Diya, a cat with nine lives, sleeps forever

Career history of the former Chief General Staff in the regime of the late General Sani Abacha, Lieutenant General Oladipo Diya reveals him as a figurative cat with nine lives.

Diya, as defacto deputy to Abacha escaped bomb attack at the local wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja on his way to represent Abacha at a burial in Benue State. That was a week before he entered trouble on December 21, 1997.

Barely a month later, Diya was in handcuffs; arrested in a hideout and detained for a coup attempt against Abacha. By February 1998, he was standing trial alongside five other senior military officers, all of whom were found guilty of the charges by the General Victor Malu-led Military Tribunal and consequently sentenced to death on April 28, 1998 at Jos, Plateau State capital, the seat of the tribunal.

At the inauguration of the tribunal, Diya denied the charges and described his trial as a set up, saying “this is the first time a case of setting up is becoming a coup case. I am not going into details of that now. I am the target and it is organised right from the top. That was what broke the camel’s back; and the news went all over the world. So, naturally, I was stunned, I was expecting that if you think we have said something; or that we were planning something, then you put us on trial and let us all defend ourselves…so, the phantomness of the coup just came out glaringly for everybody to see, so, we thank God.”

But the then Garrison Commander, Major General Ishaya Bamaiyi said Diya was being economical with the truth and laid it bare in ‘Vindication of A General’, his memoir.

Bamaiyi exonerated himself and stressed that Diya had three years earlier had an axe to grind with Abacha on the premise that Abacha was not leading up to expectations of officers who supported him to push out of the Presidential Villa, the head of the Interim National Government, Chief Ernest Sonekan on November 18, 1993.

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According to him in a report, “Diya mentioned that the commander-in-chief did not come to the office early and was not listening to him and other senior people in government. I told him I believed Gen. Abacha would listen to him because of their special relationship, I knew how many times Gen. Abacha had stopped plans to retire him.

“On the next visit, Diya said openly that there was a need to remove Gen. Abacha and that he was being blamed for the failure of the government from various quarters.”

“Gen. Diya went on to tell me I was one of the officers he trusted, and he would rely on me to get Gen. Abacha out of office so the country would move forward under his leadership. I told him I would think it over and get back to him. I informed Gen. Abacha, who said he was going to put Diya on trial.”

In the contrary, the then Chief Security Officer to Diya, Major Seun Fadipe said Bamaiyi was a key player and accused him of playing upon the intelligence of Diya during the planning of the coup. “Imagine Bamaiyi telling my boss that he had no boys on the coup day leaving my boss to support with his own,” Fadipe revealed.

But ultimately, rather than facing the firing squad, Diya lived to tell his story as Abacha died on June 8, 1998 and changed the course of the development, leading to Diya’s release and eventual discharge from the army by the succeeding General Abdulsalami Abubakar administration. Former President Goodluck Jonathan granted Diya a state pardon.

From 1998 till he breathed his last in Lagos on March 26, 2023 at 78 years, Diya had lived almost anonymous life with sparse public appearances. However, he was said to have played a key role in his Odogbolu town’s development serving as a rallying point to the like minds. He was into the service of the Methodist Church, Abule-Ijesa, Lagos.

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In one of his many reflective moments, Diya was quoted to have said, “Abacha wanted me dead at all cost, but I was saved by the grace of God. Life belongs to God. It is his to give and take at a time decided only by him.”.

In another interview to further clear his name, Diya stated, “all the soldiers guarding us, including Adisa and Olanrewaju (who were charged along with me) were from Abacha. So, how do you plan a coup when the soldiers guarding you are from the Head of State? It is not done. That was enough to show that it was a phantom coup. In any case, which other coup have we seen that people would be recording even before the coup was executed?”

Despite his dark hours in the hands of Abacha, Diya remained a disciplinarian who would not indulge his children and grandchildren in frivolous things of life. He was said to have once reprimanded his heir apparent, Mr Simi Diya, when he had learnt that the son was seeking favour, using his status as his son.

“That is true; he wanted his children not to see themselves as more opportune than their fellows from lower families. He always told his children that they could make it in life without him giving them note to anybody in any office. He was that simple,” a source in Odogbolu told our correspondent.

As a community leader and lawyer also, he was reputed for encouraging Odogbolu youths to embrace Law profession; he, indeed, reportedly assisted an appreciable number of them to actualize that dream, hence the town competes well among lawyers-producing towns in Ogun State.

Diya recorded another escape from death in 2020 when he was admitted into a Lagos hospital and put under the knife in a theatre.

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Like death of public figures, whose supposedly bereaved family members take on one another shortly after the departure of their parents, Diya family is said to be enmeshed in controversy now. What is called leadership tussle is raging.

A friend of the family, Mrs Adeola Agoro expressed her disappointment at the development, revealing that Diya’s “younger brother, Hon. Wole and one of the sons of first wife began to struggle for who to represent the family in decision making and other important burial processes.”

The Abuja-based Agoro added that Simi, recuperating in a UK hospital, wasn’t being carried along in the preparation for the burial.

“They have gone ahead to meet with the Governor of Ogun State in taking decisions towards the burial, leaving Simi in the dark at to discussions.They have started searching documents in the bedroom of the deceased and doing so many things against the principles of good conscience.

“Simi is in pains right now, and he needs to be heard. General Olusegun Obasanjo has written a condolence letter directed to Simi, the way it should be done in Yoruba land, where the first male child is seen as the natural leader in the family,” she said.

Diya was born on April 3, 1944; he attended Yaba Methodist School, Lagos, Odogbolu Grammar School in 1957 as a pioneer pupil. He was also among the pioneer students of the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA) that graduated as Regular Course One cadets on March 18, 1967.

Also, he served as the pioneer Commandant of the Nigeria War College between 1991 and 1993. Commander 31, Airborne Brigade of the Nigerian Army. Military Governor of Ogun State between January 1984 and August 1985; General Officer Commanding 82 Division, Nigeria Army in 1985.

He studied law at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, but graduated at the Ahmadu Bello Univeristy, Zaria. He authored a book entitled: “Destiny Anchored on Faith’’

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