This week, General Theophilus YakubuDanjuma’s 75th birthday ceremony occasioned an outpouring of generous tributes from many people and a harvest of advertisements for Nigerian newspapers.
By all standards, TY Danjuma is one of the most remarkable personalities in the history ofNigeria’s coming into being, especially in the context of the convulsions which marked the early years of our post-colonial experience.
It is testimony to his staying power and remarkable ability to re-invent himself in several changing circumstances as well as his doggedness of character, that General Danjuma remains a very relevant individual inNigeria’s fractious ruling class setting of politics and economy.
It was therefore not a surprise that the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday, became an opportunity to reinforce the dominant place he occupies in the firmament of the rich and powerful.
It was Marx who said men make their history, but do not choose the condition. The TY Danjuma persona must be properly situated within the context of the developments of the nineteen sixties.
Those were truly tragic periods in our history and the gravity of the situation which faced the contemporary historical actors continue to define our lives today, just as much as they continue to generate heated passion and controversy.
The outline was as profound as it was dramatic: independence; a regionalised and fractured political elite; vicious rivalries that bred disillusionment which led to what eventually ended becoming a sectional coup that wiped out members of the political and military elite from certain parts of the country; a counter-coup which had a revanchist content; subsequent degeneration of the situation into a horrific civil war in the aftermath of massive killings of the Igbo in the North.
Nigeria’s fate was being molded in the crucible of events which sucked in young military men of the period. TY Danjuma was one of those young officers; he was subsequently to become a notable commander in the war.
The Danjuma myth
It is often easier to stroll the shores of hindsight, with the advantage of being able to cobble together a more finished perspective about the events of history. But if we can attempt a time travel back into the unfolding events which defined our lives, we must accept that those young officers carried on their shoulders huge boulders of the historical process.
These were young officers mainly in their twenties, who were suddenly thrust unto the stages of history. Of course, we all know now, that military intervention has done a lot of damage to our historical evolution, but we needed over three decades into the future, to definitively confirm that fact.
So TY Danjuma’s generation emerged from the civil war with sureties and some legitimacy to play significant roles in the building of a post-warNigeria. The legitimacy received a boost, when Murtala Muhammed came to power in 1975; the major commanders of the civil war were now at the head of the Nigerian state. It was no coincidence that TY Danjuma became the Chief of Army Staff.
He was the quintessential officer who brooked no nonsense and had the real bearing of the military officer. Murtala’s death in an attempted coup only reinforced the TY Danjuma myth; he was the military commander who guaranteed the military regime and was going to, as we eventually learnt, lean on Obasanjo to perish any thought of staying in power beyond 1979.
A man of honour
TY Danjuma retired early from the military but found a new métier in life as a businessman. He built tremendous success. This has nothing to do with our moral qualms about whether an individual should become so rich.
It was not illegal in the frames of the capitalist choice that the Nigerian ruling class foisted on our country. What was unusual was that TY Danjuma was always spoken of as a man of honour, not only in his personal life or in the ways that he related with other people, but also in his business affairs.
It was therefore in character, almost like Ted Turner, the founder of CNN, that TY Danjuma will put the entire Nigerian bourgeoisie on notice, by giving a huge part of his wealth away in a mind-boggling philanthropic gesture. Today, the TY Danjuma Foundation is the most richly endowed in our country, touching the lives of people in various areas of life.
Historically, capitalist wealth was controversial, with many leading capitalists making their money in ways that revolt morality. But what they had done was to make their wealth serve worthy social purposes outlasting the owners. TY Danjuma is the first to put a huge chunk of his wealth into socially relevant use in contemporaryNigeria.
An angry ‘outsider’
It is also interesting to add that TY Danjuma was for a long time an angry man. He was angry about the way that members of the Northern elite treated him, almost like an outsider.
His response was to turn his back on the North; the North which made him in the first place and in whose name, that he had entered Nigerian history.
For a long time, he sponsored the Middle Belt Forum, which opportunists like Jerry Gana rode into positions of relevance. But in recent years, the remarkable turn around, is how TY Danjuma has become a hero for the younger people in Northern Nigeria. He is seen as a leader with a sense of fairness able to rally all.
There is a sense in which TY Danjuma’s life has turned full circle; back to source. It was the reason that Northern Governors and the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), effusively celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday, a few days ago. I have only ever met TY Danjuma for about five minutes on a queue to enter a plane in Abuja.
He was as impressive in height as he was in the fame that his exploits as a soldier and businessman have brought him. Happy 75th Birthday General TY Danjuma!
Oscar Niemeyer and Dave Brubeck: Remarkable exits
ON Monday, this week, the great Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer died at the age of 104. He was my favorite architect of all time and certainly one of the greatest that ever lived. He designed the new Brazilian capital,Brasilia, and was one of those who designed the UN Headquarters, in New York.
On his 100th birthday, four years ago, he got to the office to meet a surprise birthday celebration, which he promptly waved aside, saying there was work to do on a new project to design new forms of housing for the working people in Africa and Latin America.
He was a life-long Communist who dedicated his life and knowledge to building socialism and was an opponent of military dictatorships and imperialism.
On the same day that Niemeyer died, the world of Jazz music also lost Dave Brubeck, a day before he would have celebrated his 92nd birthday. I grew up into consciousness listening to the great Jazz classics, but Brubeck’s famous song “TAKE FIVE”, impacted directly on my life as a broadcaster. It was the song which sign-posted the Educational Service of RadioNigeria, all those decades ago. I listened to it everyday as we were obliged to join that service at certain hours of the day. It is a song that I still play regularly. Between Niemeyer and Brubeck, is a huge ideological and geographical gulf; but they were united through giving our world of their remarkable talents in the fields of architecture and music: two art forms that define very powerfully, the essence of our humanity!