In military school, dad gave me a hot slap because I didn’t salute him — Tunde Idiagbon’s son

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Which schools did you attend?

For primary school, I attended about four schools because then, Nigerian Army was posting its men to many places. I did part of my primary education in Lagos, Yola and Maiduguri. Then, he was the military administrator of Borno State. I was there for a year. I completed primary education at Air Force Primary School. For secondary school, I went to Military School, Zaria, and also the University of Ilorin. I earned a degree in English and master’s degree in public administration. I was into farming but I do not really farm any more. I am now into estate business.

What was it like growing up with your father?

Initially, there was no consciousness of who he was; he was just my father. I grew up with a loving father who, at the same time, was strict. Even though he died 19 years ago, the values he instilled into us still guide us and our children. I make sure that I instil what I learnt from my father into my children.

How did he discipline any child who misbehaved?

In 1982, I attended Military School, Zaria, and my father also schooled there. Then, the discipline in military school was top-notch. My father was back in Lagos then. He was a military secretary and a brigadier general in the army. But to me, he was just a daddy.  In three weeks, the place was like hell but I managed to stay. I remember one day we were being drilled and some soldiers called me to go to the commandant’s house that my father was there to see me. My father was quite friendly with the then commandant. They were family friends and I thought I would use the opportunity to escape the drilling. I quickly left the place and went to the commandant’s house. When I got there, he was sitting outside with my father and they were reading papers. My father wore his uniform and I was excited to see him.

When he saw me, he stood up and I rushed to him. The normal thing I should have done was to salute him because I was in uniform and he was also in uniform. I was caught up in emotion and I just hugged him. He hugged me for a second too. But the next thing, he used his left hand to push me back a bit and as he did so, his right hand came on my face. He gave me a hard slap and I saw stars. I wondered what I did wrong when I regained consciousness. The next thing he did was to look at the commandant and said, “Charles, is this the way you train your boys? A boy will see a general in the Nigerian Army and he will not salute.”

That was when the commandant called the people in charge of discipline and told them to lock me up. They removed my belt, cap and started punishing me right in his front and he didn’t worry. That was the day that I knew apart from being my father, he was also a general in the army.

Where did he take his family to for bonding?

Growing up, I remember many things we did like going on boat cruises. When we were in Lagos, we went to Takwa Bay and all other places. I recall that every Sunday, he took us to a shopping centre in Ikoyi. He had time for us but not much time because of his work.

People saw him as a no-nonsense person. Was he a different man at home?
Late Major Gen. Tunde Idiagbon (retd.)
Everybody has two faces and that is the way I see it. The one you project for people to see and the face that is the real you. At home, yes, he was a strict person and he had no time for people who did not manage their time well. Having said that, you would be surprised to know that like any other father, we shared jokes. When we were having birthday parties, he would dance with us. To a large extent, I never saw the fear people had for him. To me, it was like, ‘he is my dad, why are you so afraid.’ He was a caring father like every other good father. He was caring and gentle on my sisters.

Why was that so?

I think it was natural. He was soft on them and he devoted more time to them. When I was in school, if I needed N5,000 for pocket money, he could say he had no money. I would send one of my sisters who, after meeting him, could get N20,000 and give me the N5,000 needed. I guess my father did that because he wanted to provide for the girls so that they wouldn’t be enticed by men.

How did he relate with your mother?

They related well enough. I cannot comment about when I was younger but I am sure that like every relationship, they had their ups and downs. If you consider that they stayed together till he died, I think it speaks volumes. They were quite close.

As a Muslim, he could have married more than one wife. Why did he stay with only one till his death?

(Laughs)! He was not the only Muslim with only one wife. The advice he gave me when I was in the university was, ‘One woman in a lifetime is a problem.’ I don’t think he could have married more than one wife. He was that kind of person.

What are the major things he shared with you about life?

We spoke a lot. I think everything about him had to do with Nigeria. He was passionate about it. Most of our discussions, apart from what he experienced in life, were mostly about Nigeria.

What was his favourite food?

He was more into Nigerian food. I will say his favourite was amala with Hausa (green) food. He would eat it without stew and I always wondered how he managed to eat it.

What would you say about his name in society?

If you want me to be honest, yes, his name has been a blessing because everybody knows who he was and what he stood for. Everywhere I go, I am not ashamed to say who I am. Of course, everybody cannot love you.

I cannot say he was 100 per cent perfect but he did his best. He has been a blessing because when I go to places and people know who I am, they most likely want to help me. They will say, “Oh, you are his son? Come and shake my hand.”

Would you share some of his experiences when he left office?

I would not want to go into details obviously. But where we are now compared to early 80s, people old enough know how things have become. Look at Nigeria now, everything we do now is either based on religion or ethnicity. These two things have crept into our lives and are destroying us. For instance, in appointments, they will ask, ‘where is he from?’ If he is from the same region with you and you give him the appointment, even if he is the best person for the job, people will still say, ‘you see, he gave him the job because he is his kinsman.’

What do you think is the Nigeria of his dream?

A Nigeria he would have loved to see is one where everybody has a fair opportunity; a Nigeria where everything works; a Nigeria that sees everybody first as a Nigerian and not ‘I am a Yoruba man, Hausa man or Igbo man.’

How did he feel when the military government of Muhammadu Buhari was toppled in 1985?

I was pretty young at the time but old enough to know certain things. That was in 1985, he was in Saudi Arabia. I was there with him. When the news came, I noticed a change in him. Of course, he felt bad about it. He said he was returning home (from Saudi Arabia on hajj). Though everybody tried to talk him out of it, but he said he did nothing wrong and would return home. His homecoming is one of the things I use when I talk to people. I tell them that my father had no skeletons in his cupboard and that he returned home willingly. He returned home because of his then boss, (now President Muhammadu Buhari) and his own family.

What was his relationship with the then Muhammadu Buhari and now President Buhari?

The Idiagbons
They were both military men with many people of that era – the likes of Gen. Sani Abacha, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and many others. I think their friendship was very deep.  When you go to war with someone and you watch their backs and they watch yours, your friendship becomes stronger and people may not understand the great bond of friendship. When you encountered death and you came out alive, I think you will have a strong bond. So, his relationship with the then Gen. Buhari was cordial. They were quite close, even when they left government. I think in a year, they saw each other three or four times. Either my daddy went to visit him or he came to see him.

What was his life outside government?

He lived a simple life,a Spartan life. He did not have much. He was not chairman of any bank. The only thing he did was to farm. That was what he did till he died. He had no other source of income apart from farming.

How did he die?

I would not know. He was sick and he died. His death was sudden. You do not question God on things like that.

But some people believed that he was poisoned?

Well, that was a mere speculation.

How would he have felt with the state of the nation if he were alive today?

I really do not know. I do not think he will believe it is the same Nigeria. Of course, he would have been very bitter because of what those in power had made Nigerians go through. If he were alive today, he was not somebody to shy away from speaking the truth to power. I wish he were alive today so that he could advise his friend on certain things.

What was his favourite song?

He was more into Nigerian music. I remember he used to listen to Fela. There was a popular Fela song. I was going out with him and I just kept singing the song. I tried to keep silent when I discovered that he was the one beside me; he told me to continue. He liked Fela and Bob Marley a lot.

What kind of books did he read?

He read a lot. In fact, he made me love reading. He had a library and every time he travelled, he bought books. People knew that one of the things he would appreciate as a gift is a book. As a result, we read a lot. He made me read. He used to tell us, “Look, the whole world is in a book, go and read it.” Even now, I can read anything.

Would you like to return as his son if there is reincarnation?

Everyone will say that about his father anyway. But yes, I think I will love that very much because, if not for any other reason, his death was sudden. There was so much, I believe, if he had lived longer, he would have shared many things. When he died in 1999, I was 28. I was between a boy and a man and all of a sudden, much responsibilities because he was not there anymore.

There are some mistakes one would have made but if he were there, he could have been able to advise me. There are many things that have happened and I would say ‘if my father were alive, this thing would not have happened like that, or this man would not have done this to me or he would not have told me this’. But the training also helped me. I was very close to him.


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