By Adagbo ONOJA
Before the end of the Cold War, ‘Third World’ militaries were generally regarded as conveyor belts of anti-communist politics. This assumption was said to manifest in how they acted as implementers of liberal modernisation strategy for which Western scholars tipped them as the most rationally organised to accomplish in non-Western societies. Of course, the argument has since changed with the end of the Cold War. The West is no longer in the mood for military rule in ‘Third World’ countries but before that shift, the Nigerian military, for instance, found itself implementing Structural Adjustment Programme, (SAP) which is an updated version of modernisation strategy. The conveyor belt claim in relation to the Nigerian military is, however, a bit more complicated. This is because it is the same military which introduced the SAP that also implemented or supervised the implementation of the Second National Development Plan which is the most elaborate articulation of state interventionism in the history of Nigeria so far.
The puzzle in all these as far as the subject matter here is concerned is how one of the unforgettable heads of this rather complex military has never been heard arguing for SAP or liberal modernisation package. That is to say that unless someone comes up weaving evidence to the contrary, some of us have not found TY Danjuma adding his voice to the chorus about there being no alternative to SAP or to reform. The argument here is that any ‘Third World’ soldier who has refrained from that entanglement is an enigma in the deepest sense of that word. And such a soldier deserves to be studied beyond hagiography, the dictionary meaning of which is ‘biography of a Saint’ or ‘biography which treats its subject with undue reverence’. Instead of such a biography, it is rather a thoroughly critical cracking of this puzzling personality that is called for simply because History is constitutive in its own way. Perhaps, it is apt to mention that critical does not mean criticising but inserting the subject matter in its deeper social contexts.
The notion of a thoroughly critical work on a TY Danjuma automatically implies the craftsmanship of a critical theorist rather than just anybody either because s/he bears a high academic designation or teaches in a university or is one of the intellectual commanders around TY. No. That’s not the point. If this is a special project for the larger Nigerian society and for the future, then someone capable of maintaining a critical distance between him or herself and the TY phenomenon is required. Objectivity is a dead horse, hence the reference to critical distance.
The point is that even if it is discovered that TY has been advocating for neoliberalism, (which is not impossible), there are still a number of standalone instances of exceptionalism in and of him that should interest Nigeria. Here is someone, for example, whose sense of capitalism is worth investigating. So far, he does not appear to be a typical one. A capitalist who does not know what to do with just $500m is not a typical one. That is the unspent half of the $1b he made from selling his oil block. Most capitalists would start looking for another $500m and another and another. It is that insatiable greed that makes critics call them a band of hostile brothers or some expression to that effect. It is that greed for more and more ‘profit’ that brings about all wars. So, a ‘capitalist’ with limited appetite for ‘profit’ is an automatic subject matter for critical sociological study because such an attitude suggests a capitalist with humanity in him. But, where might that humanity be coming from? From cultural upbringing or from his religious rearing or from military induction or some yet unknown variant of idealism?
These are important questions especially when linked to his sense of what to convert his own share of the benefits of the nation’s oil industry to. He found that in a good cause institutionally administered independent and outside of himself by establishing a Foundation. Doing so at a time he was no longer in expectation of any political fortune gives that a mystique that is, again, uncommon. The assumption is that there is in place a bureaucracy that ties the TY Foundation to remaining faithful to its ideals as the founder naturally winds down with age in terms of time for attention to from nitty-gritty, supervision, reading through scripts, identifying, recognising and remembering much. The demise of the Center for Advanced Social Sciences, (CASS) in the aftermath of the demise of Prof Claude Ake makes this an important point to make at this point in time.
What about him as someone who could have been Head of State but declined at every turn? It is generally understood he could have had it if he wanted it in 1976 and in 2007. So, why did he not take it? By what constitution might he have been acting? An idealism strange to the general standard of reasoning in the Nigerian political space or an uncommon understanding of that space that discourages thoughtful elements?
Could TY have missed his way into the military profession? This is a question worth posing in the light of the manner he has improved himself intellectually at a time the military was very much anti-intellectual in contrast to today when the average military officer has gone places academically. He does manifest the mind of a strategist and the mind of a scholar even if this claim is based just on a close reading of his February 2008 interview in The Guardian and even in Lindsay Barret’s Danjuma: The Making of a General.
It might look arrogant or immodest to think that one knows better who can write this work. But the standard of work expected in this ‘biography’ would have been the sort of work that the out-gone generation of Nigerian scholars would have best handled as in the case of General Gowon by Professor Isawa Elaigwu, warts and all for the obvious reason of their proximity. After Elaigwu, Bolaji Akinyemi would have been the best. Akinyemi is not a critical theorist but there is an inspiring conservativism in Akinyemi that gives him an edge. In the absence of Akinyemi, there are a few sufficiently ‘crazy’ crackers around. There is one at the University of Ibadan. There is another one in Bayero University, Kano and there is one in ABU, Zaria. The question is whether these are the sort the intellectual commanders around TY would be able to work with, whoever they might be now. But it is beyond the wishes of gate keepers because all gate keepers define loyalty in a manner that make them guilty of the Hausa saying that the problem is not the king but the king’s gate keepers. But the issue is that this is a task beyond the sentimental attachment of any band of hero minders. There is no disconnecting TY from his religion but this is not about his religion yet even as crucial a component of it as it is. There can be no decoupling of TY from his region. That is also a crucial component but this sort of work goes beyond that. There cannot be a successful separation of TY from the military profession because that is definitive of him. Yet, this is not a story of his military career. This is about TY in all his complexity.
It would be shocking if this sort of work is not already on-going. Great if that is the case and greater if it is in the hands of somebody who has the preparation to handle it. Of course, no one work will close the TY phenomenon but every work is underpinned by time and space. That is what is meant when we talk of someone who can handle it. TY himself has talked of an autobiography that would be explosive. That would be welcome but it might be apt to say that such would only be an important raw material for the work being contemplated. In other words, this is the sort of work we expect to see on the reading lists of university courses in civil-military relations, political sociology, strategy, Nigerian foreign policy, agent-structure nexus, the military and the state, state and economy in Nigeria, etc, etc, not a shallow, disjointed story that everyone forgets about as soon as the launching or public presentation is over, no matter the publicity blitz.
May God make preserve all of us to live to see this sort of work, attend its public presentation while TY is still alive! The second and concluding installment of this series would look at TY in relation to leadership and the one, last thing that needs the TY dosage in Nigeria before anything happens.
ONOJA is a member of The Editorial Collective of Intervention Online