12 years after, what are the wider and nation renewal implications of the claims and arguments of the speaker about but beyond General T. Y Danjuma, his model as opposed to Danjuma’s Others? Those reading beyond the surface can easily identify General Danjuma’s Others in the address as far as the speaker was and might still be concerned. His ‘victims’ are not the issue here but the point that General Danjuma’s narrative of “they collude” is turning out to have been grounded. That is the point. That painful point is that the heart of the Nigerian security establishment – the Nigerian Army – that Danjuma presided over has simply betrayed him and the nation and the Ibi disaster warrants bringing back-in this address for the deepest reflection at All levels. Read on:
By Dr. Patrick Wilmot
As a soldier, General Danjuma performed well in courses at distinguished military establishments here and abroad. He received excellent reports from instructors skilled in the arts of war. When he became an officer, he was the one his superiors sent abroad, because they could trust not just his military abilities but his sense of honour and integrity. He was a brave soldier but also a diplomat and served his country well, representing it in the Congo, Tanzania and Trinidad.
As head of the military tribunal in Trinidad, he refused to impose the death penalty even though the ‘rebels’ were clearly guilty of a coup, showing that he valued human life. He was respected internationally because he did not use murder as a weapon of policy. After more than thirty years, people in Trinidad still remember the solider who acted with ruthless discipline, but also with compassion and an understanding of human passion and weakness. The General’s reputation in the Civil War was established on the battlefield, not on the pages of badly written books or through rumours and lies. His intelligence, organizing ability, courage and respect for human life were his weapons of choice, which guaranteed victory. He inspired many younger officers to bravery, although some have now degenerated into third rate political jobbers.
The Civil War could have been avoided if soldiers on both sides had shared his values and intelligence. His profound opposition to the coup of January 1966 was because it destroyed the Nigerian army, even though Nzeogwu was his friend. Excellent officers were killed, not because they were corrupt or evil, but because they belonged to the ‘wrong’ ethnic group. As a nationalist and pan-Africanist, Danjuma saw the introduction of this ethnicity as disastrous. Nigeria had been conquered because the British exploited ethnic discord, and could not progress with Ibo, Tiv, or Yoruba ‘soldiers’.
Though he suspected Ironsi of being involved in the ethnic conspiracy, he was opposed to his summary execution by supposedly ‘Northern’ soldiers. Fajuyi, Ironsi’s host, was slaughtered even though he was not Ibo, nor suspected of complicity in the coup. Danjuma himself could easily have been killed, even though he was one of the most senior officers from the North. This was what he feared from the nature of the coup, that it destroyed the trust necessary to keep an army together and cohesive, capable of focused and directed action. The breach of January 1966 reduced the army to a mutinous and anarchic rabble, capable of the massacre of July. Victory was for disorder, not for any region.
It was the professionalism of Danjuma and other likeminded officers which resurrected the spirit of the Nigerian army as a military force, capable of suppressing the rebellion in ‘Biafra’. The General had been in Congo and saw how the loyalty of soldiers could be bought with packet of cigarettes, or a few American dollars, and swore that Nigeria would never descend to that level. In July 1966, he saw what an ‘army’ could do if reduced to anger and revenge, and without discipline the country could well have descended to the horrors of Liberia and Sierra Leone thirty years later. After the Civil War in 1970, and after the assassination of Murtala six years later, he continued the professionalisation of the army through demobilization and increased training.
But he resigned in 1979 at the age of 42, when officers in many other countries were just being promoted to major or Lt Colonels. Some may fault the General for leaving so soon, especially when indiscipline, cronyism and corruption destroyed the efficiency and esprit de corps of the military after 1979. But the General was a man of honour. Senior members of the Supreme Military Council had decided to go in 1979 and Danjuma was not about to break ranks and succumb to the mirage of indispensability. He believed that he could do the job as army chief of staff effectively for five years, after which he would become stale and useless. Considering the damage done to Nigeria by the megalomania of lesser men, who thought they could not be replaced, this decision to leave service at 42 must be praised.
Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa, with so many talented and experienced people, it exports them all over the world. There were first class officers, who could have replaced Danjuma and his comrades, and fixed all that was wrong with the country, army and police. Unfortunately a culture of corruption and mediocrity emerged, which effectively removed the brightest and the best from the helm of affairs, and arrogance, vice and deception became virtues.
While men like Chief Awolowo, Mallam Aminu Kano, Generals Yakubu Gowon and Theophilus Danjuma could run the country and successfully fight a Civil War with the earnings from cocoa, cotton, palm oil and groundnuts, the current military cannot suppress ‘militants’ fighting to fill their bank accounts, despite the riches earned from oil.
The role of the official was established in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley and China, where appointments and promotions were based on merit. The pyramids were not built by corrupt, brainless megalomaniacs, and the Chinese mandarin did not give his name to the modern civil servant by egotism and stupidity. In modern times, the Sociologist Max Weber, sketched the ideal type of the ‘servant of the state’, the man or woman who performs duties with competence and dedication, for a publicly stated salary, without expectation of personal reward.
When he was a soldier, there were no rumours of General Danjuma using his office to enrich his wife, his blood relations, or his cronies. He dedicated his life and energies to creating a disciplined, modern army, not to promoting the art of hairdressing. When he left office, he became a successful businessman, which many of his colleagues should have done, instead of turning their offices into business ventures. His success in business is due to his intelligence, organizational ability, and integrity. Out of military or political office, many of his contemporaries could not run a grocery store, and failed in every venture they tried their hand at.
Nigeria has a new President, the first true civilian since 1983. Unfortunately this President has nothing positive to learn from his military predecessors, and can only succeed by distancing himself from their misdeeds and incompetence. He was a graduate of Ahmadu Bello University when it was the best in the country. So, he has the intelligence which General Danjuma used to make himself a successful patriot, soldier and statesman. President Yar’Adua and his aides can learn from the values which made Yakubu Danjuma the man he still is. And for the General, the seventy year mark is a good time to take stock of his life’s achievements by reflecting on his values and charting the way ahead. As a lecturer, I did not pack my students with facts or teach them intellectual tricks but tried to impart the values that made many of them successful as human beings. Throughout this lecture, I have mentioned these values, some to do with competence, others to do with ethics.
I keep harking on intelligence because this is what makes nations and peoples great. A fool cannot run a country just as a one legged man cannot win the 100 metres. But intelligence should not be confused with dribbling or arrogance. The truly intelligent person recognizes that knowledge is infinite and that s/he knows very little. It is this modesty, the recognition of profound ignorance that is the beginning of knowledge, and the quest of endless pursuit. It is not a sign of intelligence, when a man put in charge of a country of 150 million, boasts to his advisors that he does not need their advice because he knows it all. General Danjuma reads, he listens to people, even those who do not share his ideas. He respected the intelligence of his parents, his schoolteachers, and superior officers, and even those juniors whom he encouraged to express their views.
Courage is not the lack of fear but the strength to proceed despite fear. The General showed his courage when he took on stronger and more skilful boys in wrestling, even though he knew he would be beaten. He showed his courage in this country, in the Congo, Tanzania and Trinidad where he resisted the pressure to sentence the coup makers to death. His record is not stained by massacres or assassinations because he knew from military experience and human psychology that ‘the power to hurt is more effective when held in reserve’. After the coups of January and July 1966, and February 1976, he did not run and hide to save his own life but stood firm to save the nation. He and Murtala Muhammed supported the coup of 1975 because there was a consensus in the military and the plotters were from all ethnic groups and religions. But he insisted that the coup should be bloodless and that the plotters should stick firmly to their promises and not personally benefit from their actions. He would never show his lack of courage by confessing that he was incapable of controlling an 85 year old juvenile delinquent, who made political hooliganism an art form and disgraced his people and society. And it took courage to stand up to the Americans on Angola in 1976.
The ideal of the soldier is that of the officer and gentleman, the person whose word is a bond, who can be trusted by friend and foe alike. The General was brought up by devout parents who taught him to tell the truth. His mother was literate and his father a Christian convert from Islam, so he knew that both religions prohibited killing, stealing, lying and all the vices which destroyed Nigerian society over the past quarter of a century. Leaders who elevate crimes into virtues, then claim to be devoutly religious, must realize that they will burn in the hottest parts of hell, after creating heaven on earth by stealing from their impoverished citizens, and killing those who stand in their way. You cannot declare yourself a ‘born again Christian’ then murder and steal like Barabas. With this General you do not instinctively count your fingers when you shake his hand, or turn to check who was about to stab you in the back, when he gave you his dazzling smile. Those who have accumulated untold wealth through dishonourable means can never be respected because they lack self respect.
Competence is the ability to achieve objectives, whether these are set by one’s organization or oneself. As a patriot, soldier and statesman, the General has proved himself a success. Although I have not followed his business career, I understand that he has been a success and appreciate that he made his money after leaving military service. I was told he had a mortgage on his house in 1979 and owned about thirty thousand Naira, the equivalent of about $50,000 in those days. If leaders since 1979 had been competent, Nigeria could have been a success story of the twenty first century. Instead, the country has gone downhill, and its people in poverty have tripled. Generals, ex-Generals and their civilian clones have spent hundreds of billions of dollars, without any schools, hospitals, roads, railways, public housing or transport to show for it. If Nigeria had been a business, it would have been declared bankrupt over and over again. Yet these leaders have rewarded themselves with enormous wealth and titles, and punished those who refused to praise them. While public service should be a selfless pursuit of the common good, many Nigerians see political office as the means to private wealth.
Compassion is the identification one feels with his fellow men and women, especially those less privileged than oneself. Yakubu Danjuma has always led from the front, whether on the battlefield or in office. He has never asked his soldiers to do what he refused to do himself, and had the greatest respect for his fellow citizens, not treating them as ‘bloody citizens.’ Nigeria has suffered because its leaders felt no compassion for their fellow citizens, who were hard working, honest, religious and truthful. The contempt shown by individuals put in charge of the destiny of the people was a scandal, as these people were so thick skinned and obtuse, they mistook the fear of the people for consent. Without this compassion for the people no leader can succeed, and a great leader must treat his people with more compassion than his own child.
Nigerian leaders have acquired the reputation of dishonesty despite the history of a continent whose earliest leaders in Egypt made stealing or any other form of dishonesty an abomination. In all African societies the liar and thief is shunned. When the people cry ‘thief’, the offender must run to the police station for protection, and no one in a ‘traditional’ society would allow a dishonest man to become a leader or take a wife from his family. In Nigeria the Shehu Uthman bin Fudiye had a single set of clothing, which he washed himself; his son Bello had a candle paid for by the Sultanate which he used for official duties, and one he bought himself for his private business; Alhaji Tafawa Balewa had nothing to leave for his family; the Sardauna died in debt with almost no clothes because he gave away the gifts he received; General Gowon tendered an account with £15000 when the Inspector General of Police said he was going to probe the government for corruption. Although his governors were accused of corruption, Audu Bako did for Kano state more than any other governor has ever done for any other state. Ishaya Audu, the most successful Vice Chancellor the nation has had, died in poverty for lack of money to obtain proper medical attention. And there is no record or suspicion I know of, of General Danjuma stealing money when he was a public official. When an official steals money that could have alleviated the poverty of the people s/he is guilty of an abomination worthy of punishment by man and God. Corruption is not just a moral offence but a serious crime as well as a sign of stupidity. Foolish men and women steal to ‘make their names’, to acquire a reputation. But while honest leaders will be praised for all time, the billionaire thieves will always be cursed by those they cheat, including ‘troublemakers’ like Gani Fawehimi. General Danjuma has a reputation worth far more than his material wealth, because he did not treat public money as his own.
As a soldier the discipline which characterized Danjuma’s career is an important measure of his legacy. Military discipline measures the obedience of a soldier to a code of conduct established over the years. The Japanese samurai acted according to a rigid code of conduct based on honourable conduct and loyalty to his political master. Infringement cost him his life through ritual suicide. Zulu warriors also expected death from breaking the code established by Shaka. All successful armies obey codes of honourable conduct, loyalty, integrity and honesty. Yakubu Danjuma was a stickler for discipline, and set a good example for his men by his own self-discipline, his refusal to act without honour. The successful intellectual must also be disciplined, acting according to rigid standards of logic, ethics, and courage.
These qualities of a man worthy of emulation are not exhaustive, but they present a guide by which leaders as well as those they lead can judge themselves and others. As an intellectual I have come here to give testimony to what General Danjuma has achieved as a patriot, soldier and statesman. I would like him to continue the good work in the rest of time allotted him. Like him I believe that I have an obligation to tell the truth, whatever the consequences. He has done his duty and so have I, recalling the injunction to privileged intellectuals of my fellow Caribbean and African, Frantz Fanon of Martinique and Algeria, who believed in the destiny of all black men and their continent of origin: ‘The future would have no pity for those men (and women) who, possessing the exceptional privilege of being able to speak words of truth to their oppressors, have taken refuge in an attitude of passivity, of mute indifference, and sometimes of cold complicity.’
I thank you and wish most of you, who are honest and not yet seventy, will live to do so.