General T.Y. Danjuma: Tribute To a Patriot at 80, By Alkasim Abdulkadir
Beneath his tough solder’s mien is a compassionate heart, quick to forgive, fast to empathise and sympathise, with a mind on an eternal search for social justice. He is always rooting for the underdog. He has a prodigious knowledge of current affairs, political commentary and history.
It is difficult to write about the greatness of one of Nigeria’s most revered sons, a courageous soldier and statesman. This is made more difficult by his enigmatic persona; for he is famed for his taciturnity, great circumspection and brevity. In William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, is a memorable quote about greatness. Shakespeare affirms that some men are born great, some achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them. For General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, the circumstances of his early life and dedication to his country ensured he was destined for greatness and as such these tick the three boxes of Shakespeare’s description of the archetypal stages of how greatness is achieved.
From seeing action in Sante, the Katanga Province of Congo in 1963 as a young officer, to the counter coup of 1966 and fighting to keep Nigeria one during the Nigerian civil war and court-martialling Army officers accused of corruption and indiscipline later on in his career, these pivotal moments of his sterling military career all aggregated to meld him into a soldier for whom Nigeria came first, always.
But perhaps, more than any other single event, it was his stance in ensuring that Nigeria did not disintegrate after the death of General Murtala Ramat Mohammed and his insistence on General Olusegun Obasanjo’s ascension to power that sealed his favoured place in the annals of Nigeria’s history. He retired in 1979 as chief of army staff, shortly before Nigeria returned to civilian rule.
With a first rate military career behind him, he took on the world of business and once again distinguished himself in the enterprises he embarked on. Chiefly among them is his role as the founder of NAL/Comet, one of the most successful locally owned terminal operators and shipping companies in Nigeria. He has spent the entirety of his post military careers chairing boards or being a member of the boards of multinational companies, giving him a front row seat in the contributions and challenges of the private sector-led commerce in Nigeria. Through the TY Danjuma Foundation, he also set up one of the most responsive vehicles to the plight of the underprivileged ones in the country.
Beneath his tough solder’s mien is a compassionate heart, quick to forgive, fast to empathise and sympathise, with a mind on an eternal search for social justice. He is always rooting for the underdog. He has a prodigious knowledge of current affairs, political commentary and history. However, what I find most amazing about him is his ability to remember the tiniest of details that happened several decades ago. He is at home discussing contents of Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America, as well as he is versed in the traditions and etiquettes of local and foreign cultures. More importantly for him, there is neither North nor South, but Nigeria and humanity.
An up and close encounter with him reveals a man of great humour who who chooses his words carefully in a rich baritone voice with a deep vocabulary in which he once said to someone after being handed a document, “why are you using capital letters lavishly?” He is a man with little patience for protocol, sophistry and long winding verbosity, as he often says: “So after all the grammar, what is the conclusion?” In the aftermath of Senator Ali Ndume’s suspension from the Senate, during a plenary Senator Ndume had excused himself to go for the afternoon prayer, and as he made to leave the conference room, General Danjuma remarked that, “You know what happened the last time you went to pray (in reference to Ndume being dropped as a committee chair)!” This definitely elicited laughter from all the members at the plenary. Such was his camaraderie –humorous yet stern, firm yet with an immense capacity to listen to all sides.
In recent history, General Danjuma served as minister of defense in 1999, and most importantly in 2010 he was a member of the Presidential Advisory Council on apppointment by the then acting president, Goodluck Jonathan. In July 2014, he was named by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as the chairman of the public-private sector driven fund, the Presidential Committee for the Victims Support Fund, and not only was he the single largest donor to the fund (he donated $10 million) but used the occasion to speak truth to power to say that the “the battle against the Boko Haram insurgency had gone for too long, and the Nigerian State must recommit itself to winning the war.”
In October 2016 President Muhammadu Buhari coalesced all humanitarian interventions in the North East and established the Presidential Committee on the North East Initiative (PCNI), which was designed to oversee all remedial programmes aimed at addressing the crisis in the North-East since 2009. Once again, General Danjuma was called to chair it.
In the words of Woodrow Wilson: “there is no higher religion than human service and to work for the common good is the greatest creed.” At 80, Gen. T.Y. Danjuma has worked for our common good and has fulfilled the greatest creed of prioritising Nigeria and humanity first. Happy Birthday, General.
Alkasim Abdulkadir is a member of the Presidential Committee on Victims Support Fund and the Head of Media and Communications at the Presidential Committee on the North East Initiatives.