There must be something about Alhaji Umaru Dikko and London: this is the city where he survived drugging in 1984 and this is the city where he could not survive strokes 30 years after.
The second republic politician, who was generally regarded as the de facto No. 2 in the government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari from 1979 to 1983, died in the Queen’s city on Tuesday morning at 78.
Two things defined Dikko: the statement credited to him that Nigerians were not as poor as being portrayed by the media since they had not started eating from the dustbin ─ and the failed attempt to smuggle him out of the UK in 1984 to come home and face corruption charges.
The two were linked, in some sense. Nigerian economy was in tatters in 1982-83, partly as a result of a global economic crisis and partly because of mismanagement. As prices of goods and services went haywire and workers were being owed salaries, Dikko ─ then minister of transport ─ told the media Nigerians were not that poor. His “dustbin” analogy drew public anger.
But the Shagari government soon collapsed as the military took over to the delight of millions of Nigerians who had been enduring economic hardship. Dikko and several other top politicians fled the country and took asylum in the UK. The new head of state, Major-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, began to prosecute and jail politicians for corruption. Dikko, who was the chairman of the presidential task force on rice, was declared wanted, accused of embezzling £1 billion.
The plot to kidnap him from London and parcel him in a crate to Nigeria failed, leading to a diplomatic face-off between Nigeria and the British government, led then by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Britain recalled its high commissioner to Nigeria ─ and Buhari replied in kind in a massive row between the two countries that lasted for two years.
The Nigerian government insisted it was not behind the kidnap attempt, but it was impossible to believe.