Abuja — "The foundation is a Nigerian foundation and, as a result, will support initiatives across the country. The rationale for commencing in Taraba was simply to fulfill the old adage that 'charity begins at home'. Now that we have a chief executive on board, we will examine different communities across the country where we can make a difference. My vision is that the foundation will play a pivotal role in building a Nigeria where all citizens have access to quality health care, education and equal opportunities to realize their potentials."
- Lt-General T.Y Danjuma speaking at the TY Danjuma NGO Consultative Meeting held in Abuja last week
Foundations named after many national and international personalities exist to address critical developmental deficits that imperil humanity. Be it the Carter Foundation, Bill And Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Clinton Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, TY Danjuma Foundation and thousands of others. They exist to improve the human condition and provide hope where there is hopelessness. Often they complement and interface governmental efforts to address significant gaps that could endanger the progression and stability of society.
Before the formal birth of the TY Danjuma Foundation (TYDF), its founding spirit, retired Lt-General Danjuma had been intervening to improve the lots of Nigerians through other NGOs. Having come on stream, it needed to put down roots and necessary structures on which the founding vision could be actualized.
As it were, the foundation's initial focus is to support initiatives that contribute to improving access to healthcare and increasing educational opportunities across the country. It would also provide free medical services to rural areas, enhance the quality of education of children and young adults as well as alleviate poverty in communities by providing basic social amenities.
Obviously appreciative of this scenario, General Danjuma also moved to inject critical funding into the body. He put down a princely $100 million (N15billion) to get the jumbo humanitarian project up and running.
Speaking in Abuja while addressing group of NGOs through which the money would be made available in rural areas all over the country, Danjuma said he was making the donation from the expansive wealth he had been blessed with, saying he made the money from his shipping concern, and his recent foray into the oil business. "I wanted to solve all Nigeria's problems but did not know how to do it and how to start. The only thing I knew about philanthropy is about money being given out and found that only a fraction of such money reaches the target," he said, adding that he had to undertake studies in the United States to ensure that the money gets to the targeted audience.
A compelling dimension to Danjuma's large-hearted gesture was when he alluded to the options he considered before committing this particular fund to the humanitarian project. He disclosed that having made considerable returns from his oil blocks in the past left him with three options: to leave the money in the bank which could have been stolen; to leave it for his children which could have, in turn, become contentious among them in the long run, or to give it back to society. He said he chose the last option because he noticed the way services provided by government in the past for the citizenry had disappeared. He further clarified that the imperative to help solve the myriad of problems bedeviling the country was a major driving inspiration.
Hear him, "Many people have asked me why I started a foundation. I am now in my 70s and could have simply enjoyed retirement quietly; rather I have decided to embark on a new endeavour. The truth is I have served Nigeria all my life in different capacities, and late in my life, when I became a very wealthy private citizen, I decided to also serve my country through the channel of philanthropy."
With its unwavering focus on improving the lot of humanity, the TYDF has covered considerable ground, both as in informal body and now as a formal platform. TYDF is currently partnering with over 50 NGOs in Nigeria and working with the 36 state governors. It's also maintaining all the widows of Danjuma's late colleagues and plans to widen the intervention to all military widows.
On the planning boards is a university in his home state, Taraba and also a the building of an ultra-modern secondary school in Abuja. The foundation has also built a N200million hospital for Nasarawa State and spent over N800million in health services in Edo State. Arguably the TYDF is the biggest such body in Africa, eclipsing the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.
When LEADERSHIP SUNDAY visited Taraba State, mid-last year, Mama Ladi was overwhelmed with joy as the august visitors entered her ward in the General Hospital, Wukari. She has been blind for many years, but has now regained her sight. Thanks to the special care and attention she got from Pro-Health medical personnels. Pro-Health was one of the many NGO currently receiving huge grants from the T. Y. Danjuma Foundation - a project the retired general set up to focus on poverty alleviation, education and free medical services to indigent people. On this day, the man who made it all happen and the sole benefactor of the foundation, Danjuma was visiting the hospital and Mama Ladi could not be stopped. In spite of the large crowd, she made out the imposing frame of Gen. T. Y. Danjuma and went straight to him as she sang, cried and thanked him for helping to restore her sight.
The other patients promptly joined in the celebration, each one testifying to the awesome works of Pro-Health. Like Mama ladi, thousand of others are today receiving free medicare and efective drugs to combat river blindness and other illnesses in Taraba State. According to Danjuma, these are the areas he has chosen to touch the lives of the people he has known all his life. Clearly, Danjuma has not forgotten where he is from: the impoverished Taraba State unmitigated by years of bad leadership.
A backward state in every indices of development, life is harsher in rural Taraba as a result of an absence of genuine care for the masses. In health care, for instance, the state has the highest case of river blindness and other dilapidating illnesses. Health facilities are almost non-existent. Speaking on this, Dr. Ibanga, who is the coordinator of Pro-Health noted that the foundation is poised to change the lives of the citizenry for ever.
He told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY that since the NGO swung into action, the people of Wukari local government and Takum LGA have not ceased to recount their experiences. "It is simply a miracle to many of them," he said, adding that "for the first time, many of the infirmed have access to effective drugs." Ibanga himself is a recipient of a miracle. When, he started Pro-Health and wanted to make headways, there were seemingly insurmountable hurdles before him.
He had presented a proposal to the Taraba State government and was being hedged in by the stifling bureaucracy. The governor, Pharmacist Danbaba Danfulani Suntai, was said to have bought the idea and had endorsed it, but the process of getting the proposed funds to Ibanga was cluttered by the usual civil service bottle neck. Eventually, Ibanga ran into General Danjuma and explained his crisis.
The rest became history as Danjuma, always on the look out for life-changing interventions, assisted Ibanga to get his funds from the state government. It was just the beginning. The General took over from there. From what started as a N30 million pilot scheme started by the Suntai's administration with Pro-Health in three local governments, the T. Y. Foundation took it to the next level by supporting the scheme with more funds. And to the delight of Ibanga and the entire state, Pro-Health became subsumed under the foundation and has since been changing lives. Ibanga was obviously a proud man last Wednesday when he conducted Gen. Danjuma and members of the foundation Board of Trustees round the centres where Pro-Health has been working with patients.
Curiously, LEADERSHIP SUNDAY gathered their was an unconscionable delay by the Corporate Affairs Commission before foundation was registered. But this hardly stopped the momentum of the body's philanthropic interventions.
Profile: The Essential Danjuma...
According to former French President Vallery Giscard d'Estang, history is tragic. He was born in the First World War and saw action in the second global conflagration. From the fiery human crisis that defined his era he counseled world leaders and statesmen that there can be no response to history without effort. While many leaders may have underrated the weight of this counsel, Lt-General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma keyed totally into it.This undeniably may have shaped much of his professional, business careers and his philanthropy. As it where his story is intimately intertwined with the history of post independence Nigeria; his exploits equate folk lore and his ideas, tools to navigate by. General Danjuma has simply decided to respond to history with direct action.
Born in Takum, Taraba State on December 9, 1937, Danjuma was educated at Takum Elementary School, 1944-1950, St. Batholomew's Primary School Wusa from 1950 to 1952. He attended Benue Provincial Secondary School, Katsina Ala between 1953 ad 1958 and Nigeria College of Arts Science and Technology Zaria between 1959 and 1960. He enlisted into the Nigerian Army in 1960, became the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 3rd Division and later rose to become the Chief of Army Staff - a position he held until his retirement in 1979. It's also worth noting that he attended the elite Mons Military Academy in the United Kigdom. In all, he was a major stabilizing force in the Nigerian army. President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him Minister of Defense during his tenure. Along the line the relationship of the old comrades came under considerable stress and eventually cracked. Danjuma holds the traditional titles of Abaonta of Wukari and Ochiagha of Ibowo, Imo State. He is a Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON). A stern, affable thinker and easily the most visible of his peers, retired Lt-General Danjuma is stickler for rules. It is on record that he is the only Nigerian Army officer known to have turned down an offer to be the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. He simply insisted that hierarchy must be followed. It's worth recalling here that General Murtala Muhammed was killed in the 1976 Dimka-led coup, all soldiers, including Obasanjo asked him to take-over. He declined. Instead taking up the nation's leadership, he rooted for General Olusegun Obasanjo who eventually became head of state.
Today, his tenure as the Chief of Army Staff remains a reference point. Arguably the most respected soldier, serving or retired, Danjuma has a record of being blunt and frank. In 1979 when Obasanjo and his deputy then wanted to perpetuate themselves in power, he stopped them. Two decades later in 1999 when Obasanjo was enlisted for the presidency, he expressed total belief in the Ota framer's candidacy, warts and all. He gave Obasanjo a princely N800million in his private capacity at the time when Obasanjo had no access to public funds.After his retirement from the army in 1979, he swung his gun-sights to the business arena. Deploying a stern discipline forged in the crucible of the military he became a compelling success. His business interests traverse oil, shipping, hotel business and others. Currently, he is building a 5-star hotel in Lagos. He has sat on the boards of more blue-chip companies than any Nigerian. He sold a part of his oil block to a Chinese Company for $2.3 billion. Currently AKPO well, part of his oil oil block holding has reserves of one billion barrels. This probably makes him the richest man in Nigeria and also probably in Africa.
In all the companies he has been associated with, whether as board chairman or member, he was usually invited by people who know his sterling qualities. He is mostly a minority shareholder in most of those companies, usually holding less than 10 per cent. As has been publicly attested to by his business associates, it is his Midas touch that made his experience different as most of his former colleagues who delved into the business world with looted money floundered. This is simply suggestive that essential Danjuma is not a happy-go-lucky ex-army officer. He is disciplined, loyal to friends and family and an avowed patriot.He believes in discipline, enforces discipline and insists on respect for constituted authority. In the military arena and even in the civil turf, he believes in orderly succession.Just last week, he injected $100 million into the TY Danjuma Foundation, a philanthropic project very close to his heart. At the occasion he disclosed the source of his money to the surprise of many. That is the essential Danjuma. Hardly many at that level can disclose the sources of their wealth. As he looks forward to the future, both his admirers and detractors watch. The 'soldier's soldier' matches on.