Dr Babatunde Diya, a son of a former Chief of Defence Staff, the late Lt-Gen. Oladipo Diya, speaks about the life and times of his father in this interview with SEGUN ADEWOLE
What were the last moments of your dad like?
The last moments were moments of him being very close to God, attending the church he set up in Abule Ijesha and the other branches in Idi Iroko and of course the church in Odogbolu, the Cathedral of St Paul. He was also dedicated to making sure that many Nigerians got a proper education. So, those were the final moments and of course. He was closer to home, closer to his children and wife, and his extended family.
Can you describe to us what the mood of the family is right now?
The family is in a sober mood and at the same time in a joyous and grateful mood because his life was one well-spent. He lived his life meritoriously. He lived his life with dignity, and he served the country with all passion and dedication. So, we are grateful to God and we are happy.
What does the family consider as his most important legacies and how will he be missed?
What I would consider his best legacy is that he was very particular about honesty. So many elder statesmen and public officeholders referred to him as the incorruptible leader. I think this is very key to the general public in Nigeria because if you look at the present situation of the country, even President Muhammadu Buhari is fighting against corruption and his anti-corruption drive is very alive. Handing over to President-elect Bola Tinubu will be a continuous drive to end corruption. So, his legacies included a dedication to public service and serving the people.
Who are some of the prominent Nigerians that have reached out to the family since the news broke, given your dad’s prominent place in the country’s political landscape?
Former military administrators and governors of Ogun State; current leadership of Governance Advisory Council to Lagos State; and a former minister of steel. They have all come physically. General Buba Marwa is out of the country but he sent a delegation from the Zonal command of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency and he promised that once he touches down, he would come and visit. The current Governor of Ogun State, Mr Dapo Abiodun, just left right now after his visit to pay his condolence to the family. About four current serving commissioners in Ogun State also came physically to commiserate with the family. Right now, in the General’s residence in Adekunle Fajuyi in GRA, we still have a lot of people coming in to lay their last respect.
He was a career military man. What did he tell you he was most grateful for?
As a former military man, he was most grateful to have been part of the leaders that dedicated their life to putting Nigeria and Nigerians on a part of goodness and prosperity. He was the military administrator of Ogun State under General Buhari’s administration, that was back in 1983. That was the time of the War Against Indiscipline. So, he also imbibed the culture of discipline. He also imbibed the culture of saving and being prudent. He left the government coffers in surplus. When Popoola came and took over, he was surprised that none of the accounts was red but green. These are stories that people should know about him so they can emulate him and mention his name along with that of Pa Awolowo and Lateef Jakande when it comes to dedication to service. The facts are there. Ogun State Property Investment Corporation which is one of the biggest revenue generation platforms for Ogun State to date was started by his administration. So, we are talking about foresight.
Could there be a reason why he was silent about the affairs of Nigeria before he passed away?
Well, I wouldn’t say he was silent. There were times whereby he issued press releases admonishing the Yar’Adua government, the Goodluck Jonathan government and also the Buhari government to take matters of insecurity, corruption and human capital seriously. He also believed that he had served his time, so let the ones behind us serve while we guide them. He commended the Ogun State Government for the landmark achievement of setting up the cargo airport in the state and so on. He just wasn’t as active. As everybody knows, he never participated in partisan politics, he just played his role as an elder statesman.
His imprisonment under the Abacha regime is an event that Nigerians cannot forget. What was the most remarkable thing he said in prison?
While he was incarcerated in Potiskum, Yobe State, the messages he sent were very clear. He told us to have faith in God, continue to worship God and trust in God. He also made it clear to the family that all his children should get quality education up to the tertiary level. He also said that the children in his extended family should be educated through the family’s educational trust. He said to us that anyone of us that wanted to serve in government should make sure he did not soil his name. We were implored to serve with dignity, and honesty and with the people first at hand.
What were his opinions about the democracy currently being practised in Nigeria?
Sometimes he would express his shock about what was going on in the country and the things that were being done. But he always just prayed that good things should happen to the country. When President Buhari came on board, he said it was good for the country because he always viewed him as a disciplinary and honest and straightforward person. He also felt Buhari would address some of the issues of corruption plaguing the country.
Why do you think the deceased never spoke about the allegation of plotting a coup against Sani Abacha?
Again, he wasn’t silent about the coup. He always maintained his position about the mastermind. We all witnessed everything and you know, the righteous would stand tall. God intervened and kept him for over two decades. To God be the glory, his children and family are celebrating him because he lived a fulfilled life. No matter what, if it happened to you, the trauma would go on. He was someone that bottled things up. I would have wanted him to let go of some of those things but when you are innocent of those things and somebody came and said you are guilty, there’s a way you would feel. So, I think that made him feel betrayed, embarrassed and unhappy, especially after dedicating over three decades to the Nigerian Army.
Did Diya ever narrate to his family how he cheated death by escaping a bomb explosion?
Should I tell you the truth? My dad had one particular nature and that was that he kept a lot of things to himself.
He never really opened up to people. He believed that no matter what the situation may be, God as the ultimate judge would answer him.
So, yes, he didn’t speak about it, but I being someone very interested in history, I look at it and say wow.
This was somebody that had nine lives like a cat because he got involved in two near-death experiences.
The first one, I think he went to use the rest room and there was a bomb blast.
The second one was when Victor Malu passed the verdict of the death sentence and the night before the Abacha regime was supposed to carry it out, Abacha passed away. People in Odogbolu, my local government, didn’t take it lightly because they were prayerful and stood solidly behind the man, saying ‘no, you cannot take our son from us’. He was someone that loved his people and dedicated his time and energy to helping people. My mum also said she saw a couple of shenanigans going on in Aso Rock. She could perceive something wasn’t right.