When former Generals speak these days, Nigerians listen. So when Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma mounted the rostrum of the Taraba State University on Saturday, March 24, 2018, the press tuned in and social media went haywire afterward.
“We must resist it (). We must stop it. Every one of us must rise up. The armed forces are not neutral. They collude with the armed bandits that kill people. Kill Nigerians”, Danjuma said, occasionally punctuating his remarks with a nervy silence.
Soldiers, Danjuma said, facilitate the sinister movement of killer herdsmen. “They cover them. If you are depending you will all die one by one.
“The ethnic cleansing must stop in Taraba State, must stop in all the States of Nigeria otherwise Somalia will be a child’s play.
“I ask every one of you to be alert and defend your country. Defend your territory, defend your State. You have nowhere else to go. God bless our country”.
It was an emotion laden speech from Danjuma. The rest of the country has been parsing all that was said by the former Minister of Defence and former Chief of Army Staff. And rightly so.
Like Olusegun Obasanjo, Yakubu Gowon and Abdulsalami Abubakar, Danjuma’s comments on what goes on in the barracks and around our nation, shouldn’t be taken lightly. Their words carry weight.
Now 79 years of age, Danjuma has been around since Nigeria’s independence. He has taken part in coups and counter-coups. He has led sorties to battle as a former General.
He has oil wells to his name and has submerged his hands in that proverbial cookie jar. So when he accuses the army of taking sides with the killer herdsmen, he should know what he’s talking about. His experience on matters of this nature should certainly hand him an edge.
And I suggest that President Muhammadu Buhari and his team investigate if truly the army has been facilitating the activities of the killer herdsmen and providing them cover. Those are grave allegations that shouldn’t be swept under the carpet.
When herdsmen kill brazenly like they've been doing across Nigeria, there's always the temptation to resort to an emotionally charged speech like Danjuma's. That's understandable.
However, I don’t agree with Danjuma when he calls upon citizens to rise and defend themselves. It’s a call to anarchy. It is a reckless call. For a country dealing with all kinds of gunmen and security challenges everywhere you turn, the last thing an elder statesman should be doing is adding gasoline to a raging inferno by asking folks to rise up and defend themselves.
Don't get it twisted--there's nothing wrong with self-defense. But when reprisal attacks are couched as self defense, we could all get into trouble. When speeches seek to inflame passions, we shoot ourselves in the foot.
For all their noticeable flaws, the job of defending the country is that of the military, police and other security outfits. If everyone heeds Danjuma’s call and rises up in arms against the next man, we’ll be burning this country to the ground in days.
What we should be doing is reforming relevant and constitutionally empowered security institutions charged with keeping us safe; and passing them tips.
Once a soldier, always a soldier, they say. You would think that Danjuma who spent most of his life in the army, would be the last person dragging and publicly shaming an institution that gave him everything. But here we are. You would think that Danjuma who has supervised soldiers as a civilian and in an army uniform, won’t be dissing ‘his boys’ out in the yard and hanging them out to dry—that there would be other ways Danjuma would pass on information to the army rank and file without calling for civil disobedience.
Our democracy is a fledgling one. To nurture it, leaders like Danjuma have to watch what they say every step of the democratic process. Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gunpowder as it were. The likes of Danjuma shouldn't make it any worse.