Dikko had returned to Nigeria in 1994 after 11 years’ exile in Britain. When the Sani Abacha regime appointed him a member of the Constitutional Conference that year, many thought he was the regime’s joker in its effort to stymie the politicians who were jostling to push it out of power. By 1998 Dikko had been back for four years but had not become a significant factor in national politics. He could not reclaim his standing in the Second Republic when he was considered to be the most powerful political actor in the country. I wanted to know why.
Dikko’s secretary replied my letter and gave me a date and time for the interview. I arrived on schedule, clutching my notebook and tape recorder. I found Alhaji Umaru Dikko standing in the doorway, blocking the entrance. Even though he had my business card he still said, “Yes? Who are you and what do you want?” I introduced myself and said I wanted to hear his side of the story because many things had been said about him. Dikko suddenly exploded. He said, “I don’t need your publicity! You want to use me in order to advance your journalism career! I have received all the publicity I need in this world! There is no newspaper in this world that did not carry my name. There is no radio or television station in this world that did not air my name!” He was obviously referring to his abduction saga of 1984 when an Israeli team apparently hired by General Muhammadu Buhari’s military regime snatched Dikko off the streets of London, bundled him to the airport in a diplomatic crate while a Nigeria Airways cargo plane waited at Stanstead Airport.
Dikko was not yet through with me. He said, “You said you are from New Nigerian? You, do you even know why Sardauna established New Nigerian? When Sardauna called Mr Charles Sharp and briefed him on establishing New Nigerian, were you there? I was sitting right there with Sardauna and Charles Sharp!”
I calmly stood my ground. Dikko’s aggression did not surprise me because three years earlier when armed robbery became rampant in Kaduna, then Military Administrator Col Lawal Jafaru Isa called a meeting of Kaduna City’s army of elder statesmen. I was invited to the meeting as editor of Sentinel magazine. Isa sought everybody’s support to tackle the menace and everyone was speaking calmly about what to do until the microphone got to Umaru Dikko. He said most of the people present were not interested in Kaduna’s welfare because they come from other places; that it is only those like him who have no other state that care about Kaduna. I thought that was unfair because Alhaji Ahmadu Chanchangi had just donated a lorry, kits and money to the police to aid the fight against robbery in Kaduna.
Alhaji Umaru Dikko was a very tough man and he apparently liked toughness. When I stood my ground and refused to budge, saying I had an interview appointment in writing, he suddenly relented, smiled and invited me into his living room. We spoke for more than two hours.
I first heard about Dikko in the early 1970s when he was a commissioner in North Central State. We heard that he got a First Class degree in Mathematics from the University of Ibadan in the 1960s, where only the most brilliant Northern students were sent in those days. They included Dr. Ahmadu Ali, Prof Jibril Aminu and Alhaji Sani Zangon Daura. The next time I heard of Umaru Dikko was during the Constituent Assembly debates of 1977-78. He was very vocal and he tackled issues frontally, always with zeal, including the explosive issue of Shari’a which at one point divided the Assembly. When CA chairman Justice Udo Udoma adjourned sittings sine die in 1978, Dikko stood up and demanded that he recall the Assembly. It led to a testy exchange between them.
Umaru Dikko came into real prominence as a hard hitting politician from 1978. He was NPN’s senatorial candidate for Kaduna/Zaria/Ikara/Birnin Gwari senatorial district in the old Kaduna State. Dikko was defeated by PRP’s candidate Ibrahim Barau. Soon after the Second Republic was inaugurated, Barau was arrested by the Customs and charged to court for smuggling. Inevitably, PRP alleged that it was Dikko’s revenge mission.
Alhaji Umaru Dikko emerged as Minister of Transport in President Shehu Shagari’s cabinet. He held this position until 1983, when he was switched to Special Duties. In addition, Shagari appointed him as Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Rice. This committee embarked upon the importation of massive amounts of Thai rice which the nation soon became hooked to. In addition, Dikko took on the role of being Shagari’s political heavy hitter, a position formalised in 1983 with his appointment as Director General of the re-election campaign. It was at this time that Dikko drove Chief M.K.O. Abiola to quit politics when he said, “The presidency is not for sale.”
The 1983 election organised by Justice Victor Ovie-Whiskey’s FEDECO was very controversial with the ruling NPN pulling all stops against its opponents. NPN recorded what it called a “landslide victory.” Dr. K.O. Mbadiwe later said it was “a political earthquake.” Not only did Shagari secure re-election but NPN snatched the GNPP states of Borno and Gongola; snatched Kaduna from PRP, snatched old Anambra from NPP and snatched both old Oyo and old Ondo from UPN. The courts however returned old Ondo to UPN’s Governor Michael Ajasin.
Soon after the coup of December 31, 1983 Umaru Dikko escaped through the Seme border to Cotonou and from there made his way to London. He soon became the biggest thorn in the Buhari/Idiagbon regime’s flesh, making threats and saying he would launch a jihad to topple the regime. On July 5, 1984, Dikko was suddenly snatched on a London street as he went for a walk. British police later found him in a crate, drugged, with the Israeli doctor Dr. Shapiro crouching in the same crate. It was labelled as Nigerian diplomatic luggage; a Nigeria Airways Boeing 707 cargo plane was waiting at Stanstead Airport. The inevitable conclusion was that the Nigerian government organised the abduction, and Britain expelled the Nigerian High Commissioner, Major General Halidu Hananiya. Managing Director of Nigeria Airways Group Captain Bernard Banfa was also alleged to be on the ground in London at the time.
When I interviewed Alhaji Umaru Dikko in 1998, one of the things I asked him about was the quarrels he had with many big people. Among the men he had bitter quarrels with were Major Shehu Yar’adua, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi, Lt Gen T.Y. Danjuma and Major General Muhammadu Buhari. Dikko took a lot of time to explain to me the genesis of each of those quarrels.
His quarrel with Yar’adua, he said, began with state creation. Dikko wanted the old Kaduna State to be split so that his native Zaria will form the nucleus of a new Kaduna State. Yar’adua did not want his home state to be split. Dikko also said during the NPN presidential primaries when he was working for Shagari, Yar’adua as Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters supported Malam Adamu Ciroma’s candidacy and that when Ciroma lost, Yar’adua showed no further interest in NPN until it won the presidential election. According to Dikko, Yar’adua then offered to become Shagari’s Defence Minister in order to help check the Army, and Dikko said he asked, “Are we goats? We did all the work and you are coming to reap the rewards.”
Again according to Dikko, his quarrel with T.Y. Danjuma began in 1978 when the then Army Chief firmly predicted to some people that NPN will never win the 1979 election. The quarrel escalated when Shagari’s government blocked T.Y’s oil bunkering outlets [bunkering was a legal act, by the way; not the criminal activity that the name suggests nowadays]. You can imagine Dikko’s fury when Buhari’s ADC Major Mustapha Jokolo later revealed that T.Y. had hired the Israeli abduction team on contract from the Buhari/Idiagbon regime.
The summary of his quarrel with Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi was that the Second Republic boss of the Nigeria Security Organisation [NSO] aided the 1983 coup. Shinkafi hotly denies this charge and took Dikko to court. Shinkafi sued me as well when I reported Dikko’s allegation against him in New Nigerian Weekly; I hope he won’t do so again.
There were two other memorable things that Alhaji Umaru Dikko told me during that long interview. He described himself as a General in politics and said Army Generals must respect him because he is also a General in his own field. Then there was his answer about the charge that billions of naira was stolen when he headed the Presidential Task Force on Rice. Looking at me directly in the eye, Dikko said, “All those people who are saying that I have $5 billion in my account, may Allah answer their prayers.”