#HistoryClass with Cheta Nwanze: The Dikko-Affair

Umaru Dikko, died a few days ago. He was the poster child for corruption under the presidency of Shehu Shagari. Dikko ran to London in the days after the Buhari regime removed the Shagari administration from office in 1983. Today’s #HistoryClass, is about the attempt by the Buhari regime to bring him back to Nigeria. The Dikko-Affair

Nigeria, in the early 1980s was a land of spectacular government corruption, something that President Shagari ignored. The amount pilfered between 1979 and 1983 is estimated to be at least $16 billions ($480 billion adjusted for inflation). Attempts at audits died on arrival because of at least 8 fires at Accounts & Records departments just before scheduled audits. When confronted with all of these stories, President Shagari pleaded with his ministers especially his son-in-law, Umaru Dikko. However, Dikko, and other ministers, ignored the President. So Shagari decided to take the matter to God. God didn’t listen.

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Who was this Dikko that was so powerful that the President was too afraid to call him, his son-in-law, to order? At age 30, in 1966, Hassan Katsina considered Dikko influential enough to ask him to unite the north after January 15, 1966. His power was further amplified after the July 29, 1966 coup, as he was one of those who kept Nigeria together in that coup. Remember that both Murtala Mohammed and Theophilus Danjuma had wanted the Northern region to secede from Nigeria after killing Aguiyi-Ironsi. Dikko was one of the leaders who stopped that at a meeting at the British High Commission in VI, on the night of July 29, 1966.

After that, the went quiet, and spent the decade after the war building his power base in Kaduna, Kano and the North-Western states. Then in 1979, he was made Shagari’s campaign manager for the successful presidential campaign of the National Party of Nigeria. His reward after Shagari got to power (in addition to Shagari’s daughter) was to be made Minister of Transport. As an aside, during the 1979 elections, Dikko contested for a seat in the Senate, and lost. He never won an election.

There were a lot of stories about Dikko’s wealth. One of such stories is that he once tried to pay an American contractor $500k cash in his house, when the FG failed to honour the terms of a contract. What is certain, is that in the Shagari government, he was the be all and end all, the man who could do and undo.

Nigeria’s economy began to collapse in 1981, and by 1982 was in free-fall with a lot of food shortages and some starvation. In 1981, to stave off starvation, the importation of rice became a national affair, and Dikko was made the chairman of the committee that was set up to import the product. Well, the rice never got to the people, and there were accusations of committee members hoarding rice in order to drive up the prices for their own benefit. One of the reasons that Dikko advanced for the failure of his committee was that Ghanaians had sabotaged it, so Ghana-must-go became a government policy.

In 1983, a certain MKO Abiola tried to contest for the NPN’s presidential ticket, and Dikko forced him out of the party. Following that, Dikko, in what is acknowledged to be Nigeria’s most flawed election ever, was able to get his in-law returned to office for a second term. Finally, at the end of 1983, the Shagari government was kicked out of office in a coup which brought Buhari to power.

On his second day in power, Buhari issued a list of former government officials accused of a variety of crimes. mainly corruption. Dikko topped the list and was accused of embezzling several million dollars in oil profits from the national treasury. However, the man had vanished without a trace, so Nigeria recruited the services of Israel’s Mossad to find him.

In January 1984, a team of Nigerian agents, posing as exiles rented an apartment in London. Their brief, to hunt Dikko down. About the same time, an Israeli team moved to London posing as anti-apartheid activists, but with the same brief. On 30 June 1984, he was located, living in luxury in the upmarket area of London known as Bayswater. Immediately, Lagos and Tel Aviv were informed, and his, err, extradition was ordered. He was placed under 24-7 surveillance.

On July 4, 1984 a Nigerian Airways Boeing 707 cargo plane flew in with no cargo from Lagos and landed at Stansted airport. The Brits were told that the plane had come in to collect diplomatic baggage from the Nigerian High Commission. However, there were several Nigerian security operatives on the plane, and their presence was noted by the British intelligence.

The next day, the Nigerian team leader, Major Mohammed Yusufu, drove a rented van to Dikko’s house in Bayswater. Inside the van were an Israeli doctor, Levi Shapiro, Alex Barak and Felix Abithol, both Mossad agents.

That day, Dikko had scheduled an interview with a Ghanaian journalist, Elizabeth Ohene, of the Talking Drum magazine. As he stepped out of his house to make his date, Barak and Abithol grabbed him, Shapiro drugged him. It was done in seconds. There was one snag. Dikko’s secretary, Elizabeth Hayes, saw the whole thing and quickly notified the authorities. Because of the fact that the UK authorities knew who Dikko was, and that he was wanted in Nigeria, vigilance was raised at the borders.

Meanwhile, the drugged Dikko was loaded on a crate with Dr. Shapiro, while the Mossad agents were in another. Here, another snag came up. Group Captain Bernard Banfa, who would become head of Nigeria Airways, failed in his task. Banfa was meant to meet with Yusufu and Shapiro before they arrived at Stansted, to give diplomatic papers. He never showed up. Given the kind of cargo that they had, Yusufu and Shapiro decided to go ahead anyway and go to the airport. The van with the crates was escorted to the airport by two cars bearing Nigerian diplomatic plates.

Having been warned by the security forces to be wary, customs officers were unusually inquisitive and vigilant. A customs officer, Charles Morrow, noticed an unusual chemical smell from one of the crates and forced it open. Inside, was a bound and unconscious Umaru Dikko, with his minder, Shapiro. Abithol and Barak were in the second crate.
Dikko was taken to hospital, and woke up 36 hours later with no knowledge of all the drama that had happened.

The incident led to a standoff between Nigeria and Britain, which lasted for two years and a huge court case. Barak got 14 years, Yusufu got 12 years, Shapiro and Abithol got 10 years each. They were all deported after release.

After the Dikko Affair, Britain as a matter of unofficial policy refused Nigerian requests for extradition. The consequence of this was that Nigeria’s war on corruption fell apart as Britain became a safe haven for corrupt officials. Requests by the Buhari government to extradite Richard Akinjide and Adisa Akinloye were refused by the Thatcher government.

Dikko lived in London for 12 years after the incident, and was invited back to Nigeria by the Abacha government. He participated in the 1995 Constitutional Conference that recommended Abacha as a sole presidential candidate for 5 parties. He was also a founding member of the Arewa Consultative Forum, and finally, head of the PDP’s disciplinary committee.