Today, December 9, marks the 86th birthday of a peerless statesman whose life symbolises the indispensable role of fate and faith in the affairs of man. His life is a clear testimony that those destined for greatness are profoundly protected by divine powers to fulfill their destinies. The retired military officer from the Kwararafa Kingdom, who is the ‘Abonta of Kwararafa’ remains an epitome of strict discipline.
Breaking through the limelight
He was thrown into limelight as a young army officer in July 1966 when he led some soldiers to arrest the first Nigeria’s Military Head of State, then known as Nigeria’s Supreme Commander, Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, in Ibadan. The July 1966 coup came after the January 15 coup, led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, terminated the lives of prominent Nigeria politicians, including Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa, Premier of the defunct Northern Region and the ‘Sardaunan Sokoto’, Sir Ahmadu Bello, among others.
It was not only the cold-blooded murder of politicians from mostly a particular region that ignited ethnic sentiments; the slaughter of military officers, mostly from the North, who had no hand in the political leadership, only confirmed that the mutinous soldiers were on a mission to eliminate politicians and military officers from a particular region. No doubt, the first coup not only terminated the lives of some First Republic politicians in a gruesome manner; it opened the floodgates to future military intervention in politics. The heroic role of then Major Danjuma in the Jule 1966 coup turned out the personification of his courageousness.
Nearly six decades after the civil war, the former Commander of the Nsukka Front that captured Enugu, then capital of Biafra, remains a creative enigma whose humane disposition to prisoners of war is still remembered.
Footprints in the military
As the Chief of Army Staff, he worked endlessly to rationalise the Nigerian Army that had grown to be 250,000 strong, owing to the exigencies of the civil war. His leadership of the Army witnessed the establishment of military schools, including the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji in Kaduna State. He also looked into the welfare of soldiers and built barracks for them and their children and wards.
As a professional, he was a firm believer in the rule that places a premium on military hierarchy. Such strict adherence by him to the rule was demonstrated when, against advice of some top military officers, he declined to succeed General Murtala Ramat Muhammed who was killed in the Col. Dimka-led coup on 13th February 1976. In an unprecedented show of self-sacrifice, he insisted that Murtala’s deputy, General Olusegun Obasanjo assumed the reins of power. To his credit, he doused religious tension when he facilitated the emergence of a then young officer, Col Shehu Musa Yar’Adua to become deputy to Obasanjo. In doing that, Danjuma tackled the sentiment that the murder of Murtala was inspired by Christian soldiers.
Another of Danjuma’s sterling strides was ensuring that Obasanjo handed power to civilians on October 1, 1979. Despite promises by the then military regime to give power back, there was subtle pressure for the Obasanjo-led regime to postpone the handover date. Danjuma would have none of that, citing that one of the major reasons for removing General Yakubu Gowon from power in July 1975 was hinged on his several postponements of handing over power to civilians. The then army boss felt that it was only proper for soldiers to stand by their promise.
Still untired in service
After his retirement from the military in 1979, Danjuma would sail into the high seas of the business world and made a huge fortune. For his love for democracy, he accepted to serve as Minister of Defence under President Obasanjo and carried out reforms that have continued to define the nation’s military. Over 44 years since leaving the Army, his name has become synonymous with business success in shipping, oil, banking, estate, among others.
More than the successes he has attained in the art of making money, the quiet retired army officer shook the tables when, in 2009, he established the TY Danjuma Foundation and set aside $100 million for philanthropic activities. Through the Foundation, the ‘Gam Gbaro Donga’ has deployed his vast wealth to touch the lives of the less privileged.
The Foundation has become his signature print in reaching out to those in dire need of help through a formal setting. The Foundation has also constructed hospitals, lecture theatres, hostels and embarked on ventures for alleviation of poverty plaguing citizens, among other activities. Though a generous person, who is not tired of giving, but shies away from the floodlight, the ‘Jarmai Zazzau’ is now a figure of speech for unity in a diverse society.
Attaining the milestone of 86 today, he seems not done in helping the weak of society. The recent flurry of activities in the commissioning of projects built by his Foundation is reflective of his kindness. Having recognised the role of divine favours in his life, he has discovered that the best way to repay the debt of his gratitude to the Almighty God is to lift the burden of living for others. Therein lies the essentials of the TY Danjuma phenomenon in a society devoid of empathy from leadership.
To the consummate General of all times, may your strength never fail you in the decades to come, as you increase your service and devotion to God and Humanity. Live long and well in good health in the decades to come. Happy 86th Birthday General!