Last Saturday, former Minister of Defence, retired Lt General Theophillus Yakubu Danjuma asked Nigerians to defend themselves over the spate of attacks that have been going on in the country as the military has colluded with the killers and it is no longer neutral. This statement has elicited a welter of interpretations. In this report, ABULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU reports on what the former Chief of Army Staff said and what may have necessitated his outburst and the reactions that trailed it.
Globally, security remains the major responsibility of the government. Former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan may have been voted out of office mainly because of the inability of his government to stop the killings of Boko Haram insurgents. Conversely, President Muhammadu Buhari, amongst other factors, was voted in owing largely to the perception that his military background, past experience as Head of State and his civil war experience will stop the rampaging insurgents. However, three years down the line, Boko Haram is still carrying out suicide bombings, attacking communities and abducting students. In spite of these, the government claims that the sect has been degraded and technically defeated.
Significantly, the nation is now experiencing new dimensions of insecurity and they include kidnapping, farmers/ herders crises and killings by unknown gunmen. The latter, in the last few years, has claimed several lives in Benue, Plateau and Nasarawa states as well as Taraba and Zamfara states. Consequently, the colossal loss of lives and property has signaled a security failure and the All Progressives Congress(APC)-led federal government, including President Buhari, have been variously criticized for failing in their constitutional responsibilities. Specifically, some individuals and groups have advocated for citizens to defend themselves in view of the apparent failure of security agencies.
On March 24, elder statesman and former Minister of Defence, retired General T. Y Danjuma added his voice to the call at the maiden convocation and 10th anniversary celebration of Taraba State University last Saturday. Specifically, he had alleged that the military was conniving with herdsmen to kill Nigerians, an act which he described as ethnic cleansing. According to him, “the armed forces are not neutral; they collude with the armed bandits. They facilitate their movement; they cover them. We must resist it, we must stop it. Every one of us must rise. If you are depending on the armed forces to stop the killings, you will die one by one. This ethnic cleansing must stop in Taraba State. It must stop in all the states of Nigeria, otherwise Somalia would be a child’s play.’’
The Killing fields
Naturally, Danjuma’s call to arms has elicited a welter of reactions as some condemned his statement while others saw nothing wrong with it. To the former, the call for citizens to defend themselves is a byword for anarchy and as an elder statesman, Danjuma should have weighed the import of that statement before making it. However, others have argued that the wanton killings across the country with no end in sight, led to the retired General to utter those words.
For example, last week a monarch and 28 others were killed in Taraba state by suspected gun men. In addition, several others were injured and many people have become Internally Displaced in the state owing to similar killings. On New Year day, gunmen struck around 10 am in Benue state, when the people of Logo local government were preparing to go to celebrate, killing people indiscriminately at Ayilamo, Turan and Gambe-tiev villages. The gunmen, according to reports, killed, maimed and burnt houses without let till 3am. Thereafter, they moved to Guma local government areas, Governor Samuel Ortom’s council of origin, and unleashed death on Tomatar, Ako and Umenger residents. The gunmen, within 24 hours, had left more than 70 people dead, several burnt houses and many injured victims in the two local governments.
Recently, 32 people were killed in communities in Dekina and Omala local government areas of Kogi State, including a traditional ruler. According to reports, the suspected gunmen raided four villages during the attack that spanned two days, from March 20 to 21. The villages affected include Agbenema, Aj’Ichekpa, Opada and Iyade, all in Omala area council. The natives said that the suspected herdsmen also set houses ablaze and opened fire on the fleeing inhabitants, slit their throats, and cut off vital organs of those killed. Residents of the villages also revealed that the Administrator of the local government , Honourable Ibrahim Aboh escaped the attack by the whiskers. They also alleged that the soldiers deployed to curtail attacks and killings in the area refused to assist the locals to repel the herdsmen during the two-day attack. In Dekina area council, gunmen also attacked five communities and they include Adumu, Aloko, Oganeinugu, Ojuole and Omayege.
Significantly, the story is the same in Plateau state as gunmen have killed about 70 persons and injured many in less than two months. According to reports, some of the killings took place less than 24 hours before the President’s visit to the state. The villages destroyed in Daffo District of Bokkos local government, were Nghakudung, Morok, Hottom, Wareng and Ganda. Over thirty persons were said to have been killed, several injured, and over 2, 000 displaced. In Bassa area council, about 40 persons have lost their lives as a result attacks by herdsmen in Nzharuvo, Dundu and Rafiki/Dong villages, in the last two weeks.
Defence Minister reacts
In a swift reaction to Danjuma’s outburst, Defence Minister Mansur Dan Ali issued a statement, mildly rebuking his former superior officer. According to the minister, “a recent comment by one of the nation’s elder statesman, alleging that the Nigerian military colludes with bandits to kill people and, therefore, calling on them to rise and defend themselves outside constitutional provisions, is highly uncalled for and is an invitation to anarchy and should be disregarded by well-meaning Nigerians.’’ In addition, Dan Ali pointed out that ‘’the efforts of the Nigerian Armed Forces towards restoration of peace, security and order in Nigeria continue to receive appreciation for changing the security environment from what it was before. The Nigerian Armed Forces is well organized and highly professional in discharging its constitutional mandate. Therefore, if anyone has evidence of wrongdoings or dereliction of duty against our troops, he should please bring forward such evidence through appropriate channels for necessary action. For avoidance of doubt, the military will not be distracted from performing its statutory duties in accordance with the rules of engagement.”
Army tackles Danjuma
Similarly, the Army Public Relations Director, Brigadier General Texas Chukwu, asked Nigerians to disregard the former Chief of Army Staff’s call for citizens to defend themselves. Chukwu pointed out that ‘’the Nigerian Army is constitutionally charged with the responsibility of defending the territorial integrity of Nigeria and to aid the civil authority whenever called upon to do so. ‘’ According to him, Danjuma’s statement is ‘’most unfortunate at this critical time that the military has embarked upon demilitarisation of the North Central Region of the Country.’’ The army spokesman argued that the Nigerian Army would not want to join issues with the elder statesman.
However, he said that Nigerian Army personnel have paid the supreme price for ensuring the sustenance of security in Taraba State. ‘’For instance, a gallant non-commission officer of the Nigerian Army was beheaded on 16 March 2018 in Takum Taraba State by criminal elements,‘’ Chukwu recalled. The army spokesman also upbraided Taraba state government, alleging that it did not cooperate with them due to the Army’s stance to remain absolutely neutral in the herdsmen-farmer crises. ‘’For avoidance of doubt, the Nigerian Army advises the people of Taraba State and indeed all other Nigerians to continue in their day-to-day activities and be law abiding as anyone caught with arms and ammunition will be dealt with accordance with the laws of the land. Every law-abiding citizen is assured of equal protection and security of their lives and property irrespective of his/her person,’’ Chukwu clarified.
PDP backs Danjuma
Expectedly, the leading opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has described Danjuma’s call as “weighty evidence of Buhari, APC’s failure”. The National Chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus told Blueprint Weekend that the country needs people like Gen. Danjuma who speak the truth. According to him, what Danjuma said is timely and ‘’other leaders across the country should speak out and put an end to era of sycophancy that will not help government. What Danjuma has said will help government to correct all these security issues. People are being killed everyday, so what Danjuma has said is nothing far from the truth.’’
Earlier, the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Kola Ologondiyan said that Danjuma’s call ‘’ is yet another testimony of the tragic situation which the Buhari Presidency and the All Progressives Congress (APC) have dragged our nation.’’ The party insisted that the government and the dysfunctional APC must be held responsible for the agonizing state of the nation. According to him, Nigerians are now daily paying the supreme price because of the failures of a grossly incompetent leadership and a deceitful ruling party. “Painfully, the APC-controlled federal government has not only failed in finding solution but is also contending with allegations of conspiracy and acts that are believed to have emboldened attacks against innocent Nigerians. Nigerians are no longer feeling secured in their land. Our country has, in close to three years, assumed a status of killing field where defenceless citizens are despoiled, raped and mowed by insurgents and marauders in Benue, Taraba, Yobe, Gombe, Kaduna, Adamawa, Borno, Plateau, Nasarawa, Rivers, Enugu, Kogi among other states,’’ the PDP spokesman said.
Shari’ah Council calls Danjuma’s prosecution
Last Tuesday, the Supreme Council for Shari’ah in Nigeria asked the federal government to prosecute retired General Danjuma, In a statement signed by the Kaduna State Chairman of the council, Sheikh Yusuf Sambo Rigachikun, and its Secretary, Malam Abdulrahman Hassan, the group described the call to arms comment as unfortunate. Prosecuting Danjuma, the council had argued, will serve as deterrent to others like him as his statement is a call to anarchy and treason. According to the council, Danjuma’s call ‘’poses a threat to the peace and stability of the state and is a crime against the state. The prosecution of the General will go a long way for the culture of impunity not to threaten the cooperate existence of Nigeria.”
The Islamic body also commended the federal government for the successes recorded in North-east against Boko Haram, the return of some of the Chibok and Dapchi girls and relative peace in the country. However, the council asked ‘’ the government to take more concerted effort in seeing that peace and security is maintained in the North-east and the country at large.”
Significantly, Danjuma’s statement will continue to attract reactions and commentaries for a long time as to whether or not his call for citizens to defend themselves is legal, constitutional or a call to anarchy.