Intrinsically, many dictators are cowards. And it is this cowardice that drives them to intimidate and harass people. They are always aware of their vulnerability. So to cover up this pathological fear, they have to murder people as a way of sending signals to everyone that they are tough, well armed and powerful. Majority of Nigerians held the view that General Sani Abacha was a very cruel dictator. And like a typical African dictator, he hunted after those who planned against him; those whom he thought planned against him and even those who he does not know if they planned against him or not. Abacha is not the sort of personality Nigeria would like to chronicle in her national achieve of those termed bright leaders.
The world had seen some dictators who were ideologically driven, well read and intelligent. Abacha was never close to such description. He could be categorized with the sort of dictator Idi Amin Dada of Uganda was. These folks are stooge-like, so ignorant, barely literate, unintelligent, blind bullies, superstitious, insatiably greedy, void of logical precision and very fearful. So funny but true, Idi Amin would put someone to a brutal death simply because the person appeared in his dream at night. Abacha too would do the same thing. These kinds of people are dangerous. No one knew which line of action their paranoia and unmitigated suspicion could lead then into next.
It is clearly established in the minds of Nigerians that with general Abacha's rise to power came the reign of terror. Abacha is not the kind of dictator who would use his megalomania to bring about nationalism or patriotism as did Adulf Hitler of Germany, Benito Mussolini of Italy, Vladimir Lenin of Soviet Union, Fidel Castro of Cuba or the present North Korean President Kim Jong II. Although, these rulers are all dictators, they were also strong nationalists with the vision of, perhaps, creating the most powerful government on earth. Abacha lacked that intellectual potency to rouse this sense of fanatic patriotic nationalism in the minds of Nigerians. Thus the different between Abacha and the few mentioned above is that while these others were nationalistic dictators, Abacha on the other hand was an individualistic and a selfish dictator. While the others used their despotic ingeniousness to coerce people to become patriots by working for the state, Abacha used his to murder his subjects irrationally and steal their wealth and destroy the state. Thus, one could say, Abacha was visionless, empty of ideas and void of any political or economic thinking. He never stood for communism or socialism as political theories. He never pursued capitalism as a political theory either. And so like so many African dictators, his logo was ÔÇśeliminate and loot'. Finish!
During his reign as the head of state, so many Nigerians took to exile. Some where voluntary and some were forced. Those who couldn't run to exiles where forced to remain as mute as mules, bearing crushing burdens or else speak out, as Ken Saro Wiwa did, and take the rope by the neck. There were those who thought that they would be able to appease him with their blind sycophancy. They failed to realize the fact that most dictators put under a psychiatric analysis could be suffering from certain mental illness called megalomania. It is a state of self delusion, an exaggeration of the self which is equivalent to self deification. Abacha was the sort of guy who would take less than a blink of an eye to turn against his friends. And this is what is most dangerous rallying around any despot. They often seem friendly when they are in a mild episode of psychosis.
One would naturally ask. Did Oladipo Diya, who served as the second man in command to Abacha's regime ever realized that his boss was simply a tyrant, a bully, a megalomaniac and a human torturer? This question is better left for Oladipo's inner conscience to resolve. All we can do is muse and speculate about it. In one of his interviews, Diya had denied any knowledge that his boss was looting the national reserve. But so many critical Nigerians were not satisfied with this answer. They say Diya might be seen as an accomplice to running and most importantly maintaining a dictatorial government? That it defies common sense to think that Abacha alone could run a tyrannous system. If someone becomes second in command to a dictator, what are the chances to deny direct knowledge of his master's activities? But, if Diya knew the vices of Abacha, what would be the legal and moral implications? If Abacha should be alive today and is placed under trial, would he, Abacha go down alone? Who were the ones who could be called upon to answer some questions just as Abacha would? These issues, no doubt, could elicit strong controversy in the mind of many. Yet, to facilitate a critical, an honest and a rational dialogue regarding Nigeria and its history is the best way to strengthen a comprehensive healing towards progress.
But I must say that the main focus of this article is not Oladipo Diya as the second man in command during Abacha's regime and whether he was guilty of Abacha's phenomena or not. It is rather about Oladipo Diya as the victim of the very government he was part of. So many Nigerians were of the view that it was obvious that Diya was a victim of Abacha's devious schemes. And that his boss simply set him up as a figure to be eliminated in order to clear the seemingly overgrown track to self perpetuity in power. This is my opinion too.
In any military regime, treason accusation is one of the simplest ways to get rid of any known or imagined human obstacles. Diya was eventually accused by the Abacha's dreaded military junta. As he stood trial, so many Nigerians were praying silently for a sort of divine miracle. It was only this sort of extraterrestrial intervention that would save the gentleman. But praying for someone who is under Abacha's iron grasp is like praying for a lamb that had fallen into a den filled with fierce pride of lions. During the trial proceedings, Diya himself was termed the ÔÇśweeping general'. Who would not weep standing as an accused before Abacha's constituted junta killers? Evidently, as the sham trial concluded, many people's fear turned into a realistic nightmare. Diya was found guilty of attempting to oust his boss from power. He would be executed. Finish. No international pressure would make the general, Abacha, to change his mind. But fate would soon turn the table around.
Abacha's sudden death created a sense of national euphoria in the minds of so many distressed and repressed Nigerians. I don't believe Nigerians are sadists. But seemingly, it was one of the times when so many people became happy for someone's death. God had finally caught up with the dictator, many thought. And I believe Diya too and his family knew that they served a living God. Their hopeless prayers became suddenly hopeful.
When General Abdulsalami Abubarkar took the seat after Abacha's fall, he decided to review Diya's case with so many other prisoners jailed under his predecessor. This is part of the general's initiative to foster an atmosphere of healing and reconciliation within the national psyche. And this is how Oladipo Diya was granted amnesty in his presumed guilty of conspiracy to overthrow general Abacha. Perhaps, this is one of the most beautiful things that ever happened in the life of Oladipo Diya. If Abacha was to live on, he would have been surely executed. I myself believe Diya was one of the luckiest men on the face of the earth.
But, so many people are now asking the question: why has Oladipo Diya remained silence or somewhat very inactive in the Nigerian politics today. No one denies the fact of post execution traumatic stress in this gentleman, the constant nightmares of Abacha's hangmen and how such tormented him in prison. This perhaps must have fostered a sense of phobia in Mr. Diya for anything tagged Nigerian politics. But one of the hallmarks of any soldier is courage, bravery and fearlessness. Why has he not been eloquent regarding national affairs ever since he was released from prison? Has his patriotism for Nigeria died out? Why has he not contested for any major political position? Why has he not taken energetic part in rebuilding Nigeria? Why has he not championed the cause of human right activist in Nigeria? Why has he not been at the vanguard of advocating for political prisoners across Africa?
I believe he is one of the persons, if he has genuine interest, who could understand the Nigerian politics better. He was a victim of injustice and oppression and the entire world knows that. Diya's story is a Nigerian story, a story born out of struggle in the midst of humongous setbacks; a story of the masses struggle against corruption, repression, lies, intimidation, exploitation and helplessness. Diya should go ahead and exploit his experience as a way of ascending into high political office to help in the Nigerian progress. Lots of courageous politicians do that too. John McCain, during his campaign in the States did it. He repeatedly exploited his experience as a POW in Vietnam. Of course the usage of the word ÔÇśexploit' here should not be taken as a panacea for corrupt power tussle. Rather, it should be a sincere re-telling of an experience as it is.
Diya should not shy away from the Nigerian political reality. I am of the opinion that he should come back to Nigeria in a more existential way and not take to idealistic flee from the basic fundamental struggles against political ills ravaging the Nigerian nation. He should not just be a silent outside observer. His feeling of having been betrayed once, though understandable, should not elicit this sort of prolonged neutrality and lack of interest. Abacha is gone and Nigeria is bound for a forward-movement journey. If Diya dares into politics, he should not behave like OBJ, who though suffered the same fate and eventually rose from the dungeon of prison to the domain of presidency, yet nevertheless tended towards dictatorship. Oladipo Diya is the kind person that could easily draw sympathy in the mind of every Nigeria. Lots of Nigerian could find themselves in his shoes. He was a victim of orchestrated alienation from his government and from his country. And I guess if he vies for any recognizable national office he might win. Who could tell? So Oladipo Diya, the massage I have for you is this: general Sani Abacha is gone, come out and server Nigeria.