There can be no argument that for a long time, TY Danjuma has maintained near-total influence in the politics of Taraba state, dictating who gets what as far as electoral positions are concerned. In fact, for several decades now, General Danjuma has used his military connections, massive wealth and philanthropic disposition to exercise unparalleled influence on Nigerian politics – military and civilian – not only in his home state of Taraba but also at the national level and in other states. Even at age 84, TY Danjuma remains, unarguably, the most politically influential non-partisan politician in Nigeria today.
Danjuma’s total dominance of the politics of Taraba state has been a source of concern to many people in the opposing camp and they are not pretending about it. Iliyasu Gadu, the Senatorial candidate of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP) for Taraba South in the recent Nigeria’s general election does not hide his frustration with the stranglehold which Gen. Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, a former Minister of Defence, has exercised on Taraba state politics.
In an interview with the Daily Trust after the election, Gadu said: “Taraba State does not belong to an individual. Therefore, he (referring to TY Danjuma, as the retired army General is popularly known) should leave us to choose our leaders.
“He alone cannot decide for Taraba because he has one vote like anyone else. It is high time for him to go and rest because he is not a monarch…
“In Taraba the rights of individuals are breached by not allowing democratic space to blossom. Manipulation thrives in Taraba because it belongs to an individual,” he said.
However, not many will agree with Gadu’s hyperbole or view Danjuma’s involvement in the politics of Taraba state from a negative perspective as done by Gadu. Kingsley Moghalu, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), who is the President of the Institute for Governance and Economic Transformation (IGET), a public policy think tank, in a tribute to mark Danjuma’s 84th birthday last December, described Nigeria’s former Chief of Army staff as “a colossus in Nigeria’s military, political, business and philanthropic landscape over the past six decades; Danjuma’s roles and actions in Nigeria’s history have been decisive and consequential.”
The general was a key player in important backroom political wheelings and dealings in his heyday, especially in the context of military transitions to democratic rule. Moghalu told the story of how the late elder statesman and First Republic Minister Mbazulike Amaechi, who was a political confidante of First Republic President Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, in a newspaper interview recalled that Danjuma (implicitly acting as point man for the military junta at the time) was favourably disposed to the Great Zik emerging as executive President of Nigeria in 1979. That masterstroke of national reconciliation, had it happened, was to have been on the platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), with Shehu Shagari as Zik’s Vice-President. Amaechi recalled a dinner at Shagari’s residence between himself, Shagari and Danjuma where this scenario was discussed and agreed as the transition to civilian rule loomed in the late 70s. But Zik ultimately balked – doubtless driven by a fear of a last-minute betrayal inside the party. Instead of joining the “mainstream” NPN, the grand old maestro contested on the platform of the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP). That choice yielded a different trajectory.
The retired general was the chief financial bundler for Olusegun Obasanjo’s 1999 presidential campaign, and served as Minister of Defence in the first term of Obasanjo’s presidency.
Since 1999 Danjuma has played an active role in Nigerian politics. Apart from serving as Minister of Defence in President Olusegun Obasanjo’s Cabinet, he was, in 2003, appointed as Chairperson for investigative committee on the Warri conflict.
In 2010, Danjuma was nominated as Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Council by Acting President Goodluck Jonathan.
While in Office, Gen TY Danjuma sought to curb the politicisation of the military, and was a firm supporter of democracy and the Rule of Law. He also oversaw the renaming of all Nigerian barracks and cantons from those of civilian or living persons. He was also widely known to be an avid opponent of President Obasanjo’s attempts in 2006 to engineer a way that would enable himself and state governors to serve more than two consecutive terms.
Danjuma serves as Chairman of the Victims’ Support Fund Committee, supporting the victims of terror such as the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping. On 16 July 2014, in a speech at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Danjuma “told President Jonathan that Boko Haram insurgents appear to be having the upper hand, as they choose where to strike and capture territory … Danjuma said the battle to win the insurgency war has already taken too long.”
While his influence at the national level and elsewhere may not be very visible to many, that of Taraba state cannot be hidden. As one writer put it, “politically, he calls the shots in the State. No one becomes the Governor of the State without his support. He is in charge of entire Taraba State.
“Darius Ishaku, his kinsman from the Takum Tribe, is the Governor of Taraba State. Those who are conversant with the political dynamics of Taraba will tell you that TY Danjuma installed Ishaku as the Governor of Taraba. We all know what happened when Umar Garba became the Governor of the State after the late Danbaba Suntai was unfortunately incapacitated.”
Theophilus Danjuma was born in Takum, Taraba State (formerly Gongola State), Nigeria. He started his education at St Bartholomew’s Primary School in Wusasa and moved on to the Benue Provincial Secondary School in Katsina-Ala where he was the captain of the school cricket 1st XI team; he received his Higher School Certificate in 1958. In 1959 Danjuma enrolled at the Nigerian College of Arts, Science, and Technology in Zaria (Ahmadu Bello University) to study history on a Northern Nigeria Scholarship. However, by the end of 1960, Danjuma had left the university to enroll in the Nigerian Army.
Danjuma was commissioned into the Nigerian Army as second lieutenant and platoon commander in the Congo. In 1963, he joined a UN Peace-keeping force in Sante, Katanga Province in Congo, he was promoted to the position of a captain three years later. In 1966, Captain Danjuma was involved in the counter-coup with the 4th Battalion in Mokola, Ibadan. General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi was arrested in Ibadan, together with his host, General Adekunle Fajuyi, by northern soldiers under the command of Major Theophilus Danjuma (as he then was). Both men were then whisked away and taken to a road side bush where they were both stripped naked and shot.
Danjuma told a media interviewer in the Vanguard newspaper of February 17, 2008 that, contrary to popular belief, he did not order the killing of Ironsi and Fajuyi. Instead, he recalled, events spun out of his control in the heat of the moment after the arrest of the two leaders. He said soldiers locally based in Abeokuta disobeyed his command at a point, “batoned” him, and took Ironsi and Fajuyi away to their tragic deaths.
In 1967, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel at the start of the civil war campaign towards Enugu, which was captured later that year. In December 1967, he was appointed Commander of the Nigerian Army’s 1st Infantry Brigade, a position he held till July 1968. Towards the end of the Nigerian Civil War, Danjuma led a battalion that freed Jaja Wachuku, first Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives as well as first Ambassador to the United Nations and first Foreign Affairs Minister, from detention by the Ojukwu government.
In 1970, Danjuma attended the International Court Martial in Trinidad and Tobago as Nigeria’s representative, where he was appointed president of the tribunal in a case brought against members of a failed coup attempt in Trinidad and Tobago. Following his promotion to Colonel in 1971 he spent next two years with responsibility for court-martialling Army officers proven guilty of corruption and indiscipline. In 1975 he was promoted to Brigadier and the position of General Officer Commanding (GOC), and in the following year he became the Chief of Army Staff during the administration of the Head of State, Olusegun Obasanjo. He played a prominent role in supporting the president in resisting the Dimka Coup in 1976. He retired from the Nigerian army in 1979 following the handover of power to civilians.
Danjuma’s influence, which continued in subsequent electoral transitions, was also cemented by the great wealth he amassed in his post-military career. He made his billions in shipping and crude oil exploration, proving as astute in the boardroom as he was as a soldier.
In 2008 he established the T.Y. Danjuma Foundation, opening up yet another chapter in his eventful life. This formalized philanthropy has become his latter-day signature. Danjuma’s philanthropic support for human capital development in Nigeria, through education and healthcare in Nigerian tertiary institutions and beyond, has been game-changing for its recipients.