Between Danjuma and the Presidency

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The call by General Theophilus Danjuma for Nigerians to defend themselves against killer herdsmen hit a raw nerve in Aso Rock, writes Tobi Soniyi

Despite assurances by President Muhammadu Buhari, herdsmen have continued to kill. They are not just killing farmers, they are also killing security men.

Many people have therefore lost confidence in the ability of the president to rein in these killers. For one, the administration has failed to address the source of the conflicts that often result in farmers, and sometimes ‎herdsmen, being killed. Herdsmen want grazing land while farmers must continue to cultivate their land. Access to land is at the centre of the crisis but the government of the day apparently has no workable solution to this.
Faced with a government that is unable to protect them, individuals, groups as well as communities are beginning to look for ways to protect themselves.

It is in the light of this that, ‎a former chief of army‎ staff, General Theophilus Danjuma made the statement calling on people to defend themselves. He urged people to defend themselves against ethnic cleansing.
Speaking at the maiden convocation ceremony of Taraba State University in Jalingo, Taraba state capital, Danjuma said the unnecessary killings which he said were aimed at ethnic cleansing on the people of Taraba and Nigeria at large must stop.

He called on the people to rise and defend themselves against the killers.
He said: “Everyone of us must rise up. The armed forces are not neutral. They collude. The collude. They collude with the armed bandits that kill people, kill Nigerians. They facilitate their movement, they cover them,” he said.
“If you are depending 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. Otherwise, Somalia will be a child’s play.
“I ask everyone of you to be alert and defend your country, defend your territory, defend your state. You have nowhere else to go. You have no where else to go.”

When Danjuma spoke, he expressed a view widely held by many people.
As a former army chief, no one can claim that Danjuma is not qualified to speak on the issue of security. Moreso, his state, Taraba has in recent time recorded several deadly clashes between herdsmen and farmers.

But the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, said Danjuma’s comment was “highly uncalled for,” and an invitation to anarchy. He asked Nigerians to report any member of the armed forces suspected to be colluding with herdsmen.

In a statement by his Public Relations Officer, Col. Tukur Gusau the defence minister said: “On a recent comment by one of the elder statesmen alleging that the military colludes with bandits to kill people and calling on them to rise and defend themselves, this is highly uncalled for and it is an invitation to anarchy. It should be disregarded by well-meaning Nigerians.

“The Armed Forces are professional in discharging their constitutional mandate. Therefore, if anyone has evidence of wrongdoing or dereliction of duty against our troops, he should bring forward such evidence through the appropriate channels for necessary action.”

The statement by the Nigerian Army was most unfortunate and a confirmation of the fact that the army is supporting the aggressor. It is like the police saying that they are neutral in a clash between armed robbers and residents of a community! It is a shame.

In its reaction, the army said the comment by Danjuma was unfortunate and accused the Taraba State Government of refusing to cooperate with the army in the ongoing Exercise Ayem Akpatuma.

The Director, Army Public Relations, Brig. Gen. Texas Chukwu, said the state government failed to cooperate with the troops because of “the neutrality of the army in the herdsmen-farmers crisis.

Chukwu said, “The army views the statement made by the former army chief as most unfortunate. While we will not want to take issue with the elder statesman, certain facts need to be clearly stated in the interest of the Taraba people.

“There is the conduct of Exercise Ayem Akpatuma by troops to curb the menace of the herdsmen-farmers conflict and other criminal activities in the North-Central region. The army personnel have had to pay the ultimate price for the security in Taraba State. An officer of the army was beheaded on March 16 in Takum, Taraba State, by criminal elements.

“At the inception of the exercise, the Taraba State Government did not cooperate with the army due to the army’s stance to remain absolutely neutral in the herdsmen-farmers crisis. The army will continue to remain as such. The army advises the people of Taraba State to continue in their day-to-day activities and be law-abiding.
“Anyone caught with arms and ammunition will be dealt with in accordance with the laws of the land.”

Why was the army not neutral in the demonstration by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra? Afterall the group was merely expressing its right to self determination?
In a sane country, the army and the federal government would have demanded for proof of the allegation made by Danjuma instead of rushing to issue a denial. The government could have instituted an investigation to determine the veracity of the claim.

But in a desperate move, the army denied the allegation without investigating whether the claim was true or not. That is absurd. Given the unwillingness of the government to stop the killings, more people are likely to believe Danjuma than they would believe the army or the defence minister. The only way to prove that Danjuma is wrong is to cause an investigation to be carried out. Those who have proof can then come forward. But by out rightly dismissing the allegation as baseless, this government lost the opportunity to win back peoples’ confidence.

The government may not want to accept this but the reality is that many people have lost confidence in its ability to protect them. The government is obviously not aware of the extent of damage the herdsmen had caused to the unity of Nigeria otherwise it would not have been defending the indefensible.
Before Danjuma spoke out, other people had made similar suggestion.

Increasingly, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has continued to alienate itself from the people. When former President Olusegun Obasanjo spoke out, he was condemned. When former military head of state, Ibrahim Babangida spoke, his spokesman was declared wanted. Now that Theophilus Danjuma has spoken, he also does not know what he is saying. There are many more people who have spoken. This government has refused to listen to them. As the saying goes, the dog that will get lost will not heed its master’s call.

In case the minister of defence does not know, anarchy is here already. if he is in doubt, he should ask the people of Benue and Taraba states.

Before Danjuma asked the people to defend themselves, the governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom, out of frustration had made a similar call.

He said: “It is because we are law-abiding, that is why we are being attacked daily. You need to listen and hear the opinion of the people of the state on the matter.

“I think the people should have the right to defend themselves and not make themselves easy prey to be killed in their homes.

“So any lawful means, you can adapt to defend yourself just go ahead in Benue state. We are not going to wait for the Inspector-General of Police, IGP, to do it.

Nyesom Wike, Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike echoed a similar sentiment when he visited Benue State to commiserate with his colleague, Ortom, on the killings.

He lamented: “People who were either sleeping or doing one thing or the other to help themselves were killed like cows and ordinary animals.

“We just visited the graveside and it is quite touchy; you should take heart, God will fight for you. But let me say that God fighting for you does not mean that you will not defend yourself.

“The problem we Christians have is that we like to misinterpret the Bible, which says that when you are slapped you will turn the other cheek. Assuming you don’t have the other cheek to turn to? God will only fight for you when you are ready to fight for yourself.
“We must not take the laws into our hands, but that does not mean that if you see an armed robber coming to your house you should run. You must defend yourself when you see an armed robber coming. That is not taking laws into your hand.”

For how long will this government continue to be in denial?

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In case the minister of defence does not know, anarchy is here already. if he is in doubt, he should ask the people of Benue and Taraba states.