By Ofonime Honesty
General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma (rtd.) is the rave of the moment. A fine soldier of yore, politician, multi-millionaire business tycoon and philanthropist, his profile is a type which no one or few can rival. Known in social circles as T Y Danjuma, this former Chief of Army Staff and Minister of Defense has made tongues wag in the polity.
We all know that a pogrom orchestrated under the guise of herdsmen/ pastoralists’ conflict is ongoing in the middle belt and northern region of Nigeria. The herders claim they want an immediate repeal of the anti-grazing law enacted in states including Benue and Taraba, but they have failed to admit that their culture of blood-spill predates the enactment of the anti-grazing Law. As serial arguments, counter-arguments, blood-letting and sheer confusion reign supreme, weighty theories, half-truths and outright fallacies are bandied with reckless abandon.
We’ve heard that there is more to the crises than meets the eye. There is alleged complicity and double standards. Some governors of states under herders’ siege have decried how security agents fail to forestall attacks even after being briefed in advance.
Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, had to accuse the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, of being an accomplice to the attacks by suspected herdsmen on Benue residents. Ortom even added that killings have not ceased in Benue under the watch of army operatives. According to him, there has been an influx of over one million cattle into the state despite the continuation of the Ayem Akpatuma military exercise.
His Taraba State counterpart, Darius Ishaku, while raising alarm over a notice of attack within ten days, revealed that helicopters were used to drop arms and ammunitions for the hoodlums in the night. Security agencies received those intelligence reports but failed to act appropriately. When the attackers struck, blood of hapless Taraba peoples flowed in copiously.
Herders/ pastoralists conflicts in Nigeria have persisted for decades. Uncountable human lives and properties have been lost. We always found a way of tolerating it, but the intensity of the current conflagration has made many to question the wisdom in our tolerance. Are people not hiding under the cover of cattle to decimate neighbouring tribes? Is this not ethnic cleansing? Must we fold our arms and watch our fathers, mothers, children and siblings being gorily wasted?
Dear reader, Pa Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma apparently had the aforementioned rhetorics in mind when he decided to break the ungolden silence. He couldn’t afford to do otherwise. He confirmed our worst fears.
A proverb says when an elder’s face crumples in agony, the young ones break down and weep in despair. Another posits that the mouth of an elder may have an offensive smell, but it has no lie. I grew up to hear that what the elders see while sitting, the young ones standing on their toes won’t see. T Y Danjuma, by virtue of age, experience and exposure, qualifies for the rank of an elder.
Speaking at the maiden convocation of the Taraba State University, Jalingo, Pa Danjuma described the bloodletting in Taraba and other states as ethnic cleansing and warned that it must stop, “otherwise Somalia would be a child’s play.”
Snippet: “When I arrived here (Taraba State University), I watched the cultural display by the theatre and cultural department. It was fascinating to see the rich diversity of cultural heritage. Taraba State is a mini Nigeria where we have many ethnic groups living together peacefully.
“But the peace in this State is under assault. There is an attempt at ethnic cleansing in this State, and of course all the riverine states of Nigeria”, he alleged.
He dropped a call to arms: “We must resist it. We must stop it. Every one of us must rise up. 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.
“If you are depending on the armed forces to stop the killings, you will all die one by one. This ethnic cleansing must stop in Taraba State. It must stop in all the states of Nigeria. Otherwise Somalia would be a child’s play. I ask every one of you Nigerians, to be alert to defend your country; defend your territories, because you have nowhere to go. Thousands have been displaced from their homes which have been destroyed. Many, injured, are still hospitalised. Farmlands have been lost. Hunger is looming. God bless our country.”
His indictment of the military comes on the heels of similar allegations by Amnesty International (AI).
Danjuma made his point. He did not mince words. He was not afraid of a potential outrage from the corridors of power. He was ready for the tongue-lashing. We are talking about a battle-tested General, former Chief of Army Staff and Defence Minister; not a novice in security matters.
The military authorities, instead of rushing to deny those allegations, should conduct a self-reassessment. Insinuation that few unprofessional soldiers are the ones giving the military establishment a bad reputation is not sellable and tenable. The security chiefs themselves have severally indicted themselves by uttering not-well-chewed statements in the recent past; trying to absolve their selves from the issue at this moment is glaringly a futile attempt. The military authorities should spare us further embarrassment. They should shake off the ‘paper tiger’ reputation.
Danjuma’s salvo is very much relevant given the situation we’ve found ourselves. Only a conscienceless human will prefer keeping mute or clapping even as the blood-spill continues. By speaking up, a moral burden has been lifted off his shoulders.
Many opine that being the Defence Minister when the gory Odi and Zaki Biam massacre occurred under President Olusegun Obasanjo strips Danjuma of the moral right to cry foul. We shouldn’t share such sentiments. We should rather blame the federal government for its failure which invariably makes sinners of yesterday run their mouths today as saints. However, at a time like now, we must embrace the tough choice of accepting the message and discarding the messenger.
To the authorities, Danjuma talked ‘nonsense’ but the masses heard him loud and clear: his message is inundated with sense – Nigerians must not fold their arms forever. These attackers are so mean! Their quest of making this nation a vultures’ paradise must be truncated. Dear reader, the ball is very much in our court.