The Nigerian army’s move to investigate an allegation by a former chief of army staff, Lt-Gen. Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma that the armed forces are colluding with armed herdsmen to kill people in Taraba state and elsewhere is right. We, at Peoples Daily, called for an inquiry into the charge Danjuma made March 24 2018 in our first editorial on the issue. In response, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt-Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai has raised a 10-member panel, headed by a retired Major Gen., Joseph Nimyel, to look into the allegation. At present, the army is carrying out a security operation code-named “Ayem Akpatuma” (Cat Race) in Taraba state. Danjuma, however, suspected it was a cover for “armed bandits” to kill and maim unarmed people.
Explaining the raison d’etre of the panel while inaugurating it recently, Gen. Buratai said Danjuma’s concerns were too grave to ignore. He said, “Statements of this nature could damage the reputation of the Armed Forces of Nigeria and thus cannot be ignored if the army is to continue to earn the trust and respect of the Nigerian populace”. According to him, “actions of the Nigerian Army have come under heavy criticism from state governors, non-governmental organisation (NGOs), individuals, interest groups from different sectors of the society and most recently from a former Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma about their operations in Taraba state”.
The committee’s 5 terms of reference require it to “visit all flash points and interact with various stakeholders and interest groups in Taraba state in order to come up with a comprehensive report.” One of the flash points is Takum, Danjuma’s home local government area, which once had an army outpost, a battallion strong. Housewives here recently demonstrated against what they said was the army’s “high-handedness” against their husbands.
What the army top hierarchy has done now is better than its initial reaction to what they saw as an outburst by someone who should have known better how to respond to the herder-farmer conflict in many states. It was a spur-of-the-moment reaction. Not good for the image of a highly professional army. Without calling Danjuma to find out if he actually said what was attributed to him, the army high command accused the former COAS of inciting people to anarchy.Now that they have had time to digest Danjuma’s comment, they have come to realize that no good purpose would be served by rubbishing the comments as just “emotional outbursts”, moreso that many more people including state governors, civil society organisations and the international community, of late, have questioned the neutrality of the army in the herder-farmer conflict.
We commend the army’s turn-around, and the courage it mustered to do so. We suggest a thorough job be done. In this regard, we do not believe the 10 days the panel has been given to turn in a report will do. It should ask for more time if need be. It should also demonstrate the courage of its convictions by recommending the toughest punishments in the statute books for soldiers found to have breached the army’s time honored rules of engagement. And the army leadership must do its part by implementing the report to the letter.That is the only way the army will win back the confidence of the citizenry. But if after the probe, the soldiers were found to be innocent after all, the panel should not hesitate to say so.