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The essence of leadership is constructive engagement of human energy, skills and natural resources not only for quality living and of all and sundry in contemporary society but equally for preservation of values and natural resources that would make life worth living for generations. Leaders are celebrated not for the quantum of their earthly material possessions they acquired (legitimately or illegitimately) but for impactful and mostly sacrificial decisions, policy thrusts and actions that added value to the collective fortune of their followers.

This is where the Mobutu Sesekos, the Marcoses, the Mubaraks of this world missed it. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela became venerated even in death by the majority of Venezuelans nor because of his publicised hatred of American imperialism, neither is it because of his avowed socialistic ideological persuasion, Hugo Chavez became a hero for the principal reason that he utilised Venezuela’s oil wealth for the benefit of majority of Venezuelans. Indeed, Nigerian 3rd republic leaders (Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, Nnamidi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo) are still be celebrated because of they were leaders who governed with posterity in mind. It is within this purview that one can situate Gen. Oladipo Diya’s foray in governance.

Gen Oladipo Diya (rtd) belonged to the exclusive class of the Nigerian leaders who had distinguished professional career and held very high political offices without compromising their personal moral ideals and principles. Gen Diya, by any definition, is a tested leader. He has had the opportunity to serve as a state Governor, GOC of a Division in the Nigerian Army, a Commandant of UNO Peace Keeping Contingent in Lebanon; Chief of Defence Staff of the entire armed forces of Nigeria and eventually Chief of General Staff (Military Vice President of Nigeria). What is instructive for our present discourse, is that Gen Diya has never been accused (even once) of using his public office for any corrupt practice. 

Also, by accident of history, Gen Diya has been used to preserve the corporate existence of Nigeria on more than one occasion. It is very apposite here to emphasize the fact that integrity is a very rare virtue among Nigerian leaders not because they are decidedly bad. Social pressure, peer influence, and lack of institutionalized accountability are the major reasons for character failure in Nigeria. It is only leaders with extra-ordinary self-discipline and a sense of personal mission that could make a difference in leadership. These are the very virtues that Gen Diya exhibited in his sojourn in public offices. In a nutshell, Gen. Oladipo Diya’s public life is characterized by sacrificial, proactive, visionary, and public-spirited leadership.

Permit me to explain. The cardinal principle that informed Gen Diya leadership is sacrificial leadership. For Gen Diya, leadership entails personal sacrifice. A leader must be dead to personal and family’s inordinate desires and associated social and peerage pressures. Leaders are confronted with several opportunities for self-enrichment and personal aggrandizement at public expense. Most often, the opportunities are seemingly harmless but ultimately, public interests will suffer as a result. It was Gen Oadipo Diya’s personal choice and decision never to award contracts to himself and/or family members under any disguise or fictitious name.

Diya belonged to extremely few people who held high political offices in Nigeria without using the offices for personal ends. This explains why inspite of diabolical intentions of some people, Gen. Diya has never for once been indicted (privately or publicly) for award of any contract or for selling public property(ies) to himself or his immediate and extended family members.


Second, Gen. Diya anchored his style in public office on vision and proactive leadership. An example will suffice here. Gen. Diya’s tenure as  the governor of Ogun State in the 1980s set the precedents that subsequent regimes in the state will be built upon. The Ogun State Property Investment Corporation (OPIC), the major corporation responsible for physical development of Ogun State is a creation of Gen. Diya’s regime. Up till today, almost three decades since Gen. Diya left Ogun State, government and people of the state are no longer hosting the infamous ostentatious night parties in Ogun state. This was another initiative of Gen. Diya.

Third, Gen. Diya is public spirited. The principal motivation for policy thrusts embarked upon by him in public office is his desire to make life more meaningful, enjoyable and liveable for ordinary Nigerians. He is a man committed to the good of his fellow human beings. During the inglorious phantom coup of 1997, it was a known fact that Gen. Diya did everything to protect all the officers, even when the officers were part of the plot to eliminate Gen. Diya due to his principled position that Nigeria should be ruled on the principles of fairness, justice and equity.


It was the famous Russian literary giant, Leon Trotsky, who insightfully said: “The depth and strength of a human character are defined by its moral reserves. People reveal themselves completely only when they are thrown out of the customary conditions of their life, for only then they have to fall back on their reserves. Outside public office, Diya continues to use his personal resources to meet the challenges of the less privileged, especially through the Gen. Oladipo Diya Foundation. At his instruction, activities of this foundation are not done on the pages of newspapers. For Gen. Diya, charity must not be advertised. Gen. Diya’s Spartan life of discipline exemplified the very best in leadership that could make the difference in Nigeria’s search for equity, justice and fairness in our national life.

He has a heart of gold. His capacity to forgive those who maligned and even wanted him dead is phenomenal. He is exemplary in his absolute commitment to the tenets of humility, forgiveness, fortitude and love of God and fellow human beings no matter their ethno-religious background(s), socio-economic status and/or philosophical outlook, as his Christian faith teaches.


Gen Diya has paid his due as a national leader. In spite of several machinations that almost cost him his life but for divine intervention, Gen. Diya remained steadfast with the truth and not for a single moment compromised his integrity. This is a very crucial lesson for Nigerian leadership, especially if such leadership desires to have an enduring legacy.

As Gen. Oladipo Diya (rtd.) celebrates his 77th  birthday, it is my prayer that this icon of purposeful, courageous and principled leadership in Nigeria will witness in good health, prosperity and peace, the fulfilment of his desire for enthronement of quality leadership that will usher in, Nigeria of our collective dream.

Dr. Oluranti Afowowe is a lecturer in UNIOSUN

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