The Lamentation of Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma


“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 the 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 a 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 defence: 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 the 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 defence 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.” –

By Onyee Ohaka

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