Oladipo Diya: Service, Courage and Death

After surviving several existential challenges encapsulated in his tumultuous martial career trajectory, retired Lt-General Oladipo Diya, former Chief of General Staff and de facto vice president to General Sanni Abacha, bowed out with head held high, writes Louis Achi

The towering Odogbolu, Ogun State-born martial icon would have ‘breathed’ his last 25 years ago in a chilly Jos afternoon in Plateau State when his death sentence by the military junta he served was proclaimed. But fate had other plans for the Nigerian Civil War veteran and former Chief of General Staff under the tumultuous General Sani Abacha regime.

But yesterday, Sunday March 26, 2023, retired Lt-General Oladipo Diya, 79, took his last and final mortal breath. “On behalf of the entire Diya family home and abroad; we announce the passing on to glory of our dear husband, father, grandfather, brother, Lt-General Donaldson Oladipo Oyeyinka Diya (Rtd) GCON, LLB, BL, PSC, FSS, mni.”

Diya’s son, Barrister Prince Oyesinmilola Diya, in a signed statement on behalf of the family soberly told Nigerians of his father’s decease, stating he died in the early hours of Sunday, March 26 2023.

Diya was the de facto vice president to General Abacha, from November 1993 to December 1997 when he was arrested by the paranoid Abacha junta and charged with treason for allegedly planning a coup to overthrow the government in power. Many saw this as no less than the dark side of Nigeria’s military politics. Prior to his arrest, Diya had cheated death by allegedly missing a bomb explosion at Abuja International Airport.

It could be recalled that 25 years ago, in April 1998, Diya and the other suspects were made to stand trial in a military tribunal. The military barracks in Jos, Plateau State, was the venue of the conviction. Diya and six others were sentenced to death by firing squad.

Five of the 20 other accused received prison sentences ranging from 2 to 14 years while 15 others were set free. But barely two months after the trial, the military head of state, General Sani Abacha died and was succeeded by General Abdulsalami Abubakar.

Diya whose death sentence was later commuted to a 25-year jail term, and his colleagues were eventually freed after General Abdulsalam Abubakar granted them amnesty.

Ordinarily by enlisting in a country’s military, a typical citizen ultimately signs up for death in the defence of his nation’s freedom and father land at large. This was Diya’s vision and providential trajectory.

But there have been several twists and turns in his martial career trajectory. Besides surviving the civil war, playing in the complex Nigerian military geo-political intrigues, surviving even the reported bombing targeting him at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja, he significantly proved he was no less a child of providence.

He was born on April 3, 1944, in Odogbolu, Ogun State in South Western Nigeria. Diya attended Yaba Methodist School, Lagos from 1950 -1956 and thereafter became a pioneer student of Odogbolu Grammar School, Ogun State, which he attended from 1957 to 1962.

He joined the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna and fought during the Nigerian Civil War. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in March 1967. He later attended the US Army School of Infantry, the Command and Staff College, Jaji (1980-1981) and the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS, Kuru, Plateau State.

While serving in the military, Diya studied law at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he obtained an LLB degree, and then at the Nigerian Law School, where he was called to the Bar as Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.

He was military governor of his native Ogun State from January 1994-August 1995, after the General Muhammadu Buhari-Brig. Tunde Idiagbon military coup of 31 December, 1983 that sacked the Alhaji Shehu Shagari democratic regime.

He held other top military posts – becoming General Officer Commanding 82 Division, Nigeria Army in 1985. He was also Commandant, National War College (1991-1993) and then was appointed Chief of Defence Staff and finally the Chief of General Staff.

He was appointed Chief of General Staff in 1993 and Vice Chairman of the Provisional Ruling Council then in 1994. As Chief of the General Staff, he was the de facto Vice President of Nigeria during the Sani Abacha military junta from 1994 until the quirky treason saga in 1997. His Principal Staff Officer during this period was Bode George.

Diya was certainly no saint on the Vatican’s radar in his lifetime and significantly never claimed such arcane status. But unquestionably, he impacted his milieu in a way that history would be kind to him.

According to US General Douglas McArthur, “The soldier above all prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scar of war.” Undoubtedly, Diya bore his own share of wounds of war but perhaps received the more insidious wounds and scars outside the theatre of battle.
Although another US General George S. Patton counsels that, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived,” the grieving family of Diya can find some consolation that their patriarch left memorable footprints on the sands of time.

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