11 December 2000

Nigeria: Diya Apologises To Abacha Victims ...Says '95, '97 Coups Were Fake

Lagos — Former Chief of General Staff (CGS) under the military regime of late Gen. Sani Abacha, Lt-Gen. Oladipo Diya, yesterday, tendered a public apology to Nigerians, particularly victims of the 1995 phantom coup convicted by the regime.

Diya had earlier described the coup now tagged: "The Gwadabe Coup" as a hoax and not real. He told the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa Panel, where he made the apology, that from his own experience, "as a victim of the 1997 alleged coup, I have come to believe that the 1995 coup was fake and was not real".

His apology to victims of the coup came when he was being cross - examined by one of the defence counsels, Mr. Ibrahim Adamu, representing the son of Abacha, Mohammed who was accused of human rights violations.

"On behalf of the PRC (Provisional Ruling Council) and as the most senior surviving officer of the Abacha regime), I apologize", Diya said on the open floor of the panel investigating allegation of human rights violation by the past governments.

But before he tendered the apology it took a lot of persuasion, which drew the attention of the chairman of the panel.

The lawyer had urged Diya to re-affirm his earlier position as to whether the 1995 coup involving incumbent President Olusegun Obasanjo, Maj-Gen Shehu Musa Yar'Adua, Col. Lawan Gwadabe and several others, was fake.

Diya replied in the affirmative insisting that he had since realized that the coup was a hoax. "There was no coup in 1995. In fact, it was after my own experience over the alleged 1997 coup that I realized there was no coup in 1995", he emphasized.

The former CGS had, on Thursday, told the commission that "the same set of people who roped me into the 1997 alleged coup were exactly the same people who were behind the fake coup of 1995".

At this point, Adamu asked Diya if he (Diya) could tender an apology to those arrested, charged, sentenced, convicted, jailed and shot over the (1995) coup since he (Diya) was convinced that the coup was fake and yet the Abacha regime, of which he was part and percel, went ahead to perpetrate injustice on the victims. The following dialogue went between Adamu and Diya:

Q: Do you now show remorse over the 1995 alleged coup?

A: Oh yes! I have said so earlier.

Q: Are you ready now to apologize there of?

A: How can I apologize when it was not my own personal decision?

Q: But you said earlier in this commission that you believe in the principles of collective responsibility.

A: Yes, I said so. I believe in the principles of collective responsibility.

Q: So, you will therefore, as the most senior surviving member of the (Abacha) regime apologize for the misdeeds of that government particularly as it relates to the 1995 coup?

A: My Lord, it is difficult for me to apologize because the actions at that time were taken by the PRC and not me as a person.

At this stage, Justice Oputa interjected: "But Zakari Biu (an Assistant Commissioner of Police in the regime) apologized to Ms. Chris Anyanwu here the other time. And just yesterday, Sgt. Rogers did the same thing. Rogers said he apologized for what happened in the country. So what is wrong, if you (referring to Diya) should apologize if you really know that the 1995 coup was fake?

Justice Oputa went further in his comment: "It will in fact, be a good thing in this country if every former Head of state who feels his regime did something wrong could come here (commission) to tender apology to Nigerians... To apologize for their misdeeds while in government if only that is the only way to soothe the nerves of Nigerians)" It was at this point that Diya tendered apology "on behalf of the PRC."

However, the beauty in Diya's apology, which received applause from members of the public was taken away when he refused to tender apology on behalf of the Abacha government, of which he was the number two citizen, over the killing by hanging of Minority Rights Activist Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1995.

After tendering apology to Nigerians over the fake 1995 coup which the regime acted upon, Diya was again asked by Adamu, if in the same way, and in the spirit of national reconciliation, he (Diya) was ready to apologize.

Adamu's contention, which Diya affirmed, was that Saro-Wiwa's murder by government was a miscarriage of justice because the 30 days duration allowed in law for an appeal to be determined against the verdict of the Special Military Tribunal (SMT) which passed a death sentence on the leader of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) was yet to lapse when the PRC, under the regime of Abacha and Diya, affirmed the sentence.

Another prolonged persuasion on Diya to apologize over Saro-Wiwa took some long minutes but he refused to apologize. He, however, regretted the execution of the former MOSOP leader.

Diya's refusal to apologize, according to him, was that a competent and lawfully constituted tribunal headed by two eminent jurists tried Saro-Wiwa and found him guilty.

To Diya, the tribunal was headed by a civilian and not a military officer. Again, the affirmation of the tribunal's verdict was by the entire PRC and not him as a person.

"I agree that the execution (of Ken Saro-Wiwa) was wrong because of its timing. The timing was wrong because the 30 days grace allowed for an appeal against the sentence was yet to expire before he was executed. So, one is compelled to regret his execution (death).

Another reason adduced by the former CGS was that it may not be unlikely that if he tender apology on behalf of the then PRC another member of the council "may come out to say I was not mandated or authorized to apologize".

Diya added: "But if at the end, this honourable commission goes ahead to recommend that the PRC should apologize, well, as the surviving senior member of the PRC, I will come out to apologize".

The commission's proceedings yesterday was commenced with the continuation and conclusion of evidence on the joint petition filed before it by Diya's two wives chiefs (Mrs.) Josephine and Deborah Folashade who are contesting their "unlawful detention, conferment and torture at their Lagos residence for nine months and three weeks during the alleged 1997 coup allegedly involving their husband.

The commission ordered that all property including international passports belonging to the Diya family as well as a total sum of N2.5 million in N20 and N10 (notes) denomination seized from their homes by armed soldiers be brought before it on Wednesday next week.

Justice Oputa made the order while responding to the evidence by Capt. L.B. Mohammed, one of the soldiers deployed to Diya's Lagos home from the Lagos Garrison command in the wake of the alleged coup.

Mohammed had told the panel that he and other soldiers were deployed there on the order of the then garrison commander, Maj-Gen. Patrick Aziza who he said, also ordered the seizure of the properties.

According to the witness, all the properties seized were intact at the command adding: "they are still there. They are save" At this point, Justice Oputa said: "I am interred in the production of the properties since he (Mohammed) said they are intact".

The commission chairman then directed that the incumbent garrison commander. Maj-Gen Ziddon, to be subpoena "to come here with the witness and the properties, including the money - either in Dollars, sterling, pounds or naira", by Wednesday next week."

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