General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma is being interrogated in the Nigerian media following his allegation of collusion between the Nigerian military and bandits stalking the country at the maiden convocation ceremony of Taraba State University last Saturday. It would have been a strange thing if anything different from interrogation followed that sort of pronouncement because, although, he never became Head of State, he enjoys the same status in Nigeria as any of those who ruled the country. His pronouncements invite critical attention because his name also connotes uncommon military prowess. Nevertheless, it would have looked somehow if everyone agreed with what he said last Saturday. Such would have been atypical of Nigeria in its confounding mix of nations into one.
There is, however, a shocking fallback on empiricism in the current interrogation that leaves most of the analyses and the analysts interrogating themselves rather than the General. That sort of thing demands to be confronted, not in defence of General Danjuma but as a lamentation as well as a critique of the character of journalism at the level of leading columnists vis-a-vis the production of Nigeria.
Let us begin with Dr Chidi Amuta’s “General Theophilus Hobbes”, (ThisDay 28/03/18) which is where this reporter stopped so far in following the interrogation. This piece disagrees with Danjuma on the ground that his stand constitutes a manifesto for anarchy. “Danjuma who owes his emergence, prominence, fame and fortune to anarchic decapitation of a sovereign wants a nation of anarchists”, is how he ended the piece which had started almost the same way with him talking of Danjuma’s “1966 bloody emergence as military supremo and poster coupists”. ‘Bloody emergence’ and “anarchic decapitation of a sovereign” in relation to General Danjuma cannot mean anything else in Nigerian history but the July 1966 counter-coup and Danjuma’s role therein. So, for Amuta, there was no context to Danjuma’s “anarchic decapitation of a sovereign”. History started not before or not with what might have provoked the counter-coup but only after that bloody event. In Amuta’s analysis, there is thus a thick binary between the events of January 15th, 1996 and July 1966, more so that Danjuma did not come out to decry the recent ‘decapitation’ of IPOB/MASSOB. And history went on from there to Danjuma presiding over Odi and Zaki Biam invasions. This is history writing by one of the few remaining beneficiaries of Nigerian universities on the bend, making a sharp distinction between one set of killings and another in a painful but highly interconnected survival tests for Africa’s leading postcolonial state.
Other than this manner of writing History, Amuta revels in an unproblematic usage of the concept of anarchy, justifying his resort to it in a dated interpretation of what the political philosopher he is quoting actually meant. Hobbes did not conceive of the state of nature as the war of all against all just because there is no state power to mediate inter-group relations. The Hobbesian state of nature has been located in Hobbes’ belief that ‘the actions of men proceed from their opinions’. As the words which human groups use have no objective meaning, what scholars working in the area call ‘epistemological indeterminacy’ rather than ‘the war of all against all’ is what triggers the anarchy in the state of nature. Hence the argument that “Conflict is not simply intrinsic to humanity’s potential for aggression, nor can it be attributed to (or resolved by) straightforward utilitarian calculations of competing and conflicting interests. The state of nature is defined not just by a lack of trust, but much more fundamentally by a condition of epistemological indeterminacy which renders even the universal fear of death at best a partial remedy, and the existence of conflict and mistrust endemic”.
Having been unable to rescue himself from analyses imprisoned in thick walls, Amuta is unable to locate the problem in the disinclination of the Nigerian State at the moment to do what Hobbes tasked it – to harmonise epistemological indeterminacy so that there would not be state of nature or what Amuta calls “armed masses in defiance of the state” pouring out with machetes, Dane guns, bows and arrows, clubs, cudgels and all that. That is the closest he came to defining anarchy without considering that ‘anarchy is what we make of it’ as the counter to Realist formulation of international politics as an anarchical space has beautifully put it. If anarchy is what we make of it rather than something standing there uncontested, then Amuta’s piece collapses because the contention on which it is erected is not sustainable.
Let us leave Dr. Amuta with his understandable but uncritical concept usage and move to Lasisi Olagunju, one of the earliest commentators on Danjuma’s pronouncement. In his ‘Monday Lines’ column in Tribune, (March 26, 2018), he took Gen Danjuma’s intervention as declaration of freedom for the Middle Belt, proceeding to harp on the theology of how culturally far apart the north and south of Nigeria are from each other and how the north is such a drag on the south. This is an old song with nothing shocking about it anymore except the disservice it does to southern Nigeria. This region has potentials for rapid social transformation basically because there has been a tradition of agitation and the associated mobilisational consequences of that. The south is conscious of the inter-discursive space as one of the most important requirements for progress. Its atmosphere is more promotional of individualism and the spirit of capitalism when compared to the north which is, unarguably, under the influence of residual feudalism. There is no doubt about that but there is analytical shallowness to proceed to naturalise these differences and then frame the differences in completely oppositional terms.
The truth is that every part of Nigeria is uniquely underdeveloped. They are all operating far, far below average. Anyone who has lived in Makurdi, Dutse, Ogoja, Ife, Ibadan and even the jungle called Lagos, (apologies to Gen Obasanjo) would appreciate this point. It is not for nothing that Prof Biodun Jeyifo recently described Nigerian capitalism as the most crude, most unproductive, most chaotic and most unimaginative. Any binary notion of Nigeria aimed at eventually collapsing the state on the ground of geo-cultural incompatibility is a dangerous strategy of escapism. It is dangerous because not only is there still no alternative to an emancipated Nigeria as Africa’s response to history but also because there are strategic problems with Nigeria packing up. We must continue to combat the parochialism of members of the elite writing Nigeria as no more than the north and the south, more so that General Danjuma ended his intervention with a prayer for Nigeria. That is beside his warning against Somalia in Nigeria.
Finally, we come to Mahmud Jega, Abuja based Daily Trust’s ace columnist whose contention in his Monday column, (March 26th, 2018) is that General Danjuma has no evidence for his claim and it is, therefore, conspiracy theory. First of all, it is difficult to understand where an otherwise very creative writer as Jega got this idea that we can make a distinction between a conspiracy theory and a non-conspiracy theory. All theories are in some sense conspiratorial because it is about belief that something happened because something or someone else was at work. A theory is nothing but an argument, a claim or a speculation, irrespective of the tightness of the formulation. Theories can neither be proved right nor wrong. A theory could have a powerful or weak explanatory power but neither is a proof of whether it is true or false. If there are no true or false theories, then classifying Danjuma’s theory of collusion is itself a conspiracy theory and the entire piece collapse under the dead weight of that inconsistency.
It would seem that Jega would want dates, time, place, signatures or pictures and such other facts and figures before he would move Danjuma’s claim from a conspiracy theory to a non-conspiracy class. No such things exist because even pictures are not factual. There is no picture that has not been taken from an angle, a process dictated by a sense of what such an angle might mean rather than by professionalism. The fact that a picture might capture popular imagination at a particular time and place does not make pictures the product of objective professionalism. Pictures are always exercises in meaning and meaning making.
Jega provides a powerful illustration of the correctness of this claim that “how we see is what we see” when he contrasted the predominantly Muslim endorsement of Murtala Nyako’s allegation of state complicity in Boko Haram under Goodluck Jonathan and the predominantly Christian endorsement of Danjuma’s same allegation under Buhari. Meaning is specific to where we are seeing things from. It is not necessarily parochialism but about the observer’s sense of threat and survival.
Jega’s example should have drawn his attention to the context in which Danjuma was speaking: two years or so of what Amuta described as “rampaging impunity and uncontrolled audacity of murderous killer gangs and herdsmen” and to which the president ought not to have responded with anything less than a broadcast “Fellow country men and women. I am sorry to inform you that we are under attack. A bunch of skilful killers have penetrated the nooks and crannies of Nigeria and are causing havoc. I have ordered the Nigerian armed forces on to a full scale operation to contain this menace. The co-operation of all citizens is required”. The imaginary broadcast needn’t have been cast in these same words but something close to it and it is from there the president would have acquired heroic status as most war time presidents. Not for President Buhari whose own capacity has been under attack by a more threatening variant of ‘State Capture’ than the one South Africans just managed to throw off.
Instead of doing that, Jega was bristling with his conspiracy theory paradigm whereas if he had done that, it would have been possible for him to sense TY replicating what Lord Tennyson was doing in that line in his “In Memoriam: So many worlds, so much to do, so little done, such things to be”. It might be too much to expect otherwise from a fast ageing TY whom people are looking up to as having the capacity to do something at a time so much are going wrong. In other words, he was returning to the power of voice, his voice. Remarkably, he did not name any ethnic identities. It is those issuing statements presumably in defence of Fulanis against General Danjuma who are implicating themselves and the Fulani nation in the on-going banditry.
It is important though to point out that Jega does not write chauvinism. His disagreement with Danjuma is not even on the ground of conspiracy theory. He writes to calm by taking the thunder out of potentially inflammable situations and obviously deployed the conspiracy theory framework as the option with the least baggage.
It looks safe to believe that much of Nigerian journalism and the national media are still entrapped in the doorways of rationalism and empiricism. That needs to change to pave way for the kind of analyses that place the contradictory and diffuse world of today in their social contexts. That way, the media can frame any intervention in the context of power structures and freedom rather than categories that have been overtaken by contemporary inter-penetration. Today, it is General Danjuma. Tomorrow, it would be someone on something else.