The story you are about to read is to salute Nigerian journalists for the risks they took (and still take) to provide news for readers. It is about how Editors of TheNEWS penetrated Potiskom prison where General Oladipo Diya, former Chief of General Staff, who just died, was spending a 25- year jail term, after he and his colleagues were tried for coup by the late maximum ruler, General Sani Abacha.
It is not necessary to reveal how the “penetration” was effected! What is important now is that Diya had an opportunity to tell his own story.
The encounter, in prose form, was presented in our 28 December, 1998, hard copy edition.
The cover is entitled:
My Story: Diya Speaks from Jail
A year ago, the army authorities announced, to the bewilderment of many Nigerians, that they had uncovered a coup plot, in which General Oladipo Diya, the Chief of General Staff, was a major actor. Now from trial records and intimate accounts of those close to this mother of all phantom coups,’ TheNEWS reconstructs the bizarre event
All was set for the 21 December, 1997 palace coup, take-over speech had been written to take care of the eventuality of maximum ruler, General Sani Abacha rejecting his forced retirement. Major General Ishaya Bamaiyi, the chief of army staff, had in his possession; four rapid fire machines guns (RPGs). Then, hour after hour of the morosely mournful disquieting martial music would have jangled and pierced the air waves, making Nigerians to huddle around every available radio set in near-quiet, restless anticipation with a sense of foreboding. Then, in the middle of it all, the national athem would have been relayed and then:
‘’Fellow Nigerians, I Major-General Ishaya Bamaiyi of the Nigerian army… hereby announce the resignation of General Sani Abacha, as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The resignation is with immediate effect.’’
It was a scenario that was not played out in all its ramifications as on the night of 21 December, the army authorities announced that the planned coup had been foiled and all the actors arrested. Most shocking to many Nigerians was the arrest of General Oladipo Diya, the Chief of General Staff and General Abdulkarim Adisa and Tajudeen Olanrewaju..… both former ministers and avowed loyalists of General Sani Abacha. Several aides and friends of General Diya were also arrested and an incredulous nation asked boisterously: ‘‘Where is the coup?’’ The Abacha gang responded with video clips of confessions of culpability by the generals. The relentlessly suspicious public still cast palls of doubts on the entire affair.
A year after, reconstructing of the events that would have led to the alleged 21 December putsch, as TheNEWS gleaned from records of evidences presented at the Special Investigation Panel (SIP) set up to probe the plot, has shed more light of the genesis of the alleged plot, the original motivators, motives and strategies of the would-be coup makers.
The seeds for the plot were planted in August, 1997, when Air Vice Marshall Idi Musa, the chief of defence intelligence, sounded out General Oladipo Diya, Chief of General Staff, on the contents of an unsigned petition, said to have emanated from junior officers.
‘‘The CGS was intimated of the contents of an anonymous petition purported to have been written by junior officers, complaining over the way General Abacha was running the affairs of the country.’’ Sources close to the investigation told TheNEWS.
Following on the heels of that initial exploratory visit, was that of Major-General Ishaya Bamaiyi which was intended to have concretizing effect. Again the line of argument of Bamaiyi, the Chief of Army Staff was that Abacha and reached a dead-end ‘‘Bamaiyi complained about undue interference from above in the running of the army. He gave a few examples of some military postings which he had sanctioned and effected as COAS. But Abacha each time, stepped in at the last minute and without consulting with him (General Bamaiyi), reversed the orders.
Bamaiyi preached to Diya, that Abacha has scarified the army and the nation’s interest on the altar of his own personal ambition to rule Nigeria forever. The evidence he presented in support of his preachments was convicting. Abacha, Bamaiyi told Diya, has finalized plans to hijack the presidency, as evidenced in his direct interference in the running of the five political parties which culminated in their unanimous adoption of him as their sole presidential candidate. Diya also heard that history will not forgive him if he sat pretty while Abacha not only trampled on the military, but on the collective will of the people as expressed in the 12 June 1993 elections.
If Diya had any misgiving about the sincerity of Bamaiyi, it was dispelled, when the COAS on tour of military formations around the country, in September 1997, was reported as telling soldiers in Kaduna, that the army did not support the strident agitation for the self-perpetuation of General Abacha. He describe those who were orchestrating the call as ‘‘shaky characters’’ out to foment trouble and derail the transition to civil rule programme of General Abacha. Diya, according to sources was taken in by this pronouncement. Bamaiyi’s public statement had confirmed Bamaiyi’s private utterances and discussion with him. Diya suspected nothing even after the army repudiated Bamaiyi’s public statement.
Diya, now spending a 25- year jail term in Potiskam prison, still did not harbour any shade of doubt when in subsequent meetings, Bamaiyi discussed the propriety and strategies of confronting Abacha with the junior officers’ demands. The four demands of the officers, according to records made available to TheNEWS last week, were: that the original draft of the 1995 constitution should be promulgated without the mutilation to which Abacha was subjecting the document, that the June 12 crisis be resolved and along with it, the release of political prisoners which included the winner of the 12 June 1993 presidential elections, Bashorun MKO Abiola. The last demand of the officers was that General Abacha should make an unambiguous public pronouncement that he had no intention of succeeding himself. During the preliminary investigations, Diya repeated what he told Bamaiyi then. ‘‘Ishaya,’’ Diya was quoted to have said: ‘‘felt that senior officers should confront the C-in-C in respect of the demands. I told him that it was necessary to ensure that the demands represented the view of the generality of the officers of the army.’’
At this point, Bamaiyi told the non-convinced CGS, that apart from Major-General Sarki Moukhar, General Officer Commanding the 1 Mechanised Division in Kaduna, all other GOCs had been contacted and were supportive of the move against Abacha, Moukhar was out of the country on assignment. In subsequent meeting with Diya, Bamaiyi ensured that he was accompanied by at least one of the ‘‘contracted and willing’’ GOCs. But for Diya there were still moral, professional, ethnical and patriotic hurdles to cross. As he told the investigators early this year. ‘‘After they departed, I reflected on the proposition. Demands of this nature made (of) the C –in-C were fraught with dangers’’ A recognition of these dangers opened up two options. Diya’s statement to the SIP reveals: ‘The first was to take into consideration my loyalty to the person of the C-in-C and his administration of which I was a member and as such, brief him about my discussions with Bamaiyi and the GOC. The second was to encourage the officers to go ahead and confront the C-in-C with the four point demand.’’ The implications were just as clear. ‘‘It was a question of loyalty to General Abacha as a person or loyalty to my country, Nigeria.’’
Perhaps, the CGS reasoned, ‘‘if Abacha was not the monster he turned out to be and if he did not ‘‘deceitfully’’ intend to transmit to an internationally unacceptable civilian president, if that had not been the case, ‘it might have been easy to equate loyalty to General Abacha with loyalty to the Federal Republic of Nigeria.’’
According to close sources, the distinction was sharp and clear to Diya. As he told some friends several months ago, ‘the proposition of the junior officers was noble and legitimate. I chose loyalty to my father-land and resolved to encourage the officers as much as possible.’’
Diya knew he was making a decision whose implications could impact negatively on his person, as he told close relatives who have had audience with him in prison. In what direction, he could not say then. Several months after his trial and conviction, Diya has maintained repeatedly that ‘‘even though my decision that night fetched me a death sentence, I still stand upon the firm belief that the cause was noble and loyalty to the fatherland is supreme and inviolate.’’
D-Day was Saturday, 20 December 1997. Bamaiyi and his retinue of GOCs came on schedule to Diya’s house, where they all took the final avowal to go before Abacha. Diya was not supposed to go with them. The strategy being that he would operate as an ‘outside’ person and when Abacha brought the demand ultimatum to his notice, he (Diya) would throw his weight behind them and Abacha, finding he had lost all support, would acquiesce. But, one thing was not right, Diya, suspected at this eleventh hour. This was supposed to be a top priority military assignment. But Bamaiyi and all other GOCs who were going to execute it were in mufti. Diya did not think much of it, until long after his arrest.
At few hours after the left, family sources say, Diya learnt from his own intelligence network, that armed soldiers were on their way to storm his house. He could only think that Bamaiyi and company had failed. Calculating the seriousness of the situation, Diya’s security detail, Deputy Superintendent of Police, (DSP) Adebowale spirited him away to a hiding place in his own (Adebowale’s) house.
Col. Ibrahim Yakassai, a close confident to Major Al-Mustapha, chief security officer to Abacha takes up the story from here. In his prison notes published by The Source three weeks ago, Yakassai who was commander of the Strike Force, a death squad set up by Major Al-Mustapha to eliminate opponents of General Abacha, said on 20 December, he got the marching order from Mustapha to arrest Diya for coup plotting. They stormed the Akintola Aguda residence of the CGS. But Diya had fled. Yakassai confirmed. ‘‘I arrested him in a guest house.”
There was yet more drama in Aso Rock, where Diya was taken. He was first put in a room where he found his ‘co-conspirators,’ Bamaiyi and others, already in handcuffs. That was a sobering experience for him. His immediate reaction was that If Abacha could actually capture and handcuff almost everybody that mattered in the Nigerian army with such effortless ease, then Abacha must be very invincible indeed.
According to one of the coup convicts, Diya at this point, assumed leadership of the conspirators, being the most senior officer involved. Thus when he was taken before Abacha, he owned up to the plot, volunteering to take the blame for everybody involved. He never knew at the time, that the ‘capture’ of Bamaiyi and the GOCs was all a game. He also did not know that the session with Abacha was recorded by secret video and audio equipment, edited out of context and shown to varied interest groups and individuals a convincing evidence that Diya admitted the plot and begged Abacha for forgiveness.
However, while Diya, playing the war general volunteered to take the blame for others, persuaded by ‘the invincibility’ of Abacha, a suspect like Mrs. Sola Soile, one of the convicts revealed, owned up to having typed the so-called take over speech for Diya, when the torturers threatened her, Diya told the Special Investigation Panel and the Tribunal proper, that the poor woman did not type anything close to a coup speech for him.
Other prominent convicts who were roped in on account of their utterance are Major-General Tajudeen Olanrewaju and Abdulkareem Adisa. The latter was recorded at a session with his bosom friend, Brigadier-General Ibrahim Sabo, director of the Directorate of Military Intelligence, complaining privately that things were not going well with the country and within the military. Adisa told Sabo that he (Adisa) was only wearing the Abacha badge to get by in public that he did not believe in the badge or the man. He shared a bothering information with Sabo, that then incarcerated politician and former chief of general staff, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua had been given lethal injection and that the man would die soon. In much the same way as a few others were secretly recorded. Sabo put Adisa on the tape and played in back to Abacha and Mustapha. As Sabo reported to the Abacha people, “Adisa was grumbling.”
Indeed, the day he was put on tape, Adisa had shown magnanimity to Sabo by giving N200,000 to spend for his cousin’s wedding. At the coup tribunal though sources to TheNEWS, that Adisa had a chance to spill his guts, when Sabo was brought in as one of the prosecution witnesses. “You, you came to my house, drank my tea, asked me for money, yet you brought a recorded tape to my house to set me up.”
General Olanrewaju, the same sources told this magazine, made the near-fatal mistake of over shooting his mouth. One of the ‘evidences’ presented against him was that he confirmed to everyone who cared to know that Abacha was seriously ill and may soon die. In the event of that, he reasoned Diya would succeed him and things would begin to work again, he allegedly said.
Tribunal records show that Diya admitted that he was unaware that Adisa or Olanrewaju was part of the plot being masterminded by Bamaiyi. He thus spewed doubts that they must have been part of another plot, again Bamaiyi-masterminded, a plot within another plot.
The final plot that sent Diya to gaol climaxed a series of other plots, against him, beginning from mid-1994. The less-than-one-year administration of General Abacha, had run into a political storm after the head of state started reneging on some of the vows he made to the political class which initially supported his take-over of government from the lame duck Interim Government headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan.
Col. Dangiwa Umar who resigned his commission over the reluctance of General Ibrahim Babangida to de-annual the June 12 1993 election, confirmed to TheNEWS in 1997, that “there were moves in the military (post-Babangida) to revalidate the June 12 election. Virtually everyone was involved. General Abacha was there, Diya was involved and I was also involved. We thought it would be the proper thing to do, since Chief Abiola clearly won the election,” But Abacha had other plans.
The National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), as well as Umar, and a few others, noticed the deceit and reacted. NADECO sought to press home its point by giving Abacha an ultimatum to quit office and install Chief MKO Abiola as president and commander-in-chief. The NADECO ultimatum and its outcome marked a turning point in the Abacha and his military colleagues braced up for the worst. What was NADECO going to do?” Was it going to lead or ignite an insurrection or some other form of active resistance to the government? Only NADECO could answer that question. And it did at the expiration of the ultimatum. The date came and passed. Nothing happened.
The seeming reluctance of the opposition to seize the initiative emboldened Abacha. It also was the last nail to the coffin of Diya and those in his political camp who thought Abacha should honour his pledges to the politicians. Abacha simply appropriated more powers as he fired the chief of army staff, Rear Admiral Allison Madueke. The consultation culture that prevailed within the Provisional Ruling Council vanished. Abacha become all in all. He made all the decisions. Diya and others, especially southerners were sidelined. The humbling of General Diya was underscored soon after, when the detention order for Chief Abiola was brought for him to sign. He refused. And in 24 hours, an amendment to the decree (December of Persons Decree 2 of 1984) was made. The Inspector General of Police was given sweeping powers to invoke the decree and authorize detention of persons without application to any other authority. From then on, until he was ignominiously showed out, no such detention order, the sources confirmed, was ever brought to the CGS. The Head of State death straight with the IG, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomassie.
At the stage, military analysis pointed out, Diya should have quit. “In fact, quiting,” one of them told TheNEWS last week, could have been able to buy him the something he desperately needed at that point, a heroe’s welcome back into the fold of principled military-democrats in the line of Umar.”
Diya, at that time, was not unaware of the pressures especially from Yorubaland, as enormous weight was brought to bear on him, demanding his resignation from the Abacha government. To critics of his hang out-don’t-rock-the-boat position, Diya’s response then was that it was better, considering that far-reaching decisions affecting the country, with geo-political and other considerations being factored in, were being taken every day. Quitting, in his own wisdom, may not be a victory of principle, but a serious denial of an opportunity to register an important viewpoint at critical moments. Diya also thought it was better to struggle on, winning some, losing some, and achieving compromises in other areas.
In later years, the General was to regret this naivety about the unfolding drama in the Abacha presidency. Most poignant of this naivety was Diya’s belief that he could guide the monstrous Abacha administration back to the path consonant with their stated objectives when they seized power, 17 November, 1993.
But from that point henceforth, events moved at a dizzying pace for Diya. First, General Abacha andthen convoked a distorted conference that he now styled a constitutional conference. It was largely boycotted by Nigerians. The draft of the constitution that came out of the exercise was still being tinkered with to accommodate General Abacha’s transmutation ambition, when he died, 8 June 1998. When Abacha could not amend pressing state matters on account of his failing health, he detailed Lt-Gen. Jerry Useni, his bosom friends and Federal Capital Territory minister or his (Abacha’s) wife, Maryam, to stand in for him. Diya, was only a figure head number two man. It was only a matter of time before him as to become a mere statistic.
In 1996, Major Mustapha executed a plot to incriminate General Diya and get him sacked by Abacha. A person who claimed to be a journalist and who had written some articles in favour of the then CGS, arranged to have an audience with General Diya in Aso Rock. On the meeting date, the man came out with a tape which bore the diabolical instruction of Mustapha, asking the man to ask Diya a lot of implicating questions. The man got to Diya, but not with the tape, as Diya’s own security detail seized the tape at the gate. When they played it back, they were surprised by its content. The so-called journalist was promptly arrested. The matter was reported to the Joint Intelligence Board. When it was investigated, Mustapha was not sanctioned for plotting against Diya, rather the investigation came with the queer conclusion that “the matter was not professionally handled.”
Diya never got to reflect over this conclusion until he was entrapped by Bamaiyi and other northern officers who collaborated in entrapping senior Yoruba officers. This time, the entrapped was “professionally handled.”
Four times, Col. Yakassai confessed to fellow coup convicts in Jos, he and his strike force trailed Diya to assassinate him and four times the CGS had mother luck on his side.
The fifth attempt was designed to be the final. Diya was on his way, 13 December to the burial of the mother of Major-General Lawrence Onoja, his principle staff officer. Just as he made to enter the aircraft to country him to Makurdi, Benue State, a bomb went off, blowing one of the security men to pieces. Another who was with the dead man suffered first degree burns. He was taken to a hospital where he was soon finished off for fear he might spill the beans on what he knew about the plan to bomb Diya’s plane out of the skies about 10 minutes into the flight.
The incident rattled Diya and most soberingly, he knew that it was General Abacha and his security team that wanted to blow him out of existence. He immediately told journalists that only God gives and takes life and he underscored that he was a “loyal and dedicated” officer. Information supplied by Aso Rock sources holds that Diya put two and two together. He did not miss the significance that the dreaded former National Security Adviser Alhaji Ismaila Gwarzo and another Abacha hawk, Alhaji Aresekola Alao who were not travelling were at the airport at the particular moment. They rushed to him immediately the blast happened to explain it away as an “accident.”
Aso Rock sources said that unconvinced about that, Diya look the matter directly to the head of state. And Abacha reportedly told him. “Dipo, forget it, it’s only an accident. Let’s thank Allah.” One week later, they came for Diya.
Until January when he appeared before the SIP sitting in Jos, Diya indeed believed that he and Bamaiyi along with the GOCs went in the slammer. But Colonel Frank Omenka was the first to reveal to him that the other “accomplices” were as free as the birds, and that he, two other Yoruba Generals and some others went in jail. The confirming moment came days after when Bamaiyi appeared on the side of the prosecution. It was then that it dawned on Diya that he had all along been ensnared. SIP sources told TheNEWS that all the jigsaw pieces fell in place for Diya. Given the chance to cross-examine him Diya told Bamaiyi that: “You wear three faces – one to me, another to Abacha and the last to yourself.” He accused Bamaiyi of actually plotting a personal coup within the set up plot, to overthrow Abacha. Thus, while he sold the dummy to Diya that he had recruited brigade commanders, in the set up ‘plot’ he had actually recruited Lt-Colonels for his own coup, which was supposed to happen as soon as Diya and the others were out of the way. The plan, Diya revealed to the State at Escravos, Delta State. He drew the attention of the panel to the fact that the plot he knew anything about had as goal, the confrontation with Abacha and the demand for his resignation as Head of State. The speech which Bamaiyi was to read was actually prepared by Bamaiyi and sent to Diya for his comments. Diya told the panel that he made a few biro corrections in the draft and sent it back to COAS. He told them that if as the speech had shown, that all the plotters demanded was the freeing of political detainees among others and the ultimate being the resignation of the Head of State, what did Bamaiyi need you RPGs for?
A tribunal sources told this magazine that Bamaiyi was rattled by the confrontation. Colonel Frank Omenka who chaired the panel took exceptions to the replies of Bamaiyi to some of the counter-allegation leveled by Diya. He therefore recommended that Bamaiyi be arrested and tried along with Diya and the others. This TheNEWS learnt, is the genesis of Colonel Omenka’s problems with Gen. Bamaiyi who only bidded his time. When it was ripe, he not only retired the DMI chief but got him arrested. Now Omenka is being detained over unclear charges of consulting a threat to the Head of State and the country.
A sources close to the tribunal said Diya rejected the services of his assigned lawyer becuse he saw that the lawyers were not allowed to discuss with their clients. Then he was aware of the dangers coup defence lawyers faced under the Abacha government, if the lawyers defended an accused. Besides, he could predict the outcome of the trial. And also, he favourite lawyer. Major-Gen. Sarki Moukhar, was out of the country, on course, at that period.
As Aso Rock sources told TheNEWS that the unedited tape of the Diya-Bamaiyi confrontation was watched by Abacha, but inexplicably, he did nothing about Bamaiyi. Rather, he got on the line to Diya, in his telling him that he believed his testimony, but that he (Diya) needed to do two things before he could be set free. First, he had to implicate the then Chief of Defence Staff and current Head of State, General Abdusalami Abubakar, Second, he was to write a letter of apology to the head of state.
TheNEWS sources inside the Rukuba barracks, Jos, venue of the trial said Diya told Abacha to give him some time to think about the offer. When he presented it before Adisa and Olanrewaju, they reacted differently. While, Adisa cautioned against trusting Abacha, Olanrewaju jumped at the offer, pleading with Diya to do anything Abacha said he should do, if that would secure their release. Diya took Adisa’s advice.
On 14 February 1998, when he and others were arraigned for trial before the Special Tribunal, the designs Abacha and the attitude of Bamaiyi prompted him to make his new famous set up remarks. “Ordinarily, we would have appreciated the caliber of the tribunal members.” Diya began, “(But) this is the first time a case of setting up is becoming a coup-case. I am the target and it is organized from the top, I am surprised that the Chief of Army Staff is not here, (He), who is the masterminder(sic), the executioner” reverberated around the globe. A convict told TheNEWS last week that Diya was indeed emboldened by the fact that Major-General Victor Malu, a respected military officer, was the chairman of the Tribunal. Malu was known in military circles to be fair and square. But, that was until the inaugural sitting of the tribunal, witnessed by local and international journalists. The next day when Malu appeared spotting the Abacha-is-my-man badge, the hearts of the suspects sank. From then on, he knew that was the end of the road. The direction of the trial could be discerned and accurately predicted.
If Diya thought his statement would put the Abacha regime in a spot, he was right. But he did not envisage the immediate danger to himself. And it came swiftly. As army terror, known as Sergeant Rogers, usually addressed as ‘General’, even by the real generals, visited him later that night, beating Diya blue and black. He repeated the nocturnal beating twice, in the successive days.
Expectedly, the Malu Tribunal passed the death sentence on Diya. While delivering his sentence, Malu alluded to Diya’s opening remarks, and said, that the judgment was based purely on the evidences made available to him and that his court has to power to try anybody who was not on the original charge sheet.
That was not the end of Diya’s ordeal. While he would await the final pronouncement on the case by Abacha, the head of state was battling ill-health.
Less than two months after, Gen. Abacha died 8 June, in the company of international prostitutes. Three days before he died, military sources told TheNEWS last week, an attempt was made to move the convicts from Jos, possibly to a firing range for execution. However, Brigadier-General Peter Sha, GOC 3rd Armoured Division thwarted the move just before the convicts were to enter the Black Maria. He ordered that they be returned to their cells until he got direct clearance from Aso Rock.
But, at about 2 a.m. on 8 June, TheNEWS was told by one of the convicts, a team led by “General” Rogers came for them again. Major Al-Mustapha had given the clearance on behalf of the C-in-C. They were told Abuja was the destination but they ended up in Kano, Abacha’s adopted home-town. There, the Comptrollers-General of Prisons, Alhaji Ahmed Jarma who travelled with them, handed them over to one Lt. Dagari. They flew to Kano from Jos and landed at the air force base in the city.
Dagari, Rogers and three Strike Force men forced the convicts to sit on the floor of the vehicles that took them to an unknown place in the town. They did not want the convicts to be recognized as they drove through the town to an unmarked house where they were put in a room and left all by themselves for a few hours. It was in the interval that the condemned men overhead the Strike Force men who had freshly been issued orders to ‘dispose’ of Diya and company, arguing. Three of them called Bushi Ike and Abubakar, TheNEWS learnt, argued against the order. They said they were not ready to carry out such orders anymore, especially now that the purpose for which they committed all manners of atrocities was no more. It was one of them later, who came into whisper to Diya and company that General Abacha was dead. He confirmed that they had direct order from Major Mustapha to shoot them, but that they were no longer ready to carry out the order. One of them later brought pepper soup for the condemned men to ‘wash’ the good news of Abacha’s transition. They were left in that house for a few days from where they were redistributed to different prisons. Adisa was sent to Maiduguri and Diya to Potiskom.
A family sources who visited the former Chief of General Staff recently told this magazine that in contrast to the relief that Diya felt when Abacha passed away, Diya was gripped with sorrow when he learnt of Abacha’s death. After the initial shock, he was reported to have been speechless for a long while.Then he told the story of how in the early days of Abiola’s arrest, he and a few otters worked freedom arrangement for the politician. “But he refused to accept the others, because he felt such a release would undermine the democratic ideal he was struggling for. He really mourned Abiola’s death.” TheNEWS was told.
He told the same family member that he was confident that General Abubakar would order his release but only when such an action would not jeopardize national security. He reportedly said. “I too have been in government and I do understand the complexity of the factors that he has to put into consideration before taking such an action. National interest must always be supreme over and above individual interests.”
But for now, Diya is grateful to providence for coming to his rescue, before the guillotine descended nearly. He is really grateful. He repeated the same statement he made after the airport bomb blast to the family source who saw him recently: “Abacha wanted me dead at all cost, but I was saved by the grace of the Almighty God. Life belongs to God. It is His to give and take at a time, decided only by Him. May the Almighty God have mercy on all of us.”
Additonal report by Bayo Onanuga, Sunday Dare and Tajudeen Saleiman.
Why They Were Roped In
Major-General Tajudeen Olanrewaju
Like Adisa, General Tajudeen Olanrewaju, the 51-year-old artillery officer was, until the bubble burst in December 1997 a member of the late Abacha’s executive council. Then communications minister, General Olanrewaju was considered to be one of Abacha’s loyalists but unlike his co-traveler, Adisa, Olanrewaju went about his adoption of Abacha’s political game-plan with some of modesty. He never canvassed openly for, or against the late-General.
Olanrewaju was considered as one of the least favoured military officers in terms of political postings. Until he become minister in March 1995, he never held any political appointment but had several times commanded the Army Artillery Corps and school before becoming the General Officer Commanding (GOC), 3rd Armoured Division, Jos. He was targeted and trapped for telling anyone who cured to listen that Abacha was very ill and could die at the problems Abacha has created would disappear. Olanrewaju’s statement was also recorded. Eventually, he also worked on a draft of the speech Bamaiyi was to read to announce Abacha’s resignation. Because he had a foreknowledge of that speech, Lt-Col. Akiyode, Olanrewaju’s special assistant, was convicted by the Malu tribunal.
Malaolu, The Diet newspaper editor, was picked up from his office when the coup suspects were being arrested. He did not know his offence until he faced the special military tribunal in Jos. He was charged with concealment of treason. An audio tape of a conversation he had with an American diplomat after the death of late Major-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua was played. The diplomat wanted to know what problems the death of the Katsina strong man could bring the government, to which Malaolu replied that considering the stature of the dead man, it would not be misplaced as say that there was trouble ahead. Malaolu’s response was interpreted by his captors as having foreknowledge of the Diya coup.
Lt.-General O. Akiyode
Akiyode is the military special assistant to Major-General Tajudeen Olanrewaju. He is said to be highly intelligent and brilliant. He was charged with accessory to treason. He was alleged to be the one who “re-arranged” the coup speech that was drafted by General Olanrewaju.
At the tribunal, he pleaded not guilty because his boss had told him that the Chief of Army Staff, Major-General Ishaya Bamaiyi, and all the DOCs were in the plot to topple General Sani Abacha. He was found guilty by the tribunal and sentenced to death along with Olanrewaju.
Major Oluseun Fadipe
He is a brilliant soldier. He was Lt.-General Oladipo Diya’s Chief Security Officer (CSO) when he was Chief of General Staff. When Diya was arrested last December, he was arrested along with him. Fadipe was arrested a month before he was due to be ordained pastor in his church, having became a born-again Christian earlier in the year. When Major-General Victor Malu, president of the Special Military Tribunal that tried the coup suspects, asked them to make a request for what they would need in their prison cells. Fadipe requested for a copy of the Holy Bible only, saying “If everybody abandons you, Jesus will not leave you.” He was charged with conspiracy to commit treason and concealment of treason. He pleaded not guilty to the first charge, but accepts guilt for the second. He told the tribunal that Diya told him a coup was being planned three days before their arrest. He, in carrying out the orders of his boss, also detailed the soldiers under him. It was his confession that led to the release of all Diya’s body guards that were also tried.
When the coup verdict was delivered, he begged the death sentence, even though Major-General Malu thanked him for making the job of the tribunal easier.