• Narrates arrest day story
• ‘He felt betrayed, humiliated; then Pastor Adeboye told him to let things go’
By Dickson Omobola
Dr Babatunde Diya is the last son of a former Chief of General Staff (CGS) under the Abacha administration who died on Sunday at the age of 79, Lieutenant-General Oladipo Diya (retd). The deceased retired military officer earlier served as Military Governor of Ogun State. In this interview, the son speaks about the life and times of his dad, including issues surrounding the family’s reaction to the purported coup for which he was tried and jailed under the Abacha regime and the effect on Diya. Excerpts:
What kind of person was your father, the late General Diya?
My dad can be described from two angles. One is as a father and parent; and the other is the military angle which was his profession. From the military angle, which is a position of public service to the people and humanity, I will say he was a professional who was dedicated to his job, his profession and dedicated to the advancement and development of Nigeria as a country. I think he was a very prudent disciplinarian, which was evident in the way he handled affairs when he was in government, particularly when he was a Military Administrator in Ogun State. Then, he did an excellent job in terms of creating an avenue for the state to generate revenue. He also was strict to public servants in terms of how duties were discharged. Things as simple as what time they resumed work were looked into. These are attitudes that one can emulate as a leader. As a parent, he was one of the best parents for whom anybody can ask. He would make sure our performance in school was followed up from primary, secondary to tertiary institution. He would take time out of his busy schedule to go through our report cards.
How did the family react to the coup accusation?
To be honest, the family was thrown into grief because it came as a rude shock. At the time it happened, we were preparing for Christmas, so nobody expected it. Normally, he would come home on the 21st of December, after which we would go to Odogbolu, our hometown, on the 23rd. I remember the incident vividly because I was in the swimming pool when soldiers came into the (Lagos) house after the said coup. Seeing them, I thought he had come back but I realised that there were more soldiers than usual. When I saw that, I knew that something was wrong. The soldiers ordered us to leave the swimming pool, so I left the pool and went into my room, which I met scattered. I also saw that the passageway to my dad’s room, mum and step mom’s rooms had been ransacked. Eventually, we found out that he had been roped in an alleged coup d’etat and we were in shock. We were sad and in grief because he always led the family from the angle of God. He always told us that God gives, God takes and He protects. All we could do at the time was to have faith in God. We also had a strong support system from our siblings and the elderly. With their support, we were able to pull through that period.
Did the family believe he was involved in the coup?
No. The family did not believe he was involved because he was our patriarch and we took his word for it. You know he asked a question, which is: ‘if you say this is a coup, then where is Bamaiyi?’ That was the famous statement he kept repeating, even at the Oputa Panel. To date, we see it as he said.
During his arrest, what did the family do to save him?
We kept praying, particularly the people of Odogbolu. The people of Odogbolu and us stood firmly with prayers, even with traditional rites. So, those who had faith in God focused on God and prayed because there was nothing we could do. We couldn’t go and attack the Federal Government. Among those who stood solidly behind him, the people of Odogbolu played an active role. They weren’t just saying he was their son, they prayed and did traditional rites to make sure he came back safely to us.
Did the family meet anyone for intervention?
My mum, my stepmom and elder brothers reached out to my dad’s friends. They tried to call those they knew and those he helped or assisted with getting into public office by merits. They reached out to many of them and pleaded that they help to solicit his innocence and he should be freed.
Did the family try to reach General Sani Abacha?
No. I am not directly aware of any.
What was the atmosphere like when General Abacha died?
We were more focused on our patriarch coming back home safe. We were more particular about his well-being. To us, it wasn’t really about anything but his coming home safely to all of us. I was in secondary school then. Right, left and centre everyone around me was jubilating. Personally, I was indifferent. Maybe I was too young to know what was happening around me. All I was happy about was my dad coming home to us.
What was it like when Diya was released?
It was ecstatic. It was jubilations galore. The greatest memory I have of the incident was our going to Odogbolu, our hometown, and the whole town was celebrating. Everyone was happy, excited and grateful. It was an electrifying atmosphere. It was a positive moment. That was when I said ‘wow, so people actually love him to this extent’.
What effect did the coup have on him?
It made him introverted and sober. It changed him because he wasn’t as jovial as he once was. He felt embarrassed, he felt betrayed and humiliated. Then, Pastor Adeboye told him to let things go, but a man’s nature is a man’s nature. It cannot be changed. He felt bad and being somebody who didn’t speak out, he bottled up a lot of things. For example, he never spoke to me and many of my siblings about his experience. All that we got to learn was through third parties. He withdrew from people and was very sad about the treatment he received, especially from junior officers for whom he fought, particularly in the aspects of better and improved welfare packages. For example, during the Gideon Orkar coup, it was one of the things he mentioned in the conference of the Armed Forces Ruling Council after General Ibrahim Babangida escaped the coup plot. While they were celebrating, Diya then mentioned that the young officers had taken to mutiny and he asked what could be done to ensure that it didn’t happen again. As at the time, it was seen as a treasonable statement. The humiliation that came from the junior officers got to him. I would have hoped that he did away with that bad energy and moved on because I don’t think he ever fully recovered from the experience.
What fond memories of him do you have?
I studied as a medical doctor in Poland. I remember when he came to visit me along with his friend, Chief Oyewaga. At that time, we toured the city together. It was during my time as an adult that we sort of created this strong bond. We went round, went to restaurants, sat down and discussed a lot of things about life and marriage. He gave me father to son advice. There is also this aspect of him that when he arose from bed in the morning, especially post-retirement period everyone had to be upstairs in the chapel. He had a chapel here, even in Aso Rock, there was a chapel he created. Every morning, we would wake up and go for prayers, we would go to the room and all the children would sit down with him. He would listen to everyone and our problems. It was like a family meeting. Every time we wanted to leave his room, he would give us a pack of biscuits or chocolates or sweets, not money. He was particular about being wasteful. All these memories I appreciate because it is not all fathers out there that are responsible as he was. For me, it was not just about giving money but the quality time he spent with us and how he raised everyone in the path of the Lord. I will forever remember these things and emulate them, his service to the country, how he took care of his immediate family, nuclear family and his extended family.
Do you think he forgave General Abacha for all that happened?
I believe it was the people that framed him that he was bitter about. He wasn’t directly unhappy with General Abacha, it was more of the people that connived to create a story against him because of their personal ambition and interests. He was resentful towards them, not General Abacha directly. Prior to the coup issue, he and General Abacha had a pretty decent relationship but, from what I know, the relationship must have started getting sour when the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, pushed for transition from military to civil rule. Personally, I look at it from the angle that he believed the best in people, and he believed the plan he and Abacha had from the inception was what was going to be done but I guess, eventually, he found out that it wasn’t the case.
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