T.Y.: The patriot at 80
General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma turned 80 at the weekend. And there has been a steady flood of goodwill messages washing over the man who towers above most men in the country in physique, intellect and patriotism. T.Y., as he is popularly known, has been in the public eye since he was only 27 years young.
His uniqueness lies in the fact that in a venal Nigeria, he remains aloof to the failings of most men who, like him have tasted power and found the taste so sweet they would not let go. He has not allowed venality, greed and the naked pursuit of political power to soil the immaculate canvass of his integrity.
Danjuma is the only Nigerian I know who is not impressed by power. While others, inkling men from his constituency, are lying and killing to get it or remain in it, he shuns the lure of power.
Power was his for the taking when General Murtala Muhammed was killed in the abortive coup of February 1976. But Danjuma, despite pressures from his colleagues, refused to step into his shoes. He insisted the hierarchy must be respected. His principled stand prevailed. And Obasanjo, the number two man to Muhammed, stepped in as head of state and commander-in-chief.
I witnessed two occasions at which I came away impressed by his patriotism. The first was at a dinner in his honour given by a committee of friends at Eko Hotel, some years ago. He said, “One of the best things that happened to me after I left the army was that I became rich. Today, if I choose to, I can stay in the most expensive hotel anywhere in the world for as long as I like. But I am not going anywhere. I will remain here and put my life on the line, if need be, to ensure that things are done properly for the good of the country and the people.”
I think this was during the Babangida administration when the transition programme was subjected to turns and twists and the road ahead for the country appeared overhung with the harmattan haze.
The second time was his lecture at the Lagos Country Club, Ikeja, not too long ago. He described the Seventh Senate as the least productive but the most corrupt since our return to civil rule in 1999. Then he said, in apparent response to some isolated loose talks about the future of the country: “If anyone tries to destroy this country, even at my age, I will put back my uniform and head for the trenches. I cannot let anyone toy with our sacrifices for the survival of this country.”
Let me say the obvious about General Danjuma. He is principled, courageous and frank. Some say he is frank to a fault – an expression I do not quite understand. I suppose it means some people view his knack for saying it as it is as undiplomatic.
Maybe, but I know that he does not talk carelessly. He is a deep and reflective thinker. It always shows in his media interviews. I think it is fair to suggest that the general has refused to learn the delicate verbal art of speaking from both sides of the mouth.
Danjuma’s courage, principle and frankness evoke both fear of him and admiration for him in equal measure. I can reveal that despite his courage, however, the general fears politics and the politicians. He was once quoted as saying that he was more comfortable in the army because in the army you know where the bullet is coming from but in politics, you never know until it homes in. The courageous also fears, you see.
General Danjuma has left his footprints on almost every noticeable quantity of sand in our country. His records in the political crises unleashed by the five majors and one captain on January 15, 1966, and the civil war speak for themselves. I do not intend to say anything about them for fear of saying so very little.
When Danjuma took over command of the army in 1975, he confronted the scourge of cultism in the service. This had become a serious problem destroying discipline in the army. He won the battle against that ruinous blight. He left a disciplined army in the hands of his successor, General Alani Akinrinade, another disciplined officer and a fine gentleman on October 1, 1979. Danjuma must have been disappointed that he could not quite make politics unattractive to the generals after him.
I admire him for his courage to stand up for and defend his convictions and his willingness to serve the country each time he is called upon to do so. In 1998/99, he knew the country was heading for disaster in the wake of the annulment of the June 12 presidential election and the political crises in its wake. He once again rose to the challenges of saving the country. He led the recruitment drive to bring former head of state, General Obasanjo, back to power as a civilian president. He committed his financial and other resources to Obasanjo’s election.
At that point in time, the generals had virtually driven Nigeria to the brink. In his view and indeed, in the views of many in and outside the country, only Obasanjo could effectively serve as a bridge between the departing generals and the in-coming politicians. He had the experience, the courage, international connections and respect and the clout to clean up the stable and make Nigeria a country worthy of the pride of its citizens again. Obasanjo’s election became Danjuma’s personal project. I do not think he believed for one moment that Obasanjo was the messiah. He knew him better than to ascribe messiahship to him. What he saw was a man capable of cleaning up Nigeria.
When Obasanjo became president, Danjuma continued with his support for the success of his administration by joining his cabinet as minister of defence. He kept an eagle eye on the services to prevent any military adventurers from attempting to make short work of the third or fourth republic. His decision to retire all officers in the three services who had held political appointments in the preceding four military regimes was controversial but it was right, informed and well-intentioned. It most probably saw uninterrupted democracy.
Before Obasanjo took office, Danjuma headed a committee that produced a well-articulated programme for the government. It detailed the major issues and problems confronting the country and the new administration. It recommended detailed courses of action. It even drew up a programme of action for the first 100 days.
The fate of the report in the hands of the president could not have made Danjuma happy.
But that did not stop him from doing a similar work for President Goodluck Jonathan. Jonathan did not do better with his report either. Danjuma took on the assignments entirely in the service of the country. But in both cases, he received much less than the hope he invested in his work and administrations.
Danjuma heads the Presidential Committee on the North-East Initiative set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to tackle the daunting task of rebuilding the Boko Haram-devastated areas and rehabilitate the internally displaced persons.
Again, it is not for personal glory but for the success of the Buhari administration in this regard. It is difficult not to rhapsodise such a man who never refuses to answer the nation’s call; hence the flood of well wishes on his 80th birthday.
Danjuma is also an exemplary philanthropist. I do not have the full facts of his philanthropic works but I recall that two or three years ago, he donated N2.2 billion to the launch of the N50 billion phase two of Ahmadu Bello University’s development project.
It was and remains the single largest individual donation to the fund. I also remember that he built and equipped a modern library at Nasarawa State University, Keffi. He never crows about his achievements or his philanthropic works because he is a modest man who would rather do without the klieg lights of publicity.
General Danjuma is now a distinguished member of the exclusive club of elder statesmen. But I know he will continue to look for opportunities to serve the nation and its people whenever the nation calls. I would image these calls to service pump his adrenaline. I add my two droplets to the flood of birthday well wishes, general. Happy birthday.
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