It was a ceremony to remember, as retired Chief of Army Staff and one-time Minister of Defence, General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma celebrates 80th birthday at Lagos last Saturday. Commencing with a crowded thanksgiving service held in Cathedral Church of Christ at the Marina and culminating with a lavish open air reception at the Eko Atlantic City construction site at Bar Beach the event served not only to celebrate the General’s longevity but also to recollect his central role in Nigeria’s post-independence history.
Former Head of State General Yakubu Gowon and his wife Victoria were clearly regarded as the seminal guests of the celebrant throughout the day as they joined General Danjuma and his wife Daisy on the front row in the church along with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
This might have served to remind many observers of the initial intervention that brought both of these men to prominence in Nigeria’s history in July 1966. T.Y. Danjuma was then a newly promoted Captain and played a key role in the second coup that brought the then Lt. Col Gowon to power.
Their association from that time until now has been replete with symptoms of mutual respect in spite of the vagaries of power politics which have seen General Danjuma serve as a key figure in various governments including the one that overthrew the Gowon Administration in 1976.
The sermon delivered by the Most Rev. Nicholas D. Okoh Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of the Anglican Community of all Nigeria, focused on the outstanding successes of the celebrant’s multi-faceted career, from the military, through international business, and eventually as initiator of one of Africa’s most celebrated and well-run philanthropic organisations, the Danjuma Foundation.
He asserted that at all periods in his life General Danjuma has exhibited a profound commitment to helping the less privileged and has displayed extraordinary gratitude to God for his good fortune.
Most Rev. Archbishop Okoh also revealed that he had been a personal beneficiary of the General’s devotion to helping young people when he won a scholarship to attend a famous Christian educational institution as a young student based on an instruction signed by the General when he was Chief of Army Staff.
The Archbishop described General Danjuma as having always provided inspiration to his peers and a worthy example for his juniors. He said that while General Danjuma had enjoyed all the perks of high office he had not lost his sense of discipline and humility in his relationship with the average members of human society.
For this reason, he said, the General’s family and friends should always be grateful to God, for his long life as well as for his continued devotion to his faith
The theme of General Danjuma’s humane sense of duty and concern for the welfare of others gained currency with the sentiments expressed by several illustrious people who sent congratulatory messages that were read out during the all-night party that followed the church service. About three thousand people gathered on the beach-front of Eko Atlantic construction site.
This party was certainly one of the most glittering affairs witnessed in Lagos in recent times. Guests gathered from all over the country and the world. Again General Yakubu Gowon and his wife were prominent as virtual family members of the celebrant’s entourage and they were joined by a parade of celebrated former rulers such as Thomas Boni Yayi former President of the Republic of Benin, and Chief Ernest Shonekan former Interim Head of State of Nigeria.
Among the special guests was Boss Mustafa, the Secretary to the Federal Government who presented a letter from President Buhari which ended with a touching sentence in which he declared that General Danjuma had been the best soldier who ever served in the Nigerian Army.
This theme of admiration and respect was reinforced in impromptu congratulatory messages delivered personally by among others the Right Honourable Yakubu Dogara Speaker of the House of Representatives and Alhaja Aisha Buhari, wife of the President.
These tributes from the high and mighty were interspersed with extraordinary musical performances by saxophone genius, BJ Sax and crooner Dare Art-Alade, expertly coordinated by celebrity Master of Ceremonies Bisi Olatilo. All this made for a society event that will be hard to beat anytime soon commemorating not only General T.Y.’s 80th year on earth, but also his extraordinary role in crafting modern Nigeria’s existential profile.