By Rotimi Fasan
THEOPHILUS Yakubu Danjuma, a retired three star general of the Nigerian Army, has been a long time player in the politics of the country. He was a central figure in a couple of military coups that defined 20th century Nigerian history. His role in the 29 July, 1966 counter coup, the second coup that upended the first military regime that was led by General J. T. Aguiyi Ironsi has given him a place in the bloody chapter that was the military era. He was one of the young military leaders that installed Yakubu Gowon as head of state after Ironsi was assassinated, allegedly, by a band of soldiers led by Danjuma himself. He would join forces with others to send Gowon packing nine years later. Danjuma thereafter took a front row seat as Chief of Army Staff in the Olusegun Obasanjo administration after Murtala Muhammed who he and others like Shehu Musa Yar’Adua had made head of state had been assassinated by the renegade team of Colonel Buka Suka Dimka.
In his position as Chief of Army Staff, Danjuma, many would argue, was the real power behind the throne. He not only led the counter offensive against Dimka and company in their botched coup of 13 February 1976, Danjuma wielded and exercised tremendous influence in the Obasanjo regime. But at the end of that regime he retired to a quiet existence as a very successful business man, one of the wealthiest ex-generals who had the fortune of leading this country at some point in time. He would not return to the public space until the late 1990s when, following the failed transition initiated by Sani Abacha, the death of Abacha and M.K.O. Abiola, the military would midwife a transition to civil rule that produced several players. Danjuma was one of the military leaders who sponsored and promoted the candidacy of Obasanjo who had just then be released from Abacha’s jailhouse. He became the Minister of Defence in the post-military Obasanjo administration and once famously threatened to go on exile if Obasanjo was not elected president.
But as things tend to go between Obasanjo and his friends, Danjuma and Obasanjo would fall out publicly in a row that does not appear to have been resolved even now. Otherwise, General Danjuma has maintained a generally quiet existence outside the military even when he has occasionally made earthshaking pronouncements. His quiet reserve is certainly not a result of fear or worry at stirring controversy. The fact that he is, unlike, say Obasanjo, seen not to be keen on hugging attention, straddling the public space or making frequent public pronouncements gives his occasional comments which tend to be controversial, an aura of oracular pronouncement. Such has been his call a few days ago that Nigerians should be prepared to pick up arms to protect themselves from the onslaught of Fulani herders that have made life miserable for them in different parts of the country.
Nigerians living in different communities in Benue, Taraba and Plateau states among others have had such a terrible experience in the hands of cattle herders in the last few years. The last six months have been particularly gory. In the face of all these attacks in which children, women and the old have been the worst hit, the authorities have appeared or pretended to be helpless. At other times, they have appeared uninterested in the agony of the many bereaved and displaced families that have borne the pain of the attacks by cattle herders. The security agencies have not shown themselves to be better able to handle the crisis where they have not been acting like spokespersons of the marauding Fulani militias. The Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, has presented himself as a very able spokesperson of the herders in the way he has sought to explain away the criminal activities of the herders, blaming it on states like Benue that enacted laws that prohibit the open grazing of cattle. As far as Idris is concerned the only panacea to the ongoing war of attrition between the farmers across the Benue valley and the cattle herders is for the farmers to accept the right of the cattle Fulani to graze their animals openly at the expense of the right of the farmers to cultivate their crops with neither molestation nor aggravation.
The military that have been called in where the police have shown themselves inadequate have themselves been fingered to be part of the problem. There have for long now been rumours of members of the armed forces taking side in the fight between the farmers and the herders. There have been talks of some of the attackers of the farmers turning up in military gear and carrying out their illegal activities with the active connivance and collaboration of military personnel that randomly provide logistical support in form, believe it or not, of air firepower and supplies of food and ammunition not to mention the military precision with which the attackers have gone about their grim business. This is in the face of lingering accusation of human rights abuses and violations against the military by civil right groups like the Amnesty International, AI. Just last week, the military again earned the criticism of the AI in what was seen as their failure to respond to warnings of the Boko Haram attack that led to the abduction of yet-unknown number of Dapchi school girls.
There is indeed the possibility that some people might have turned the ongoing attempt by the military to rein in the Fulani-led militias as is the Boko Haram insurgents into some kind of meal ticket through which they make fast money for themselves. While the military have been quick with denials and rejection of the various charges levelled against them, they have not been entirely convincing. It was in this context that General Danjuma made his claim that Nigerians in the communities affected by herdsmen attack should take up arms and defend themselves or die one at a time. While this may sound remarkable, it is by no means unprecedented. Many Nigerians have more or less called for armed resistance against the herdsmen. Like the call by Obasanjo that President Muhammadu Buhari should not seek re-election following widespread failure of his administration to live up to the electoral promises of the All Progressives Congress party, the only difference between the Danjuma message and those that have been made by other Nigerians is the messenger- his clout as a former minister and military leader, one at that not given, as earlier observed, to making frequent public pronouncements.
Danjuma may have spoken the mind of many. But his words must be seen as a wake-up call to the Muhammadu Buhari administration to rise up to its responsibility to Nigerians.