On 19th October 2001, nineteen soldiers were brutally hacked to death by suspected Tiv militia in Benue State. In a swift reprisal action, their colleagues from the 23rd Armoured Brigade invaded the villages of Vasae, Anyiin Iorja, Ugba, Sankera and Zaki-Biam, all located within two local government areas. By the time the rampaging soldiers were done, no fewer than a hundred villagers were shot dead with several buildings razed down. In the aftermath of that tragedy, there were strident calls for the resignation of the then Defence Minister, Lt. General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma (rtd) who granted an explosive interview to TheNews magazine where he characterised the Tiv people in very negative light.
I do not want to repeat what Danjuma said in that interview, because it serves no useful purpose. But in my column on this page back then, I wrote: â€œâ€¦I want to believe that Danjuma talked out of anger because, even from the interview, it is evident that he has a long relationship with Tiv people. If there are problems today between his (Jukun) people and Tivs, he should try and find solution to them. Danjuma should not add more petrol to the fire. He is a respected father figure in the country and within the Middle Belt zone so he should not belittle himself by becoming a Jukun warrior. He should be able to rise above that.â€
Instructively, the title of that piece was, â€œWho is Danjuma speaking for?â€
In the wake of Danjumaâ€™s latest outburst, were I to repeat that headline, I am sure many Nigerians would come out to say, as they are already doing, that he spoke for them but they miss the point. â€œThe Armed Forces are not neutral. They are conniving with armed bandits that kill people. They facilitate their movement. They cover them,â€ said Danjuma before he warned: â€œIf you depend on the armed forces for protection, you will all die one by one.â€ For a former army chief to impute that those who wear the same uniform he once did are no more than hired assassins and that citizens should henceforth take the law into their own hands is to inflame the fire of discord, the end of which nobody can foretell.
However, that Danjumaâ€™s statement would enjoy a measure of public support attests to how much President Muhammadu Buhari has damaged ethno-religious relations in Nigeria. That his Defence Minister, Mansur Dan-Ali, would describe Danjumaâ€™s statement as an â€œinvitation to anarchyâ€ is the height of hypocrisy. In case Dan-Ali has forgotten, this was what he said after a meeting of security chiefs with the president in January: â€œSince the nationâ€™s Independence, we know there used to be a route whereby the cattle rearers take because they are all over the nation. If those routes are blocked what do you expect will happen?â€
Despite public reactions to what was clearly a justification of violence by a high-ranking cabinet member, President Buhari did not sanction or reprimand Dan-Ali whose appointment confirmed very early that this administration has no regard for merit and competence. That could not have been lost on a man like Danjuma who must have concluded, as most people have, that some appointees in this administration are in office, despite their incompetence and insensitivity, not to serve public good but rather in promotion of some sinister agenda.
The military thrives on hierarchy of command yet Dan-Ali was appointed to boss his superiors in a critical sector even when his record of military service, to put it mildly, was rather undistinguished. If Dan-Ali had been a civilian all his life it would have been a different matter. But he was a military man picked as Defence Minister shortly after retirement with the service chiefs who were his superior officers only a few years before now made to take orders from him.
Going by the armed forces seniority roll, the current Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin started his cadet training at the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) on 3rd January 1979 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on 18th December 1981. The Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Tukur Yusuf Buratai started his cadet training on 1st January 1981 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on 17th December 1983. Meanwhile, Dan-Ali started his cadet training on Short Service Commission on 5th March 1984 and was commissioned on 15th December 1984!
Buhariâ€™s pick for the Inspector General of Police office was similarly informed by the same principle of placing personal loyalty above competence and public good. It was therefore no surprise when, following the Benue State tragedy, Mr Ibrahim Idris also made some reckless statements even when he presides over a Force whose men and officers have been reduced to carrying handbags for concubines of VIPs. Little wonder that the â€˜Ajekun-iyaâ€™ Senator is now running rings around them, perhaps in preparation for another video release.
To compound the problem, Buhari decided to appoint another Katsina man as Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) at a time most Nigerians were already complaining very loudly that his National Security Council was dominated by a section of the country, an insensitive disposition that is in itself a threat to national security. That explains why the same people who told the world that Boko Haram has been â€œtechnically defeatedâ€ are now talking about ongoing negotiations with the murderous insurgents whose commanders were recently hailed when they came to drop some of our abducted school girls because they now have a â€œmoral burdenâ€!
In a way, it is the president who unwittingly created the climate of suspicions that have now fed into conspiracy theories in a toxic political season. What we are witnessing is how disruptive promotions and appointments into the military and security hierarchy have combined with curious decision making to render them practically impotent and our country unsafe. Therefore, the thread which connects the variants of violence that we have in the country today, including those being perpetrated by suspected herdsmen, is that the Nigerian state has lost what Max Weber described as the monopoly of â€œthe legitimate use of physical forceâ€ to sundry criminal cartels.
Security structures work best when the objectives are clear, the managers uphold a devotion to duty with lines of authority that are based on competence rather than sentiment and the political control at the apex is strong and focused. In the absence of such clarity, the system will suffer from internal incoherence as we see with inter-agency squabbles and blame shuttling under the current administration. At the receiving end of all this is the civil populace which is then left at the mercy of non-state actors unleashed by compelling socio-economic forces and the divisive politics of the day.
It is within the foregoing context that Danjumaâ€™s statement becomes very unfortunate. Accusing the Army of aiding criminals to attack and kill defenceless citizens is too heavy a charge to make by a man with his pedigree. It is possible that there are rogue elements within the military being used for some nefarious activities but to accuse the institution the way Danjuma did is very dangerous and he, of all persons, must know that.
Incidentally, because of the way we have mismanaged our affairs, with the police incapable of restoring law and order; we have saddled the military with the task of internal security for which they are ill-prepared with damaging consequences. We saw that in the excessive use of force in the South-east last year under the pretext of â€˜Operation Python Danceâ€™. But in highlighting the fact that some otherwise respected retired military officers of a certain era now enjoy peddling conspiracy theories against the army, my friend, Mahmoud Jega reminded us in his column on Monday that in March 2014, then Adamawa State Governor, Admiral Murtala Nyako, accused President Goodluck Jonathan of deploying both the military and Boko Haram to destroy the North.
Like Danjuma who retired as Army Chief to become a stupendously wealthy oil baron (he even donated N100 million after his outburst last Saturday), Nyako, who also retired as Chief of Naval Staff at the same period, is today one of the biggest mechanised farmers in Nigeria, if not in the entire West Africa. So, members of their generation have done very well for themselves in this same Nigeria and that should temper their engagements with the rest of us.
In that infamous 2014 speech delivered at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, DC, Nyako not only alleged that the arms and ammunitions being used by Boko Haram were purchased by the Jonathan administration, he also incited Nigerians against the military. â€œHow else could there be such timely actions regarding the withdrawal of the military near vital positions such as schools and colleges with the immediate arrival of Boko Haram squad of murderers?â€, Nyako asked before he added: â€œIt is now clear to all and sundry that there is an unhindered coordination between the activities of Boko Haram cells and some strategic commanders sitting in some high offices in our national defence systemâ€¦these strategic commanders are waging a war of terror as well as adopting insurgency tactics of using terror to achieve a political end against Northern Nigeria.â€
At a period when daughters of the high and mighty are marrying across religious lines (Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki); across ethnic lines (Kano State Governor Umar Ganduje) and across political party lines (Vice President Yemi Osinbajo)â€”a commendable development I must sayâ€”the poor of our society should not continue to allow themselves to be used as canon fodders by members of the business and political elite who are secured in the knowledge that they, and members of their immediate families, are far away from the theatres of war they most often help to ignite.
The crisis that we face in Nigeria today is that of poor governance and all citizens, whether in the North or in the South, are affected. To therefore couch it in â€˜We versus Themâ€™ narrative is most unfortunate. Asking Nigerians to defend themselves and disregard the institutions of state, as Danjuma did last Saturday, can only lead the nation to the abyss of a Hobbesian jungle. The kind of free-for-all violence that such a state of affair could engender may not affect the Danjumas and Nyakos of this world but it will compound the problem for the majority of our people who are already going through difficult socio-economic upheavals.
As Danjuma is one of the supporters and financiers of Buhariâ€™s long aspiration to rule Nigeria, it is not likely that this administration will go after him. That, at least, is comforting because to do so would be very dangerous since, as I stated earlier, his remarks resonated with several constituencies as a result of the mismanagement of certain issues by this administration. Whatever may be his motivation, Danjumaâ€™s outburst should be taken as yet another wake-up call to a president who not only continues to squander enormous goodwill but has refused to rise up to the demands of leadership in a diverse society.
The Essence of Easter
Tomorrow is Good Friday which commences the most important weekend in Christendom. And as Christians all over the world mark the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, there can be no better time to reflect on the essence of our faith. For me, nothing best exemplifies this season than a story I read recently which brought tears to my face. It was reportedly told by the late Charles Wendell Colson, a former Special Counsel to the American President, Mr Richard Nixon, who resigned from office in the wake of the Watergate scandal in 1974. Colson was also jailed for his role in that scandal but following that experience, he became an Evangelical Christian leader who founded Prison Fellowship International.
According to Colsonâ€™s story, during the Second World War, a group of American prisoners of war (POWs) were made to work in a prison camp. One evening, 20 POWs were lined up after the dayâ€™s work and when the shovels handed them were counted by the prison guard, only 19 were found. In rage, the prison guard demanded to know which of the prisoners did not bring his shovel back. When no one responded, the guard drew his gun and said he would shoot five men if the guilty prisoner did not step forward.
After a moment of tense silence, a young soldier, aged 19, stepped forward with his head bowed down. The guard grabbed him and shot him in the head. He then turned to warn the others that they would suffer a similar fate if they exhibited the same carelessness. When the prison guard left, the 19 remaining POWs gathered the shovels only to discover there were actually 20. The guard had miscounted.
In his commentary on the story, Pastor John Piper wrote: â€œCan you imagine the emotions that must have filled their (the remaining 19 POWs) hearts as they knelt down over his (their slain colleague) body? In the five or ten seconds of silence, the boy had weighed his whole future in the balanceâ€”a future wife, an education, a new truck, children, a career, fishing with his dadâ€”and he chose death so that others might live. Jesus said in John 15:13, Greater love has no one than this; that one lay down his life for his friends.â€
I wish all my Christian readers Happy Easter!
Copies of my book, â€˜Against The Run of Play: How an incumbent president was defeated in Nigeriaâ€™ are now available at N3,000 each in several bookshops across the country. Interested readers can check out the addresses of where they can get the book on my web portal, olusegunadeniyi.com. Bookshop managers interested in wholesale copies can also contact The Booksellers Limited on 08033229113.
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