The year was 1984. Contrary to Orwellian designs, society was yet to devolve into a dystopia, just teeming with human rights abuse… Or had it?
For Umar Dikko, the human being and former Nigerian minister of transport who in that very year, narrowly missed being shipped and delivered to Nigeria in a crate like ASOS cargo; the answer might have been a tad different.
Umaru Abdulrahman Dikko (31 Dec. 1936- 1 July 2014), was a Nigerian politician who won the nepotism lottery, with the emergence of his brother-in-law — Shehu Shagari as president in 1979. Under his tenure, he served as the Minister of Transport and headed a presidential task force on rice.
For most people, these would have been key roles to provide a much- needed service to the nation; overseeing the diversification and improvement of national transport systems as well as tending to the growing rice shortage in the land. But not Dikko. Unlocking his third eye; he saw the posts for what they really were — a thoroughfare to the national coffers and an invitation to transfer as much money as possible to eponymous bank accounts.
Claims made the rounds between 1979 and 1983 of his having embezzled millions and millions of dollars in oil profits. But he wasn’t the only one, if you had a relative that served in the 1979-1983 government of Shagari, then chances are, they cashed the hell out at Nigeria’s expense. Embezzlement totalling figures close to $416 billion were made known during that period. Numbers which one Major General Muhammadu Buhari (yes, same one) silently watched and tighted to his chest for the right moment.
With governmental corruption being what it was in the 80s and Nigeria’s economy remaining on a downward trajectory, a military incursion became an almost welcome palliative. Major General Buhari became head of state in a bloodless coup in 1983, and one of his first orders of business? Rounding up alleged corrupt politicians, like Umar Dikko to answer for their actions.
Now if you were a politician back them, with a ton of stolen money to spare and a Nigerian military bounty on your head, getting the hell out of dodge, to live to see another day, wouldn’t have been the most illogical step.
Which is why, very shortly after the announcement by Buhari — Dikko and a host of other Nigerian politicians, fled the country to become vocal, yet safely far-off critics of the military government. A move which didn’t sit too nicely with Buhari.
While most people would leave revenge to God, karma or just life to handle, most people aren’t Major General Muhammadu Buhari; who, allegedly so bent on flaying Dikko’s behind, had a super team of Nigerian secret service and Mossad agents from Israel assembled, all to repatriate Dikko to Nigeria by any means necessary. What followed is the stuff Hollywood wet dreams are made of.
The team sent to recover Umaru Dikko was made up of an alleged Mossad agent – Alexander Barak, Nigerian intelligence officer Major Mohammed Yusuf and Israel nationals – Felix Abitol and Dr Lec-Arie Shapiro; whose sole role was to anaesthesise Dikko, to ensure he got to Nigeria alive, sedated and hassle free.
But first, they had to find Dikko. If you think the shepherd who left 100 sheep, to go in search of a single lost one, was on to something, then you have to appreciate the effort these guys put in to find just one corrupt politician.
Following useful tips and intel, they zeroed in his location to London. Prompting the team to fly to Mommy Charles’ city and rent out two apartments to find him.
The first Nigerian team, posing as exiles, rented an apartment in London, while the Israeli team adopted the cover of anti-apartheid activists, renting a separate apartment in London to stake out the area.
A whole six months after their search began, they found him. Living la vida loca in a luxurious area of West London – Bayswater, was our main man- Umar Dikko.
It took another month of stake-outs, trailing and planning before it came time to reel the big fish in. Here was the plan: they were going to jump Dikko outside of his apartment, with Shapiro quickly administering anesthesia to knock him out. They would then drive straight to the airport, where all parties would get into crates to be shipped straight to Nigeria. What could go wrong?
The plan was scheduled for July 4th. In preparation, a Boeing 707 Nigeria Airways plane landed in London, late in the evening of July 3rd at Stanstead Airport – empty of cargo, but with Nigerian security guards on board. The pilot explained the plane’s use as being necessary to transport diplomatic baggage from the Nigerian High Commission in London to Lagos, Nigeria; while the security guards were to ensure its safe delivery.
This might seem like a harebrained idea on first listen, but here’s why it was actually brilliant — Under the Vienna diplomatic laws, the cargo of a foreign envoy tagged ‘diplomatic baggage’, was not to be subjected to searches. Which is why a plan to have a crate, loaded with whole human beings to be shipped across nations actually was a some what genius idea. As an added diplomatic perk, cargo could be requested to go unmanifested i.e loaded without any evidence of its having been transported.
So the ballsy quartet put their plan in motion. On July third, Al-Shapiro, Barak and Abithol, set out in a van driven by Yusufu to Dikko’s residence to coerce his return to Nigeria.
Upon reaching Bayswater, (Dikko’s home), they waited patiently until their target set out on a walk. Spotting him, he was quickly accosted by 2 members of the gang, dragged into the van and then drugged by Al-Shapiro, to ensure he was unproblematic and sleepy when he arrived Nigeria to face the nightmare awaiting him.
Until that point, their plan had gone mostly hitch-free, and Dikko probably would have come to Nigeria to stare into the unsmiling eyes of Buhari’s justice system; had his secretary – Elizabeth Hayes, not witnessed the full event from an upstairs window and alerted authorities.
Her call to the police greatly complicated things for the team and proved to be the wretch that ruined their devious, yet well laid out scheme. While the crew was being successfully loaded into crates — Al-Shapiro and Dikko in one, with Barak and Abithola in another — a missing person’s report for the kidnapped, a high profile Nigerian national,desperately wanted by the Nigerian government, had gotten to customs officials present in the airport, putting them on alert to any kind of suspicious activity.
Now picture this, two crates already loaded and on the airport tarmac. Just one step away from having six months of planning finally come to fruition, and the dark skylines of Lagos would receive their triumphant return.
Unfortunately for them, their happy ending never came.
With word of a high profile Nigerian diplomat being taken, on the very likely possibility of being smuggled out of the country to face the repercussions of his alleged actions; two large crates, large enough to house grown men, started looking a lot less like convoys for environmentally-problematic diplomatic documents, and a lot more like get-away pods for the assailants and the kidnapped.
The officials present at the airport tarmac where the crates were situated, were so wary, they chose to ignore the entreaties of a Nigerian diplomat- Emmanuel Edet, present. His alleged role was ensuring the smooth sailing of the plan and making sure the crates were loaded to the plane, unmanifested. The officials, bent on allaying their suspicions, used the absence of an accredited courier as well as appropriate documentation — valid legal requirements — as just cause to open the crates.
You can imagine what happened next. Still in the wide airport tarmac, just moments from being loaded onto the plane, the discovery of 3 humans, and an alarmingly shirtless and unconscious Dikko, who had a heart monitor strapped to his chest and an endotracheal tube lodged in his throat to keep him alive — were made.
As soon as the crates were opened, Edet made a run for it. Hitting a quick sprint along the tarmac, before realising no one was chasing him, at least 4.5m into his race.
The fall out of this event was far-reaching. The four parties involved, received prison sentences in the United Kingdom. The CEO of Nigeria Airways was almost arrested by the British Government at some point. And although Nigeria and Israel always denied any involvement in the matter, diplomatic relations between the West African country and the UK broke down and were only restored, two years after the event.
Despite it all, Nigeria, ever the gutsy nation, attempted to have Dikko repatriated to Nigeria via legal means, but the British; done with our drama, refused to grant the request.
Umar Dikko continued to live in the UK, and always denied the allegations made against him.
Following an invitation by the Nigerian Government, he moved back to Nigeria, but not after letting 10 years pass to soothe murky waters. He went on to hold the post of Chairman of the Disciplinary Committee of the PDP.
He passed away at the age of 78, following a series of strokes on the 1st of July, 2014 in London, UK.