General Danjuma at 75
BY Ladan Salihu
One has to admit from the onset, that compassion is not a flower that grows in the garden of most Nigerian leaders. Personal pursuit of epicurean lifestyle has been the common trademark. Many of them live in an Island of luxury surrounded by a vast ocean of poverty. They lament poverty but have never taken the practical steps to alleviate it. While poverty cannot be totally eradicated, it can be ameliorated. Living a selfish and obscenely opulent lifestyle is the common behavior of most of our well-to-do individuals in both private and public dispositions. Simply put, among them are remarkably rich but notoriously selfish.
Be that as it may, we have a duty to praise the virtue of an outstanding public figure that is outstandingly different from the kind of selfish rich Nigerians we have in this country. The subject of this tribute, therefore is no less a personality than General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, a former Chief of Army Staff and Defence Minister at different times in the course of his selfless service to Nigeria. Though I cannot claim any close familiarity with this distinguished and retired military officer, I believe we must celebrate and praise the virtues of leaders like the retired General cum businessman from Takum in Taraba State.
He had an unblemished career in the service of his country and after the Murtala/Obasanjo administration handed over power in October 1979, General Danjuma went into private life. Military officers are not generally associated with generosity, perhaps because they didn’t come to power with our votes and, therefore, they don’t heed to buy future goodwill like politicians.
Until 1998, he hadn’t involved himself in the vortex of national politics. In 1999, he along with other patriotic Nigerian, recruited General Obasanjo to become the presidential candidate of the ruling PDP because of their conviction that Obasanjo is stubbornly committed to the unity of Nigeria.
The focus of this tribute, however, has more to do with General Danjuma’s philanthropy than his brief foray into politics. With a 500 million dollar foundation, General Danjuma is unarguably unmatched by Nigerian in his position in life. He publicly told Nigerian how he got an oil block from the late General Sani Abacha administration. He sold part of it to a Chinese company and is today using the proceeds from the sale to touch thousands of lives across the country through the T.Y. Danjuma Foundation.
While other rich Nigerians have been busy acquiring multi-million naira estates, luxury holiday resorts cars and a fleet of monster Jeeps with other forms of conspicuous consumption, General Danjuma has been using his fortunes to bring smiles to the distressed faces of the downtrodden Nigerians. In the words of Peter Marshall, “the measure of life is not its duration but its donation.” In fact, when we die and go before God, we shall be asked not how much money we have made but how much good we have done.
How many of our rich men can afford to part away with 500 million dollars and commit it to philanthropy for the comfort of others? General Danjuma had the choice of acquiring the latest Jets, cars and Yachts money can buy to make himself extraordinarily comfortable. Instead of this frivolous lifestyle of acquiring material things that he doesn’t need, the former Army Chief perceives his happiness in terms of the lives of others he can touch.
To chronicle TY’s philanthropic projects is a subject of another piece altogether. It will suffice to mention a few. It is to his credit that a fleet of vehicles operates as mobile clinic with specialists in the treatment of river blindness, leprosy and other diseases are providing medical services to the less privileged in several local governments in Taraba State. The General has also built and equipped a multi million naira laboratory and donated same to Nasarawa State University. This is in addition to the provision of hundreds of scholarships to Nigerians irrespective of their domains of origin or religion.
The TY Danjuma Foundation has rehabilitated bore holes in several parts of Taraba State. NGO’s have benefited tremendously from interventions by the foundation. Of recent, General Danjuma was the highest single donor to the proposed multi-billion naira modern market in kano, which will be the biggest of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa. This and many more merited the award of an Honorary Doctorate by the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria on the occasion of its fiftieth Anniversary few weeks ago.
Philanthropists like Danjuma are driven by the spirit of changing the lives of others. In fact, there is no culture in which stinginess is a virtue. Great names like Andrew Carnegie and John David Rockefeller had left behind remarkable reputation not because of the wealth they built for themselves but because of the great way they touched the life of humanity.
Feeling for others defines our humanity. If all our rich men would emulate the philanthropic gestures of General Danjuma, the ordinary people would gradually begin to perceive the rich as their friends rather than their oppressors. Living selfishly, need I repeat is not a virtue. In the famous words of Andrew Carnegie, “he who dies rich dies disgraced”. Driven by that conviction, he chose a reputation for being kind to others than a reputation for riches for its own sake.
Government alone cannot tackle poverty and therefore, private interventions through philanthropy such as the kind being promoted by Gen. Danjuma can go a great deal to bring relief to the down trodden. His economic empowerment programme for both men and women is a remarkable initiative that should be emulated by other well-to-do Nigerians.
No man should build his reputation merely on a mountain of dollars but on account of touching the lives of others. Philanthropy is a voluntary gesture but it ennobles humanity. General Danjuma’s commitment to the cause of humanity is a challenge to our rich men. Generals and other super-rich Nigerians should emulate him. The fear of becoming broke may probably discourage other rich men from philanthropy. Such fear, however, intense, may not ultimately stop the stingy man from becoming broke. Reversal of fortunes is a reality of life. The rich must connect with the poor for their own ultimate good. As famously noted by the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy, “if you cannot provide for the many that are poor, you cannot protect the few that are rich.”
Lest I procrastinate or run afoul of space, General Danjuma is also a quintessence of fearlessness and frankness. He has stirred the hornets nest with his comments on national issues and those pertaining to the unity of the North without retraction or apology. It is generally believed that, even where you disagree with General T.Y. Danjuma, you can hardly fault his comments on most national issues.
From the grasslands of Takum to the Graceland of patriotism and enterprise, a twenty-one, (not three) happy cheers at 75 to T.Y. Danjuma: an officer and a true gentleman.
• Ladan Salihu, works with Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, (FRCN), Kaduna. (firstname.lastname@example.org)