Dr Babatunde Diya, a son of a former Chief of Defence Staff, the late Lt-Gen. Oladipo Diya, said late military dictator, Sani Abacha died on the eve he was supposed to carry out his dad’s execution in 1998.
He stated this while speaking about the life and times of his father in this interview with PUNCH.
Recalls that Diya passed away at 79 years old in the early hours of Sunday, March 26.
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.
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.
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.
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.