DIYA AND THE POLITICS OF PRESIDENTIAL PARDON
Over the years, presidential pardon has been an instrument of power used by Nigerian leaders to unconditionally set free prisoners of conscience and political detainees. However, the case of General Oladipo Diya (Rtd) and other Generals who were allegedly involved in the December 20, 1997 phantom coup, has, been waiting for almost fourteen years now to see the light of the day in terms of presidential pardon. General Abdulsalami Abubakar's brief regime only gave Obasanjo presidential pardon due to the political necessity that he would become Nigeria's next president.
Others that were freed by the same administration were mostly political prisoners and prisoners of conscience whose case did not attract stiffer penalties. Hence, the only way Diya and the other generals could be out/freed was through the exercise of an unconditional presidential pardon by the government of the day as was done in Obasanjo's case.
Having served the country for over thirty years, (Rtd) General Oladipo Diya was a member of the first set of officers trained at the Nigerian Defence Academy. Diya's career as a military officer appeared paved with gold as he kept on climbing till he became the Chief of General Staff, the military equivalent of Vice President, Federal Republic of Nigeria. It was at this point that everything came crashing from palace to prison, from a position of power to that of powerlessness until Abdulsalami Abubakar's government only directed that the Generals be released from prison. This directive was, however, silent on whether they were pardoned or if their privileges were restored as was done to him (Obasanjo) by Abdulsalami Abubakar.
At this juncture, a brief sojourn into some of Diya's experience during the regime of the late maximum ruler is worthwhile as it will bring to the open the need for an unconditional pardon for Diya and others. On December 13,1997, there was an assasination attempt on General Oladipo Diya. Seven days later, Diya was arrested for an 'arrangee' coup plot. General Diya's arrest was the high point of Abacha's eliminating equation after several earlier futile attempts.
The phantom coup of December 21, 1997 in which the late maximum ruler was an agent provocateur, became another challenge, and when the alleged coup plot was announced, Abacha's Aso Rock villa became a tour de guide and cinema centre, showing delegations of royal fathers, highly placed government officials and diplomats the infamous 'coup video'. Reports have it that the script of the alleged coup saw a group of Generals deceiving Diya into believing that a four-point demand on ways of breaking the political logjam was to be jointly presented to the then Head of States.
This group made Diya understand that turning down the four-point demand could result in an insurrection that could consume Abacha, himself and the General. Diya did not know he was walking into a plot sponsored by General Abacha. The four-point demand include: That Abacha renounce his self succession bid, that the regime stick to its earlier pledge of handing over power to a democratically elected government by October 1, 1998; that no officer who had not spent more than three years in retirement should be allowed to contest in the election and that no member of the then Provisional Ruling Council should stand for election. This was what happened behind the scene that was later presented as a coup by the mastminders. The same people who presented the four-point demand accused Diya of a coup.
Afterwards, as it was expected during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, several persons and interest groups wrote and campaigned to draw Obasanjo's attention to the need to grant Diya and others an unconditional pardon. It was generally believed that since Obasanjo, himself, became Nigeria's president on the grounds that he received unconditional pardon, he would also show Diya and others same gesture. Obasanjo could not extend same hand of fellowship to Diya and others. They were only released without their entitlements restored.
Later, during Yar' Adua's regime, reliable sources made it known that Yar'Adua, following recommendations by a presidential advisory committee wanted to grant full pardon to many Nigerians especially soldiers convicted for treason in 1995 and 1997 by the General Abacha administration.
The source went on to reveal that among those expected to be pardoned were Lt. General Oladipo Diya, Former communications minister, Major General Tajudeen Olanrewaju, Colonel Lawan Gwadabe and others. Given this information, the Alaye of Odogbolu, Oba Onagoruwa told reporters during this period that Odogbolu people who are Diya's kins men were already planning a grand reception for him anytime news of Diya's amnesty was pronounced by the federal government. They all waited in vain. Many, however, opined that Yar Adua could have later extended this gesture to Diya and others but his failing health prevented him from implementing the recommendations of the then presidential advisory council.
President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan continued the amnesty programme started by late president Yar Adua to the Niger Delta militants. It was as a result of this belief that if Obasanjo and Abulbakar Abdusalami did not grant Diya and others full pardon because they had reservation as ex-military men, and if Yar Adua who had planned to give Diya and others pardon could not do so due to his ill health and later demise, then, President Goodluck Jonathan would grant Diya and others unconditional pardon. Everyone who got to know what happened has since dismissed the idea of treason allegedly committed by Diya and others as phoney coup. Nigerians are expecting this administration to administer justice to Diya and others by granting them unconditional pardon.
If Mukoro and Obasanjo were pardoned, the Nigerian militants were pardoned, and its on board now that the Boko Haram people might be pardoned, why would Diya and others be denied same knowing that what they were alleged to have done was a mere game. Why the selective administration of justice via the politics of presidential pardon all this while? Let Diya and other Generals be given unconditional presidential pardon so that they can regain their status and get their entitlements. This is in the spirit of democratic reconciliation.