GENERAL Theophilus Danjuma, Nigeria’s former Chief of Army Staff and former Minister of Defence at the start of the Fourth Republic, is a well-known face in the polity. He has been a constant participant in the politics of the country since the early incursions of the military to the political space. He is one man who is hardly heard but whose actions speak louder than the words.
On Saturday, while speaking at the maiden convocation ceremony of Taraba State University, Danjuma dropped his guard and addressed the constituency he superintended over in his younger days. He said Nigerians must rise up to defend themselves if they don’t want to die one by one as, according to him, the Nigerian military was colluding with killers to attack the people.
His comment was an outburst against incessant killings across the states of the country, which have left more than 1,500 dead in the first three months of the year. He said Nigerians must defend themselves against incessant killings by insurgents, militants and herdsmen.
Danjuma was referring to killings in Benue, which at one intake saw to the mass burial of 73 persons and another 24 buried in mass graves, with similar killings taking place in Kogi, Plateau, Nasarawa, Taraba, Zamfara and others.
He accused the military of “bias,” adding that Nigerians would have to defend themselves without waiting on the military.
He said: “The armed forces are not neutral. They collude with the armed bandits. They kill people, kill Nigerians. They facilitate their movements, they cover them.
“If you depend on the armed forces to stop the killings you will all die one by one. The ethnic cleansing must stop in Taraba State, must stop in all the states of Nigeria.
“I ask everyone one of you to be alert and defend your territory, your state. You have nowhere else to go.”
According to him, if the killings in the country did not stop, “Somalia will be a child’s play,” adding that the case of his home state, Taraba, was peculiar because “it is a mini Nigeria.”
He said: “Taraba is a mini Nigeria with diverse ethnic groups living together peacefully, but the peace in this state is under assault.”
He asked the people to unite and resist attempts to frustrate the unity of the country.
Danjuma’s submissions were, to say the least, a massive blow on the military and paramilitary institutions, as the words came from a man not known for many words.
The military took some time to imbibe the blows as it could not immediately react to the jibes.
Early in the morning on Sunday, however, the Nigerian Army pulled itself together and offered a response to Danjuma.
Director, Army Public Relations, Brigadier-General Texas Chukwu, who endorsed the statement on behalf of the army, said the statement credited to Danjuma was unfortunate, adding that though the army would not want to join issues with the elder statesman, it was compelled to put some records straight.
“The attention of the Nigerian Army has been drawn to the unfortunate statement made by a former Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, during the convocation ceremony of the Taraba State University on Saturday, March 24, 2018 in which he categorically asserted that the Armed Forces of Nigeria was colluding with militia groups and other criminal elements and was unable to provide security for the citizens of Taraba State.
“He further called the people of Taraba State to take up arms and defend themselves. The Nigerian Army views this statement made by the former Chief of Army Staff as most unfortunate at this critical time that the military has embarked upon demilitarisation of the North Central region of the country.
“While Nigerian Army would not want to join issues with the elder statesman, however, certain facts need to be clearly stated in the interest of the Taraba People and the Nigerian public.”
The army listed its activities especially in the Taraba axis as follows:
“The Nigerian Army is constitutionally charged with the responsibility of defending the territorial integrity of Nigeria and to aid the civil authority whenever called upon to do so. In this light, the authorisation for the conduct of Ex Ayem Akpatuma was authorised and troops deployed to curb menace of the herdsmen-farmers conflict and other criminal activities in the North Central region, amongst others.
“It is on record that the successes so far achieved in Ex Ayem Akpatuma have been recognised and accepted by Nigerians.
“The public is notified that Nigerian Army personnel have had to pay the supreme price for ensuring the sustenance of security in Taraba State. For instance, a gallant non-commission officer of the Nigerian Army was beheaded on March 16, 2018 in Takum, Taraba State, by criminal elements.
“It is noteworthy to state that at the inception of Ex Ayem Akpatuma, the Taraba State government did not cooperate with the Nigerian Army due to the army’s stance to remain absolutely neutral in the herdsmen-farmers crisis. The Nigerian Army will continue to remain as such.
“For avoidance of doubt, the Nigerian Army advises the people of Taraba State and indeed all other Nigerians to continue in their day-to-day activities and be law abiding as anyone caught with arms and ammunition will be dealt with accordance with the laws of the land. Every law-abiding citizen is assured of equal protection and security of their lives and property irrespective of his/her person.”
The declaration by Danjuma was coming on the heels of similar but less microphonic sound bites from the governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom; his Taraba State counterpart, Darius Ishaku, as well as some citizens in Plateau and Zamfara states, who claimed that despite the presence of the military, the killers have continued to operate.
Ortom had asked that the said operation Ex Ayem Akpatuma be made a full-fledged operation to ensure that the forces are able to clear the killers from his communities.
At a recent Senate sitting, Senator Kabir Marafa raised the issue of Zamfara killings, saying that some authorities in the state also colluded with the killers whom he said kidnap at will and demand openly for ransom.
The Danjuma bombshell is also coming on the heels of another condemnation of the security forces by the global human rights watchdog, Amnesty International (AI), which claimed that the Nigerian security forces were alerted in advance ahead of the kidnap of the 110 schoolgirls in Dapchi, Yobe State.
The group, which spoke through a release on March 19, said no fewer than five calls were put through to security forces between 2.00 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. on the day the girls were kidnapped from Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi.
According to AI, the first call was made to the Nigerian Army command in Geidam, 54km from Dapchi, alerting them that some Boko Haram fighters had been seen at Futchimiram heading towards Gumsa, a village about 30km from Dapchi. It said the military never responded to the distress call.
The report further said: “The sighting of an armed convoy at Futchimiram immediately sparked several phone calls to alert authorities. Sources who informed the military commander in Geidam at 2.00 p.m. report that he responded to them by saying he was
aware of the situation and was monitoring it.
“At about 3.00 p.m., the convoy arrived in Gumsa, where they remained till 5.00 p.m. People in Gumsa called Dapchi villagers to warn them that Boko Haram fighters were on their way. One villager who received such a call said he informed a police sergeant who promised to notify the Dapchi Division Police Officer (DPO).
“At about 6.30 p.m., when residents were heading to the mosque for evening prayers, Boko Haram members entered Dapchi. Witnesses said Boko Haram fighters asked for directions to the military post, the local government office and the girls’ school.”
The international non-governmental organisation (NGO) also said some 50 Boko Haram fighters stormed Dapchi according to reports it gathered from eyewitnesses, adding they insurgents arrived in a convoy of nine vehicles, including seven Land Cruiser trucks, one Hilux and a Canter truck.
The report stated that the policemen in Dapchi ran away on sighting the Boko Haram insurgents for fear they could be overpowered.
“They left Dapchi at about 7.30 p.m. in the direction of Gumsa, where villagers say they arrived at about 9.00 p.m. During the attack, army officials both in Geidam and Damaturu were again alerted. The military only arrived in Dapchi shortly after Boko Haram left. Villagers in Dapchi and Gumsa said a military jet arrived about one hour after Boko Haram left Dapchi,” the report read.
Director of AI in Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, stated there were “inexcusable security lapses” leading to the kidnap, adding that Nigerian authorities apparently failed in their duty to protect civilians, the same way it happened in Chibok, Borno State, four years ago.
“Evidence available to Amnesty International suggests that there are insufficient troops deployed in the area and that an absence of patrols and the failure to respond to warnings and engage with Boko Haram contributed to this tragedy.
“The government’s failure in this incident must be investigated and the findings made public and it is absolutely crucial that any investigation focuses on the root causes,” he said.
The military and the police had, however, denied the claims by AI, as they insisted that they never shirked in their responsibilities of defending the people.
The leading opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), also added its voice to the unfolding saga as it backed Danjuma’s outbursts, declaring that the statement of the elder statesman was a weighty evidence of the failure of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The party called on the international community to help Nigerians overcome the spate of killings.
PDP, in a statement endorsed by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the call by Danjuma that Nigerians should defend themselves against killers “is yet another testimony of the tragic situation which the Buhari Presidency and the All Progressives Congress (APC) have dragged our nation.”
According to the party, the statement justifies PDP’s stand that the Buhari’s Presidency and the APC must be held responsible for the agonising state of affairs in the country, leading to several loss of lives.
It added that the pronouncement, coming from an army General like Danjuma, was “weighty and directly reflects the ugly situation in the country under the APC.”
The party also said it was worrisome that citizens and communities across the country were now resorting to self-defence, adding that such situation was a reflection of the people’s loss of confidence in President Buhari and the APC.
“It is instructive to recall that former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida, both former military leaders, army Generals and patriots, had earlier raised the issue of unabating bloodletting and pogrom in our country under the APC and the Buhari Presidency.
“Painfully, the APC-controlled Federal Government has not only failed in finding solution but is also contending with allegations of conspiracy and acts that are believed to have emboldened attacks against innocent Nigerians.
“Nigerians are no longer feeling secured in their land. Our country has, in close to three years, assumed a status of killing field where defenceless citizens are despoiled, raped and mowed by insurgents and marauders in Benue, Taraba, Yobe, Gombe, Kaduna, Adamawa, Borno, Plateau, Nasarawa, Rivers, Enugu, Kogi, among other states.
“Unfortunately, the Buhari-led APC Federal Government remains aloof and has failed to take decisive steps that will apprehend the masterminds of the carnage.
“Instead, what we are witnessing are complete government’s insensitivity, allegations of complicity and compromise of security around soft targets and dishing out of false information, as was the case in Benue, Yobe, Taraba and other states where Nigerians have come under heavy attacks from marauders.
“More intriguing is that the Presidency and the APC Federal Government have refused to come out clear on their roles in the alleged compromising of security in troubled areas, particularly the reported withdrawal of troops from Dapchi prior to the abduction of the schoolgirls.
“Nigerians are also yet to see the action taken by President Buhari against the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, for flouting the presidential orders that he should relocate to troubled Benue in the heat of attacks on the state.
“Similarly, the loud silence of the Federal Government on the alleged importation of military equipment by APC interests in Kogi State remains ominous.
“Furthermore, the fact that we now have a situation where government confesses to back-channel negotiations with insurgents; hasty offering of amnesty to marauders and killers, allegations of round-tripping in billions of naira on alleged shady ransom payments and swap deals with insurgents also leaves much to be desired under the current circumstances.
“While we restate our call for a UN monitored independent inquest on the security situation in our country, we stand with Nigerians in our moment of national despair even as we work collectively on our repositioned PDP to end the misrule of the APC and restore our nation to the path of peace, national cohesion and economic prosperity.”
No doubt, the Danjuma bombshell is bound to generate further and wider reflections, just as the famous letter the former president and Danjuma’s alter ego, Dr Olusegun Obasanjo, addressed to Buhari in January.