Olalekan Adetayo, Eniola Akinkuotu, Adelani Adepegba, Olaleye Aluko and Godwin Isenyo
The Presidency, on Saturday, described as shocking and scary the recent statement by a former Minister of Defence, Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd.), that Nigerians should not rely on security agencies for protection but defend themselves in the face of unrestrained killings across the country.
It said unrestrained pronouncements were capable of encouraging criminals to defy legal and democratic institutions.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said these in a statement made available to journalists on Saturday.
But groups and prominent Nigerians, including Afenifere and Chief Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), faulted the Presidency on its reaction to Danjuma.
The Presidency, in the statement, urged prominent Nigerians to use their national influence wisely and shun public declarations that could threaten national security.
The Presidency wondered if any country could survive if its citizens rose against its military.
Despite Danjuma’s verdict on the armed forces, however, the presidential aide commended the Nigerian military’s efforts to maintain peace and stability “despite being pulled in various directions by elements determined to destabilise the country and government for their selfish reasons.”
The statement read, “The Presidency wishes to appeal to prominent Nigerians, who have national influence, to use their influence wisely and not continue to engage in public declarations that are likely to inflame emotional passions and threaten national security.
“The Presidency is very worried that criminal gangs will feel justified in defying legal, governing and democratic institutions, and authorities of legitimately elected democratic government if unrestrained pronouncements are made.
“Silence can be dignified, but sometimes, it can be misinterpreted and exploited. It is both shocking and scary to hear the recent comments by a senior citizen calling for Nigerians to defend themselves.”
The statement added, “What country would survive if its citizens rise against the country’s organised, trained and equipped military?
“We advise former leaders to take advantage of the various fora, where people with a history of national security can offer advice to the government without resorting to the exploitation of emotional sentiments.
“The civil war motto: ‘To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done’, rings very timely at this time in our nation’s history. We must be careful to avoid the mess that destroyed other African countries like Somalia.”
The reaction came exactly one week after Danjuma, while speaking at the maiden convocation of the Taraba State University, Jalingo, and the 10th anniversary of the institution, told Nigerians to defend themselves against killers in the country.
While the former army chief alleged that the military was not neutral in the killings, he added that the armed forces were not ready to defend them.
He had said, “Our Armed Forces are not neutral. They collude with the bandits to kill people, kill Nigerians. The Armed Forces guide their movements; they cover them. If you are depending on the Armed Forces to stop the killings, you will all die one by one.
“This ethnic cleansing must stop in Taraba State and other rural states of Nigeria, otherwise, Somalia will be a child’s play.
“I ask every one of you to be alert and defend your country; defend your territory and defend your state. Defend yourselves because you have no other place to go. God bless our country.”
The Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, and other individuals have since supported Danjuma’s call.
FG has failed to protect Nigerians, says Agbakoba
Meanwhile, the Co-Chairman of the Nigerian Intervention Movement, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), said Danjuma should not be blamed for what he said since the government had failed to protect the lives of innocent Nigerians.
In an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday, the senior advocate stated, “Generally speaking, I feel that the statement by Danjuma can be interpreted based on perspective. If you are in government, you may fault him but the truth is that in spite of everything the government has tried to do, killings are still going on.
“Just the other day, herdsmen came to Lekki. So, it is still going on in spite of what might be the best efforts of the government. Taraba is a heavily-affected state and so, what do you want them to say if you can no longer depend on security agents to protect you.
“Look at the case of Dapchi where soldiers withdrew and then Boko Haram went in to abduct the girls. So, nobody can trust the army anymore. I don’t and if I was living in an insecure area, I would tell my people to arm themselves and be ready.
“Rather than say that Danjuma should not have said what he said, the government should do its best and show us that it can protect our lives and property.”
FG’s statement, insensitive –Afenifere
In its reaction, the apex Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, knocked the Federal Government over its statement.
It described the Presidency’s reaction as insensitive and offensive, noting that it showed that the government supported the activities of the killer herdsmen.
Afenifere’s spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, called on the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Genocide to investigate the killings before they would lead to a breakdown of law and order in the country.
He asked, “Is it asking Nigerians being killed to defend themselves that could lead to a breakdown of law and order? Seventy-three people were killed in one day in Benue. Many people have been killed in the last three years. Not one person has been brought to book by this government.
“This statement is so embarrassing, offensive, unfeeling. It shows clearly that the Nigerian Government is fully behind the activities of the herdsmen who are killing people and that is why we restate our demand. Since there is no justice from the Federal Government, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Genocide should look into what is going on in Nigeria before there is a breakdown of law and order.”
Security experts back Danjuma
Also, some security experts have backed the call by Danjuma on Nigerians to defend themselves. The experts, in separate interviews, said self-preservation was the first law of nature and that Nigerians had the right to defend themselves when attacked by the rampaging Fulani herdsmen.
A retired Commissioner of Police, Olusola Amore, pointed out that self-defence was guaranteed by the constitution, stressing that a citizen had the rights to defend himself against aggressors, particularly if his life was under threat.
Amore said, “The issue of self-defence is guaranteed by the constitution. If you look at Force Order 237, when can a policeman use a firearm? Ordinarily, you cannot just use your firearm, but you can use a firearm when your life is in danger, and you have no other way of defending yourself or when another life is in danger and you have no other means of defending that person.”
A former State Director, Department of State Services, Mike Ejiofor, said Danjuma’s statement was in order, insisting that everyone had the right to defend himself or herself against violent aggression.
Ejiofor stated, “Self-preservation is the first law of nature; so, I don’t see anything wrong in his call that people should defend themselves.
“All these herdsmen; are they not armed? The police are asking ordinary people to surrender their arms, but they have not been able to recover the arms from the herdsmen.
“So they want the arms to be surrendered, so the herdsmen can annihilate the people, it is not right. I don’t see anything wrong with Danjuma’s statement that the people should defend themselves against aggression, but it must be done within the ambit of the law.”
Another security analyst, Ben Okezie, commended Danjuma for “using his voice as a megaphone so that those in power can hear what the masses have been crying about.”
He, however, noted that the former defence minister should have made his concerns known privately to the government and the military leadership, adding that his statement could destabilise national security.
Again, ACF keeps mum over Danjuma’s comment
Again, the pan-Northern socio-political organisation, Arewa Consultative Forum, on Saturday, failed to react to the comment by Danjuma calling on Nigerians to defend themselves against herdsmen attacks.
SUNDAY PUNCH learnt from an impeccable source that although the National Executive Council of the ACF met on Tuesday, the northern group remained silent on the matter.
When contacted, the National Publicity Secretary of the Forum, Alhaji Muhammad Biu, initially declined to speak on the matter. However, while still on the telephone with one of our correspondents, he promised to talk on the issue later, noting that he was attending a “meeting.”
“No comment,” but added, “okay, I will call you later. Let me think over it. I am in a meeting now,” Biu said.
Sunday PUNCH, however, gathered that during the meeting, which was held at the secretariat of the forum in Kaduna, the Danjuma matter (comment) was extensively discussed.
It was learnt that elders of the forum insisted that there should be no reaction to the issue, which they considered “sensitive” to the unity of the region.
An inside source in the ACF said, “Because of the implication to the unity of the North, our elders said there should be no reaction since the government and the military have reacted. We already have enough troubles in the region. We don’t need to overheat the polity.
“Given that not all members of the ACF that like what is going on in the country, there is nothing that we can do for now. What do we do? There was a meeting of the group on Tuesday where national issues were discussed.
“The purported passing of no-confidence vote in the President and the general security situation in the country were also discussed. Lt. Gen. TY Danjuma’s comment was actually part of the agenda of the meeting.” (Punch)