On 19th October, 2001, 19 soldiers were viciously murdered by suspected Tiv militia in Benue State. In a retaliatory action, soldiers from the 23rd Armoured Brigade invaded some villages including Zaki Biam. When the operations ended, over a hundred villagers had been killed while several houses were burnt down. Following the incident, calls were made for Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (rtd), who was Defence Minister, to resign.
Danjuma was one of the personalities involved in the disruptions of Nigeria’s political process. He clearly stands out in glowing notoriety. The soldier has virtually been rewarded by all regimes since the 1966 coup till date. He is also one of Nigeria’s wealthiest men. Because of his long presence in power circles, Nigerians have always called on him to engage the authorities on their behalf over critical national concerns. We are in such time again.
Surprisingly, the retired army general sang a different tune lately. Moved by the widespread killings currently witnessed in the country, the former Chief of Army Staff had called on Nigerians to defend themselves against marauding herdsmen and accused the military of trading off their neutrality by colluding with herdsmen, whose impunity has set the entire nation on edge.
“Our Armed Forces are not neutral. If you are depending on the Armed Forces to stop the killings, you will all die, one by one”. Those were Danjuma’s words and admonition to his people.
What is glaring in the outburst is the outright indictment of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration for ungenerously handling the nation’s security challenges and the general’s complete loss of faith in the military, an institution he once belonged to and retired as lieutenant-general. On this particular question, it is hard to fault the former Defence Minister’s observation, at least on the face value.
The question now is: who is Danjuma speaking for? Nigerians or his fellow Jukuns? I am certain many Nigerians would be quick to claim, as they already do, that he spoke for them. But they miss the point. For an ex-army chief to impute that members of his former constituency are no better than mercenaries and that citizens should take the law into their hands, is an inducement to turmoil. It resonates through Hobbesian picture of anarchy in the absence of the state.
If Gen. Danjuma is distraught over the abuse of the military and its use to promote sectarian-related killings or violate people’s rights, why is he realising it now? Before he redeems his murky past, where was he when the same military committed mass killings of IPOB and MASSOB members? Was he under amnesia when he presided over the massacres of people of Odi Town in Bayelsa and Zaki Biam in Benue States?
Danjuma, like Obasanjo, is an advantaged and highly privileged citizen who has unlimited access to the president. Why didn’t he seek audience with Buhari over the burning issues? I believe for most of our “big” men like Danjuma, it is easier to seek consultation with the president over pecuniary matters than to proffer solutions to advance national security.
On the contrary, Danjuma is not one given to levities or seeking cheap publicity. He is a man of few words but very blunt. That is why his claim at ethnic cleansing in Taraba and some other states in Nigeria needs to be taken seriously. It must be investigated because of the many instances of past killings under the watch of the military, but for which no perpetrators were arrested.
It is indeed regrettable that the president is unwittingly creating the atmosphere of suspicions that have now fed into conspiracy theories in a toxic political season. The Nigerian state is experiencing high level of violence because it has lost what Max Weber described as monopoly of “the legitimate use of physical force” to sundry criminal cartels.
It is unhealthy for President Buhari and his government to frolick with the feeble cohesion of Nigeria. A country with a divided military and security agents is in monstrous danger of implosion. Since those who are in charge of security cannot inspire confidence in Nigerians, it is time to shake up that sector to reflect the country’s diversity.
The crises Nigerians face today result from poor governance and all citizens, both in the North and in the South, are equally touched. Therefore, asking Nigerians to defend themselves and disregard the institution of state as Danjuma did, can take us back to the Hobbesian state of nature.
The kind of bestiality such state of affair may engender could be unprecedented, but the Danjumas of Nigeria would be spared. At long last, it is the majority or the masses which Frank Fanon refers to as the ‘’wretched of the earth’’ that would greatly be affected.