Captain Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma came into prominence when he led a group of soldiers to abduct the former head of state, Gen. Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi and his host, the military governor of Western region, Lieutenant Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, from government house Ibadan on the night of July 29, 1966.
Under Danjuma’s orders, Gen. Aguiyi-Ironsi was spat on, slapped, kicked and punched. With Ironsi’s hands tied behind his back with telephone cord, Danjuma’s soldiers crushed his testicles with their military boots. Ironsi was then dragged on the ground from a moving military Range Rover, skin torn by gravels on the road, blood oozed from his mouth, face swelled, bones cracked and body parts dismembered. And finally he was shot several times and his bullet-ridden, mangled body was dumped in a forest near Iwo road. And so saw his host, Fajuyi.
It would be absolutely unfair not to present Danjuma’s foolproof defense: he refused to break Ironsi’s crocodile swagger stick as demanded by the soldiers who feared that Ironsi would disappear. According to Danjuma, as a result of that, the soldiers abandoned him and left on their own with Ironsi. In any case, as far as Danjuma was concerned, Ironsi was an evil man. In a 2008 interview with the Guardian newspaper, Danjuma described Ironsi as “a useless desk-clerk Head of State.” In the eyes of Danjuma, Ironsi represented all that was wrong with Nigeria of those years. Danjuma was part of a band of brothers passionate about reversing Nigeria’s slow descent into anarchy.
For accomplishing such brutal act as he did on Ironsi, Danjuma earned his chops in Nigeria’s emerging leadership hierarchy.
In 1967, Gen. Yakubu Gowon who became president following the murder of Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi by Danjuma promoted Danjuma to a Lieutenant Colonel. Danjuma went on to play his part in the 1966-1970 Biafra-Nigeria Civil War. In 1971, he was promoted to a Colonel. In 1975, Danjuma was in the camp of Gen. Murtala Mohammed who overthrew General Gowon in a coup. After heading the team that court-martialed corrupt army officers, Danjuma was promoted to a Brigadier and named a General Officer Commanding the 3 Division. In 1976, he helped to frustrate Col. Dimka’s coup during which the Head of State was assassinated. Following the assassination of Gen. Murtala Mohammed, the new Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, named Danjuma the Chief of Army Staff.
At age 41, Danjuma retired from the army in 1979 following the military handover of power to civilians.
Danjuma immediately started a shipping business called the Nigerian American Line (NAL). It quickly became a major player in shipping goods between Nigeria and South America. Danjuma’s shipping line brought government goods into Nigeria as well as goods for every major company in the country. In just ten years it became a colossus. In 1984, Danjuma formed COMET Shipping Agencies as the agent of the Nigerian American Line. COMET soon became one of the largest independent agents in Nigeria handling vessels and cargoes of all types and shapes.
Danjuma was rolling in money. For a greater part of the 80s and 90s, nothing was heard from Danjuma. He was busy building his business and living large. Then one day in 1995, Gen. Sani Abacha called Danjuma and awarded him the Oil Prospecting License (OPL) 246. It covered the area of about 1000 square miles. Danjuma said that he was surprised by Abacha’s kind gesture. He said that at that point he was contemplating retiring from business because he had become “reasonably rich” and had nothing else left to prove.
But being that he could not refuse this Abacha manna from heaven, Danjuma formed South Atlantic Petroleum Limited (SAPETRO) and started to explore the oil block. He soon struck oil and the rest, they say, was history.
In 1999, Danjuma’s friend, Olusegun Obasanjo, became president again. He brought Danjuma from retirement to make him the Minister of Defense. For four years, Danjuma was at the head of Nigeria’s billion dollar defense ministry. Danjuma was the minister when the military attacked Odi and Zaki Biam in November 1999 and October 2001, respectively. He justified the killings of scores of unarmed civilians by ravaging soldiers. Other than the time he lost it and started shooting his gun in the air and screaming that the Biafrans were coming, Danjuma served Obasanjo very well. He again retired from politics in 2003.
According to Forbes magazine in June of 2006, Danjuma’s SAPETRO sold 45% of its stake to a China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) for $1.75 billion dollars. Being such a kind man, in 2008, Danjuma used $100 million from the proceeds to form a foundation called the T.Y. Danjuma Foundation.
On Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at the launching of the Foundation in Abuja, Danjuma shocked his audience when he revealed that after paying his staff and government taxes and taking care of all personal expenses he could think of, he had $500 million left. To avoid having his children fight over too much money when he’s dead, he used $100 million out of the $500 million to set up a Foundation.
Danjuma’s trajectory is the exact trajectory of the men who have led Nigeria in the last 50 years; be it Ibrahim Babangida, Olusegun Obasanjo, Shehu Yar’Adua or even David Mark. Many of them came from a dark place. They have standardized that upward mobility path even for the civilians that they handpick to share power with them, like Orji Uzor Kalu, Goodluck Jonathan, Boni Haruna or Peter Odili. For the privilege of joining in the pillage of Nigeria, they each have to visit the dark. That’s the reason why at the tail end of their lives, overwhelmed by guilt, they become evangelists of one form or the other.
For those who know but do not care and those who care but do not know, there are essentially only two types of men. Those who have killed other human beings and those who have not. Those who have killed other humans have lost a part of their humanity. To expect ration from them or to assess them with the same measure of human sensibility is to deceive ourselves.
Today, Danjuma who dropped out of Ahmadu Bello University in 1960 is worth $600 million dollars and sits high (number 24) on the list of Africa’s richest men. But if he should sit on a shrink’s chair, the content of his mind would be a psychiatrist’s delight.
In 2010, acting president Goodluck Jonathan named Danjuma the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Council. Since then, General Danjuma, Grand Commander of Nigeria(GCON), has periodically come out to air his views on Nigeria.
At the 50th birthday of Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah, the publisher of Leadership newspaper, last year, Danjuma lamented that the North was on fire. “In the last two months I’ve began to wonder, the North, our house, is on fire,” Danjuma said. “Nigeria is becoming a Somalia. Somaliasation of Nigeria is taking place right now. We have to sit down and face the truths; get to the root of our problem and find solutions to these problems. The responsibility resides with us.”
He continued, “Those of us who call ourselves northerners, our house is on fire! Our house is on fire. Let’s not deceive ourselves, let’s look at ourselves, face ourselves and tell ourselves the truth and find solutions to our problems.”
Last Saturday, while receiving the traditional title of Jarma Zazzau, Danjuma said that Nigerian leaders had failed the nation and that the nation needed patriotic leaders to give it direction. The Nigerian economy, Danjuma said, was in tatters. Apparently he had stopped receiving the memos from Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala on how well Nigeria’s economy is doing.
“The masses of our people are chained down in dehumanising and grinding poverty, while we continue to maintain few islands of false prosperity in the turbulent ocean of penury and squalor,” Danjuma said. “There cannot be peace and harmony where there is wide disparity between the few rich and a multitude of the poor.”
Danjuma carpeted northern leaders for failing to educate northern children and asked them to talk less and do more. “It is not in our character as northerners to talk too much,” Danjuma said. “We need to think more, pray more, plan more, work harder, relate better, but talk less. Battles are fought and won through wisdom and strategy than through inflammable pronouncement and political tantrums.”
Danjuma was not just another leader who lost out of the power equation, he was more like an ‘ogbanje’, coming and going and coming again and again. He had been in and out of power, virtually at will. He had the chance to reflect and come back in to act.
The real tragedy of T.Y. Danjuma is the tragedy of us all. For Danjuma and his likes, their true goal while in position of authority is always personal. When they look for what needs to be done, it is usually what needs to be done for themselves and not for the well-being of all. They interchange “the people” with themselves. Their hearts are never with the people and the people are never in their hearts. They do not know the people they pretend to lead and have no desire or even the values needed to go from envisioning things to implementing things.
Mr. Danjuma will be a great patient of Anna Freud. He manifests all the symptoms of denial. At young age, he was in denial of the facts about Nigeria. Yet, he plunged in to influence the direction of the country. At middle age, he admitted some of the facts but wrote them off as unserious just to repress emotion. At later age, he now admits the facts and the seriousness of the situation but denies responsibility. His stock in trade is just blaming, diminishing and justifying.
“I have taken many risks in my life for the sake of Nigeria and at the age of 75, I thought I have paid my dues,” Danjuma lamented on Saturday. “I just wanted to spend the rest of my life in quiet retirement, leaving the public arena for a new generation of leaders to improve on the modest achievements of my generation. It seems to me now that real retirement is only possible in the grave.”
Danjuma is like an addict whose defense mechanism antennas are all out. To get Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma to abandon his denial and accept responsibility for what Nigeria is, he needs to be placed on a twelve-step program. Luckily for us some of the remaining $400 million dollars windfall from an unearned oil block deal can buy him into such a program while he awaits his real retirement.