Nigeria may have problems producing Buhari’s successor
Lieutenant General Donaldson Oladipo Diya (Retd) was Chief of General Staff, CGS, during the military regime of late General Sani Abacha (1993 – 1997).
Earlier he served under the military regime of General Muhammadu Buhari as Military Governor of Ogun State between January 1984 and August 1985. Born on April 3, 1944 at Odogbolu,Ogun State, Diya was educated at the Methodist Primary School, Lagos, Odogbolu Grammar School, and then at the Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA, Kaduna.
He later attended the United States of America Army School of Infantry; the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji, Kaduna State (1980–1981) and the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Plateau State. While serving in the military, Diya studied Law at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he obtained an LLB degree, and subsequently the Nigerian Law School after which he was called to bar as Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
General Diya was Commander, 31 Airborne Brigade before he was appointed by General Buhari as Military Governor of Ogun State after which he moved to become the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 82nd Division, Nigeria Army, in 1985 following the ouster of the Buhari government by General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida.
Diya was Commandant, National War College (1991–1993) and was thereafter appointed as Chief of Defence Staff during the brief regime of Chief Ernest Shonekan as Head of the Interim National Government. Diya became Chief of General Staff (Vice President) in 1993 and Vice Chairman of the Provisional Ruling Council in 1994 under Abacha.
In this interview in his Lagos residence, Diya spoke about “the Buhari that I know,” saying it would be difficult for Nigeria to get a person like the President if they failed to appreciate and exploit the benefits of his present administration as civilian President. Excerpts:
By Bashir Adefaka & Chris Onuoha
After General Olusegun Obasanjo, you are the second Yoruba man who rose to the position of second-in-command as Chief of General Staff. You seem to have been relatively quiet or reluctant to play an active role among the Yoruba. Why?
Apart from the military profession that I retired from, I decided to go into other things. I am also a lawyer by profession because I studied law, went to Law School and was called to bar as solicitor and advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
And I have other things occupying my mind and time. That is it for now. Apart from this office here in my house, I have another office at Ikoyi, a law firm where my lawyers practice. Besides law practice, I have a church that I manage.
I try to be there three times a week and I make sure that I attend the church every Sunday.
So when you put all these together, it explains why it seems to you that I am quiet but I am not quiet anyway. The Yoruba, as a body, are very much alive. So many things happen but they do not take them by surprise.
The Yoruba, at the maiden Yoruba United Conference at Papa Obafemi Awolowo’s house in Ikenne, cried out over marginalisation by the then Goodluck Jonathan government. Would you say that the problem has now been solved with the choice portfolios given to Yoruba men and women in the Buhari cabinet?
The Yoruba generally trust Buhari because they knew him before now. Generally speaking, if you are acquainted with much of the story, the personality of Buhari is enough to sell.
Personality of Buhari
You look at the man and say, “yes, we can trust him.” When you look at his antecedents you will believe that he has done it before and that he will do it better this time.
You see, it is not easy to have a man who has been a General Officer Commanding, a Minister of Petroleum, a Head of State and Chairman Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), yet, as big as Nigeria is, nobody can really face him and point an accusing finger at him to say, You have done this or that.
If somebody comes in, he has been this or that and as big as this country is, nobody can say this man has done something bad before, I think it is worthy of appreciation.
I am a living witness, with the personality that Buhari has put up, it will be difficult for him to fail and probably, that may be our next problem.
What do you mean?
When he, President Buhari finishes his tenure, who stands in, who comes in after him will be our big problem. But, maybe we shouldn’t get ourselves troubled over that now because when we get to the river we shall cross it. But it is a problem.
What would you say informed Buhari’s decision to appoint you as military governor in your state of origin during his stint as a military Head of State?
That policy by General Buhari of picking us from our states of origin as military governors was very good but it had its advantages and disadvantages. When I was in service, I lived in Israel. And I commanded the Nigerian contingent at the Lebanon crisis.
So, I know that if you are from a place and you are there to serve, the tendency is there for the people of that area to have respect for you, I mean, knowing your background. So that’s why I say it has its advantages and also, its disadvantages.
Advantages and disadvantages
I believe and from the experience I had from that place, I knew every corner of that state; when you are there, you have facts and are objective, you will have nothing to hide. It was an advantage which I had and it was beautiful.
Given your vast military experience, in what way do you think the government can quickly tackle the Boko Haram insurgency?
When you talk about fighting insurgency, it is a different class of war. And you see, all our soldiers and officers are studying all the conditions that are necessitating the fight against the insurgency. And you should realise that fighting insurgency and fighting regular warfare are two different things.
When we were young officers, second lieutenants, we knew and it is still so that the policy or language is ‘fighting and movement’ which is an infantry practice; ‘Fire and Move.’
But that’s fighting a regular war. But fighting insurgency is a different thing. The insurgent fights you and he wants to die. That changes the tactics completely.
When you are fighting somebody and the person is running away from you, it is called fighting and movement. When you shoot, the tendency is for him to move and you want to run and pursue him.
But when this man who is fighting you wants to remain and die, it becomes a different type of warfare. So, those that are on the ground now know that it is a different type of warfare. They are studying it to know how to combat it and I believe they can achieve success doing so.
So, how can this new dimension be combated?
I am not on ground now. I am retired. The soldiers on ground are competent. They are more versed in the prospects, consequences and tactics.
They are there and there are lots of Generals and military intelligence officers, who have no other jobs than to study the situation on ground and they are doing it. For you to stay outside and wanting to advise; it will be difficult.
After much clamour for change from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Nigerians have experienced a change under the All Progressives Congress, APC but some people are already complaining and asking where is the change? What is your take on this?
For these people, who are shouting and asking that, what do they really want that should have happened within the short period that the government has been on seat?
Do they want things to happen in six or seven months? No! We have a life span of the government, which is four years. It is within seven months and people are complaining. They are just wasting their time. I mean, if a government has a life span of four years with first and second term service, and within seven months out of this serving period, people are complaining, it is not right.
Given the fact that Buhari in his first advent operated without democratic structures do you agree with those who say that it is difficult for Buhari to operate under democratic structures and that, that is the reason his government is slow?
When people say he is slow or whatever, I don’t agree. The pity I have for him is just to say that maybe he should realise that those people who criticise him don’t know what they are saying.
Military power play
Military era is gone, and as a converted democrat, he is doing it very well. In fact, many people who expected to find military power play in the present government are surprised that what they expected when he came to power is not what they are experiencing now.
Now he sits down, analyses and takes so many things into consideration before he takes a decision on anything.
To recap what I said earlier concerning the end of his tenure, I did say there may be a problem because I am suspecting that to have somebody like him who the people will naturally trust like they trust General Buhari may be difficult.
For Nigerians’ dreams, the hopes are high, the expectations are high. Many people did vote for him not just because he is Buhari but rather, they voted for him because he is the Buhari they know and trust and nobody can point an accusing finger against him. That is what sold him to the general public.
You still don’t look your age. Can you let us into the secret of your youthful look?
Well everything that happens to a man stems from God. But many people don’t know that. Whether you are a Muslim or a Christian, the ultimate is God and I believe and thank God that every religious individual in Nigeria believes in the existence of God. I thank God that He has saved me.
How would you advise Nigerian youths who are looking up to you as a role model?
The first thing is to be serious with whatever you do. Be determined and you must be a man. When you choose a thing to do, face it and do it well. Then, listen and have the fear of God.
Once you are determined and you are a serious minded person and above all you have the fear of God, you will succeed in anything you choose to do in life.