By Bola Bolawole
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The death, on Sunday, 26th March, 2023, of Gen. Oladipupo Diya, brought memories, fond or otherwise, flooding our memory, chief of which must be the coup, real or concocted, that Diya and other Generals were alleged to have been implicated in, on 21 December, 1997, aimed at toppling the vile dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha.
In all, 26 civilians and soldiers were accused of treason, the majority of them Yoruba; they faced the death penalty if found guilty. Dragged before a kangaroo military tribunal and deemed guilty even before the trial had begun, six of the accused, including Diya, were handed the death sentence. The condemned persons however later got a reprieve as their death sentence was commuted to 25-year jail-term.
With the death of Abacha on 8 June, 1998, Diya and the others were released by Abacha’s successor, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, on March 3, 1999.
Three events will always remain fresh in my mind when the name of Gen. Diya is mentioned and all three have one thing or the other to do with the pro-democracy activism that attended the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won squarely by MKO Abiola.
The election was annulled by the military junta of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and a heroic battle to upturn the annulment began. NUPENG, led by Frank Kokori, grounded the country as there was no fuel anywhere.
The fuel scarcity of that period was worse than the one experienced in the past few months. It was like in those days when there was famine on earth and Tortoise led other beings on a trip to heaven in search of food. A cousin of mine was a prayer partner to Chief Okenla, a friend of Diya.
On this fateful day, I accompanied her to the meeting somewhere at Maryland, Ikeja where Diya was present. Afterwards, we complained of no fuel and one of the military top brass who was on hand to receive Diya asked us to follow him to the Ikeja cantonment to fuel our cars. A few metres to the entrance to the cantonment, there was this car driving against traffic towards the cantonment.
The General, in mufti, flagged him down. The cockish offender stepped out of his car and announced himself: “I am Captain Ode” The General replied: “Very good! I am General…”! Oh my God! Captain was whisked into the barracks but as fate would have it, he hailed from Owo, just like my cousin and I, and a known face for that matter. We had to whisper that into the ears of Chief Okenla who whispered it to Diya who promptly asked that the offender (aka Odeene) be forgiven.
The second event was during the burial of Pa Adekunle Ajasin (who died on 3 October, 1997), former governor of old Ondo State and NADECO leader. Diya came to represent the Federal Government at the final burial ceremony held inside the St. Andrews Church, Imola Street, Owo.
Diya came in commando style and you cannot blame him much; those were the days when NADECO battled the military junta over the annulment of June 12, demanding that the military return to their barracks. Immediately they entered the vicinity of the church, the boys who accompanied Diya began to uproot and throw human beings like stones as they cleared the way for Diya. The service being done with, the VIPs moved to the graveside. When it was the turn of Pa Abraham Adesanya, the man stepping into the shoes of the late Ajasin as NADECO leader, to make his speech and the microphone was handed over to him, the boys swooped on him, snatched the microphone from him and handed it over to Diya. The Number Two man, who enjoyed calling himself the “Vice President of Nigeria” instead of his official title of Chief of General Staff and Vice Chairman of the Provisional Ruling Council, made his speech and immediately zoomed out of the place with his retinue of military aides in tow. Power is sweet!
The third event was during one of those many closures and proscription of the PUNCH newspapers, which I edited in those turbulent June 12 wahala periods.
Joshua Agbeniga and I had been detailed to go to Abuja to meet Diya to appeal to him to help us re-open the newspaper. Agbeniga had manned the PUNCH office at Abeokuta when Diya was the Ogun state military administrator and was sure he had an excellent relationship with the Number Two man; together with my own contacts, the management thought we could make an impression on Diya. We booked an appointment through my cousin and went to Abuja. We were ushered into Commodore Olabode George’s office; he was the Principal Staff Officer to Diya. George had a very pleasant personality. I had interacted with him years back when I was Features Editor and he, the Military administrator of my native Ondo state.
I had led my team there to interview his wife and First Lady, Feyi. “Lagos Boy”, as he was fondly called, George, with sorrow in his voice and tears in his eyes, told us stories of how Presidency/Northern cabals played on the intelligence of Yoruba Obas and elites to set them against Diya, thereby whittling down the powers and influence of the Number Two man. Were it not for that, he said Diya could have, on his own, re-opened our newspaper only to inform Abacha later.After a little wait, George led us to Diya’s office where we met him busy on a pile of papers on his table. He greeted us warmly but regretted he could not help.
He told us stories which tallied with what his PSO had told us. He then asked us to make our own personal requests. I declined to make any. Then he asked me, “You are from Ondo State, which of these two names will you recommend as your representative in the Constituent Assembly?”
The first name, which I cannot now remember, was that of a Commissioner in Ondo state, a Dr. or Ph. D holder, who had recently been relieved of his post over a scandal; and the other name was that of Dr. Bode Olajumoke. I told him the first name, if chosen, would elicit bad press but that I understand the second name is said to be a friend of his boss, Abacha.
Eventually, he chose Olajumoke. No sooner had we returned to George’s office than my partner requested that he be taken to see Diya again. George detailed someone to do so.
On our way to our lodge at Nicon Noga Hilton, he asked me what the price of a plot of land could be in Abuja. I told him I had no idea.
No one is a saint.
Diya was a jolly good fellow. He served under the Devil himself but providence ensured he escaped with his life. Now, he is gone the way of all mortals. Eternal rest, grant him O Lord!
Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.