners. For several years, he was the figure behind rallying the Northern minorities for political engagements. In him, most, if not all, non-Muslims of Northern extraction won’t dare to challenge his concern for the descendants of Pastor David Obadiah Vrengkat Lot and ace-politician Joseph Sarwuan Tarka in forging the Middle Belt dream.
Nearly three years after President Muhammadu Buhari assumed reins of power, Benue State has become a theatre of constant bloodshed that later became the global cynosure of suspected herdsmen’s brutalities, following the burial of 73 state indigenes killed by the murderous gang. The peace on the Plateau is still fragile, just as the southern axis of Kaduna state has become a zone for intermittent massacres. Adamawa state has not been spared the excesses and agony of armed bandits’ killing spree. Taraba that was once peaceful has become a theatre of killings, with each side in the conflict claiming victimhood. What can one say of Nasarawa State? Its border towns and of late, Kogi state, that have been caught in the fray against their will. Where there is no war, tension now holds sway. For now, the atmosphere has become so thick and cloudy, threatening to rain blood and death.
For many, including yours sincerely, the former Defence Minister’s call is not novel. In the heat of the Boko Haram crisis in 2014, the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, had called on Nigerians to brace up for self-defence. Prominent Nigerians, including Professor Itse Sagay and Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, among others, have called on Nigerians to rise up for self-defence. Quoting relevant sections of the constitution, they have declared that the right to self-defence is enshrined in the country’s constitution.
For the reticent General, who has been a major player in events that have shaped the nation, his call has re-awaken the ghost of the past and the role he played in the murder of General Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi. Those who are still pained by the gory details of that bloody coup have simply dismissed Taraba-born General as bereft of moral grounds.
For those who see nothing wrong in the current campaign to decimate local communities through what has become known as herdsmen/farmers’ clashes, Danjuma should be charged for inspiring insurrection. Considering his status as a statesman, they reason, he ought not to have said what he said. Some simply alleged that he has become so broke and unhappy under the present government headed by President Buhari and is therefore venting his pent-up anger.
For those conversant with the personality of this one-time Chief of Army Staff, his outburst at the maiden convocation of the Taraba State University is consistent with his character. Not a flippant speaker, but when he speaks, he ruffles feathers. He hates politics and deceit and cannot afford to speak tongue in cheek. He has taken so much heat for the North, and those close to him are quick to tell you that he is at pains over the happenings in the North, and more stymied at the absence of urgency in tackling the menace of armed bandits. Danjuma is not someone you can reduce to an ethnic or religious bigot. Little wonder he holds a traditional title of the Zauzau Emirate.
In the contraption of attacks against the reired General, none has faulted his message that Nigerians are under attacks from armed bandits. What some have expressed concern is in the manner he sent the message. Some have alleged that because the ODI and ZAKI Biam killings by the state when he served as Minister of Defence, he stands bereft of any moral high ground to say what he said.
To those disagreeing with the former army boss, it is okay for defenceless Nigerians to go on their knees as rampaging armed bandits slit throats of men and women, behead them, rape their women and turned their thriving communities into rubbles of horrifying inferno. To some pro-Buhari groups, social media hawks and analysts, the former Defence Minister must be sacrificed for daring to speak on an issue that has the potentials of balkanizing Nigeria. In painting Danjuma as an enemy of the Buhari Government, they fail to realise that the retired General contributed financially for the emergence of ‘Sai Baba’ in 2015.
In the heat of Boko Haram insurgence in the North-east, the Civilian JTF groups were formed in Borno and Adamawa states to assist the military tackle the matter. IDP camps were also established to cater for the needs of the displaced. The questions are: Why is the military opposed to the formation of Civilian JTF to complement the workings of the Armed Forces in most of the North-central states affected by herdsmen attacks? Why is there no single IDP camp in the southern part of Kaduna state after the killings of several hundreds by suspected herdsmen?
For those alleging that the former Army Chief was calling for ethnic insurrection, I am yet to know which ethnic group is known by the appellation of ‘armed bandits.’ For alleging that the nation’s Armed Forces are colluding with these armed bandits, it is left for the relevant authorities to probe these allegations in order to unravel the truth. Attacking Danjuma and labeling him with epithets that are denigrating does not take away the substance of his declaration.
Danjuma’s assertion has shown that the House, once built by Sardauna, is seriously harangued by forces threatening to destroy its fragile unity.
The controversy over the Danjuma’s comments stems from our inability to accept and walk through the dark tunnels of truth. A society that terrorises the bearer of truth and at the same time rewards agents of terror has a long way to go in ensuring justice for its citizens. For a nation that abhors speakers of truth, the man who speaks the truth becomes the enemy that should either be maligned or crushed or made a laughing stock.
Former President of United States of America, Joseph F Kennedy, once said, “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge its truth and falsehoods in an open market is afraid of its people.” When a nation enthrones double standards against its own citizens, the silence of those who matter becomes a betrayal.
For those who think the current challenge of insecurity will fizzle out; they sure are thinking wrongly. For the current killings to be stopped, we must accept the fact that we are faced with a greater problem that is complex than it seems. We must be willing to accept the truth and walk the painful requirements in retrieving our nation from agents of terror whose exploits have placed our nation on the cliff.
Reef is editor-in-chief of Forefront, and can be reached on: firstname.lastname@example.org