EXCLUSIVE -The Story Of Gen. Oladipo Diya
Lt. General Oladipo Diya served as the Chief of the General Staff (Deputy Head of State) during the military regime of late General Sani Abacha from 1994 till 1997 when he was arrested for treason after an alleged failed coup. In an interview with the Tribune, Gen. Diya had talked about the other side of Gen. Abacha, his experiences in the Nigerian military, the bomb allegedly planned to kill him and the phantom coup widely believed to have been targeted at him.
When asked about the alleged coup targeted at him as the second in command to the late general Sanni Abacha he had said that they were thankful that it was a phantom coup, but then whether phantom or real, or imagined, in the army, a coup has always been taken very seriously. He went further to say that there had never been a coup where you start taking the video or film of it even before it happened.
But then, a lot of activities had happened before. He also told a story of how a plane which he had boarded to take to Makurdi was planned to be bombed, but by the stroke of fortune, he was 10 minutes late, which was really not in his character. He said that lateness was what God actually used to save his life. Within those 10 minutes, those that were priming the bomb so that the plane would explode 10 minutes after take-off were killed by the bomb before he got there. He refused to go ahead with the journey.
Although everybody around him, including his chief security officer, said he should continue on the journey, he said no because if he did, the same situation would have probably been repeated in Makurdi. So, he had stopped and that was what saved his life. If those who were responsible for that bomb knew God, they would have stopped. They went on and three weeks after, He was then arrested on allegation of planning a phantom coup. But he said that he was thankful to God that on every step that was taken thereafter, Almighty God saved had saved him. And since that day he said they had failed in their attempt to blow him away , he gained the confidence that, by the grace of God, he is beyond human destruction.
After his arrest, he said that the impression was being given to him that everybody was being arrested, he was detailed to talk to all the service chiefs, Bamaiyi and GOCs, Bashir Magashi and co. He was asked to talk to them because he was being told that they should continue with the government and he had no, that it as never done. He went ahead to explain that he felt that he was talking frankly because he joined the army at the age of 18, going to 19 and he did not know how to tell lies, so, he would tell them his mind: that If somebody wanted to contest an election, he should leave the army; he should leave the government and contest as a civilian.
When asked if that was his advised to Abacha he had replied that
That was his advice; that he should consult with all the service chiefs. He had spoken to all the service chiefs one by one and they told him the same thing; that no, he should not continue, not knowing that some of them had tape recorders on them. He went ahead to say that it was all history and that they had put all behind them . He said he was grateful to God because on three occasions, they attempted to kill them.
He said when we were in detention and he discovered that it was only Yoruba officers, including Adisa and Olanrewaju, who were arrested, he was shocked. That then forced him to ask where Bamaiyi, Magashi and others were. That was when he knew said there was a conspiracy. That was the statement he had made and the whole world echoed it, he said that was what actually saved his life and turned the table against the whole conspiracy.
He was also asked if Abacha ever planned on returning power to the civilians after assuming office
He said returning power to the civillian govt was Abacha true intention, adding that there was no intention for any permanent stay in power. Emphasizing on the fact that the military is not for permanence, and that it was an aberration, and one just come in, do whatever he wants to do and then hand over. That is military regime. He said When a military regime comes and it wants to stay, nobody would allow it.
He referred to the situation in Egypt. The commander-in-chief in that country has just resigned to contest an election. Although I wouldn’t say that is even good, it is better than to come and stay put. He has resigned and the vice president has been sworn in as the new commander-in-chief of the armed forces in Egypt. If he stands election and wins and the exercise is seen to be free and fair, they will appreciate him rather than for him to sit tight in power and say he is going to transform himself into a civilian president.
He was also asked if general Abacha was being pressured by outside forces withing and outside the military and he had replied that
He could not be certain because at that time he was in detention, and he had no access to the news or newspapers and you couldnt even hold discussion with anyone although he had said that Abacha had confided in him that that he had plaans yto become a civillian president and that he had ytold him that he was not in support, Abacha had ordered him to call the service chiefs and they had also told him no, though he was not aware what they had said to Abacha request.
He was asked if he had any hope of surviving his ordeal when thrown into prison and he had replied in the affirmative saying that after the bomb attempt a certain boldness came over him that he was beyond destruction, he also said that in December 14 he was to be executed in Jos. They had been taken out of prison and Sergeant Barnabas Rogers was in charge, decked in battle dress.
They were to take us for execution. According to him he said “They took us out. Adisa was there, so was Olanrewaju. As we were going, around midnight, the vehicle stopped. The reason the vehicle stopped, we didn’t know, but it stopped. Was it the engine? Was it tyre? We didn’t know. We were there, waiting and waiting. When it was 5:45a.m. in the morning, the driver started the van, made a U-turn and took us back to prison.
“‘Again, what happened? It was miracle of God. It was divine intervention because, you know, one Major was complaining to the GOC. I remember that the GOC was one of our students, now a commandant of the National War College. The Major was challenging the GOC: ‘You are taking these people for execution in the morning. The execution was to take place at 7.00 a.m.
All you were saying was that somebody phoned you on behalf of Abacha. Suppose tomorrow, the person denies, what will you have as evidence?’ The GOC was stunned. We heard the story later after they had returned us to the prison. Then, the GOC now said okay and he started trying to call Abacha, just for Abacha to give a go-ahead. This officer could not do anything without Abacha’s instruction.
But Abacha had an attitude: he never picked phone calls. And that attitude of not taking phone calls was another miracle. He did not pick his calls and when the officer tried and tried until around 5:30 a.m. and could not get Abacha, he had to give instruction that they should return us, saying that he would go to Abacha to take permission from him.
”He went and got the instruction and said that they should now take us to Kano, where the execution would now be done. They took us to Kano and put us in a small house. I don’t know the owner of that house, a bungalow, but that was where we were all crammed. We got to Kano on Sunday evening for execution the next morning. But that was the night Abacha died. We wouldn’t have known but for one of the soldiers, called Sergeant Bush, who went to buy batteries for his radio — a Hausa man would always have a radio.
That was how we heard that Abacha had died. So, he came back to where we were held in that bungalow and started quarreling with Sergeant Rogers that he heard from a BBC Hausa programme that Abacha died and he was not going to take part in this firing squad except another head of state gave them a directive. That was the beginning of another controversy between Sergeant Bush and Sergeant Rogers, because three other men supported him. Sergeant Rogers was the one that led the others, the camp of four men.
So, we thank God that split caused the delay to execute us, because it was now four on each side. The other camp led by Bush said if the Rogers group tried to kill us, they would shoot themselves. That created the split and that was why the execution was not carried out. Was that not another divine intervention? It was not by our power, it was God. All this was not known to members of the public, so, I have every cause to be grateful to God.