For General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, whose silence carries more weight than his words, turning 84 on December 9, 2021 was yet another manifestation of God’s grace upon the life of the elder statesman. For this talented retired military officer described by President Muhammadu Buhari as “no better soldier than he has served in the Nigerian Army,” the bravery and courage of the Taraba-born General in critical moments of national history set him apart as an indisputable national icon.
Not a demagogue but an ideologue committed to the military profession and the nation, Danjuma’s years in the military was a demonstration of the highest level of sacrifice for God and country. Never afraid of confronting lurking dangers, his role in the counter-coup of July 1966 in Ibadan is reflective of the audacity Danjuma exhibited as a fearless soldier when he led a team to capture the Head of State and Supreme Commander of the Nigeria’s Armed Forces, Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi. The January 15 coup torpedoed the First Republic, following the coldblooded murder of politicians and top military officers, mostly from a particular section of the country.
In the frightening uncertainties that trailed the January 15 coup, and the refusal by Aguiyi-Ironsi to prosecute the plotters led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, the floodgate of catastrophe was opened, with prospect of ethnic conflagration hanging low over the nation’s skies.
Thrown into limelight when he led the arrest of Aguiyi-Ironsi in Ibadan in the counter coup of July 1966, Danjuma, then a Major, told the Head of State that he was arresting him for his conspiratorial roles leading to the murder of senior military officers. That a major could undertake such a perilous assignment reveals the depth of his mettle in confronting challenges.
General Danjuma had reasoned that if politicians were being killed for corruption, what then was the offence of military officers who were brutally murdered in cold blood even when they never resisted arrest? Like many military officers, Danjuma knew that there was more to the January coup than the mere reason of doing away with corrupt politicians.
During the war that saw Danjuma leading the Nsukka front that resulted in the capture of Enugu in October 1967, Col Odumegwu Ojukwu spurned Danjuma’s overture to raise the white flag in order to avert further losses in lives and property. Showjumping on a propaganda machine that was feeding false news to the world, the rebel leader vowed to fight to the last man.
When the war came to an end in January 1970, Danjuma was appointed by Gowon to rehabilitate and re-orientate soldiers in the post-war period. As a war strategist whose knowledge of warfare assisted in bringing reformation and victory for the Federal troops, Danjuma was aptly described by former Military President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida as the ‘the Father of Modern Nigerian Army’.
While he served in the Army for nearly two decades, the war strategist deployed knowledge obtained in military schools to solve practical military problems. He was a military theoretician that married the thesis and antithesis of issues in resolving daily problems that harangued the military.
The man who dreamed of acquiring a degree in History and becoming the principal of Katsina-Ala Secondary School, where he studied for six years, ended becoming the nation’s most accomplished military officer whose antecedents in the military continue to evoke awe from foes and admirers. Unlike others who saw the military as a platform for power acquisition, the General from Takum loathed political power and was content to perform his military duties.
To demonstrate his disinterest in anything outside military duties, he refused to accede to request to ascend the corridor of power when General Murtala Mohammed was murdered by rogue military elements, led by Col Bukar Suka Dimka, on February 13, 1976. Against the grains of human reasoning, Danjuma facilitated the emergence of Col Shehu Musa Yar’Adua as second-in-command to Obasanjo. Retiring from the military at the age of 41, the then COAS, who insisted that soldiers must hand over power to civilians on October 1, 1979, turned his integrity into an investment capital as he collaborated with Igwe Matthias Nwafor Ugochukwu to launch himself into the business world. Like in the military, the retired soldier soon found out that consistency, transparency and focus were cornerstones of success in all fields of human endeavours.
In no time, the retired man of the gun established the largest shipping line, Nigerian American Line, and grew the venture into one of the biggest in West Africa. He was not yet done as he diversified into various sectors, including estate, communication, manufacturing, oil and gas, among others. In an unprecedented move, after several years of oil exploration, he hit it big time and sold a percentage of his oil bloc for whopping sums. The soldier who had retired with only his pension and gratuity slowly walked his way to the Forbes List of the World’s Wealthiest People.
However, acquisition of wealth has never been the major preoccupation of the multi-billionaire who had come to the irrevocable conclusion that shared prosperity does more good to a society than hoarded wealth to serve the insatiable greed of the acquirer. Unlike Nigerian billionaires who kept their wealth in foreign lands, Danjuma’s major business concerns are in Nigeria and providing employment and means of living to thousands of citizens. What more, he set aside $100 million for the T.Y. Foundation for philanthropic activities. With the setting of the Foundation, General Danjuma became the only Nigerian, living or dead, to deploy global best practices in reaching to the poor.
Hitting the milestone of 84, and still looking healthy to live several decades in service to humanity, one wonders what is in the mind of this military general who participated in the bitter Nigerian civil war and other critical moments that helped shape the future of the country. Reputed for speaking out when others are afraid to speak, is the retired military man happy with the present condition of Nigeria and Nigerians? Was this the country General Danjuma fought to unite and develop?
First, the occasional outburst of the stern-looking emeritus soldier on issues of national relevance is emblematic of a mind that is gravely fretful of the future. In the heat of massive onslaught against Nigerians, Danjuma had in March 2018 called on Nigerians to embrace self-defence as the bandits attacking Nigerian communities were colluding with some corrupt elements in the military.
As a former soldier who fought for the defence of the nation, it will amount to an act of irresponsibility on the part of General Danjuma to remain silent in the face of glaring threats to national security. He knows the ailments that sicken our nation and is ever willing to assist the country to rise from its self-inflicted slumber of underdevelopment.
Some groups opposed to Danjuma may be tempted to clothe the elder statesman in ethnic and religious colouration. Danjuma may be a Christian, but due to his footprints in national life, he is too big to belong to only adherents of one religion. He may be a Jukun from Taraba, but his activities have turned him into a Tiv, Jukun, Kuteb, Hausa-Fulani, Ikulu, Yoruba and Igbo. In Danjuma, Nigerians of various ethnic and religious shades find the colour of what inspires and troubles them.
As rightly observed by the President of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Dr Pogu Bitrus, General Danjuma epitomizes the ideal Nigerian that encapsulates our dream as a nation and our striving as ethnic nationalities seeking for justice. As a national and global icon, the multi-billionaire has not lost touch of where he is coming from. Little wonder, Danjuma is not only revered by Nigeria’s big tribes; he has been conferred with traditional titles by various tribes, signifying his relevance in the affairs of national and community service. He may not be happy at the current state of our nation, but the elder statesman has refused to give up on a nation he adores.
There can be no better description of General Danjuma @84 than what the erudite Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, Dr Matthew Hassan Kukah, said of him last year: “Clearly a thoroughly disciplined officer and a gentleman notoriously taciturn, reticent, lacking in garrulity, showmanship and drama, shy of the klieg lights, avoiding the slippery corridors of power. General Danjuma, gumshoed, has glided effortlessly and silently through the turbulent spectrum of Nigeria’s national life as a philanthropist, statesman and businessman. He seems simply content to mind his business.”
As Danjuma walked past the 84th milestone, those who love him wish him abundant health for future services to our nation. There is no greater happiness in knowing that the ‘Abonta of Wukari’ breathes; that is enough to scare potential trouble makers from foisting fears on our nation. Happy belated birthday wishes for the consummate military officer who is now the nation’s General for all times.