The Mossad Kidnap Of Umaru Dikko:
The Full Story (part 1)
Saturday, 29 December 2007
[Comment by Radio Islam: part 2 and 3 detailing the Mossad kidnap, also appear further down in this file]
Over the next few weeks, I will be revisiting the controversial attempt to kidnap Umaru Dikko in 1984. Dikko was one of the most powerful and notorious figures in the government of President Shagari between 1979 and 1983. This is the first of a three part series which recounts the circumstances, timing and details of the kidnap.
Alhaji Umaru Abdurrahaman Dikko was born on December 31, 1936 in the small village of Wamba, close to Zariain Kaduna State. As a young man Dikko worked for the BBC’s Hausa service. He has been at the vanguard of northern Nigerian politics since the 1960s when, then as a promising young politician he was instrumental in (i) mobilising northern public opinion against Nigeria’s first military government headed by Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, and (ii) he was also secretary of the committee of northern politicians that toured the north to build support for the creation of states across the federation in 1966. By the time civilian democratic rule was restored in 1979, Dikko had matured into a wily and experienced politician.
Background: Corruption in the 1980s
The early 1980s were marked by spectacular government corruption. It is not that corruption did not exist before, but that it was amplified due to greater availability of funds. Since there was more money around, the asking price for kickbacks rose correspondingly and the corruption became unashamedly brazen. It was claimed that over $16 billion in oil revenues were lost between 1979 and 1983 during the reign of President Shagari. Government ministry buildings would mysteriously burst into flames just before audits, making it impossible to discover written evidence of corruption. President Shagari later claimed that he pleaded with his ministers to stop embezzling state funds but was simply ignored. The exasperated Shagari said he simply gave up and prayed over the matter. No politician symbolised the graft and avarice under Shagari’s government more than the combative Transport Minister Umaru Dikko. Stories regarding Dikko’s corruption are legion. One such instance arises in the biography of an American contractor that had a contract with the Nigerian government. When the government was not performing its obligations under the contract, the contractor took his complaint directly to Dikko. After listening to the contractor’s complaints, Dikko went into an adjacent room and emerged moments later with a suitcase full of money which the contractor estimated at approximately half a million US dollars. Dikko then said words to the effect that if the deal could be done a little “differently” life would be easier for both of them. Realising that he would be in Dikko’s pocket forever if he accepted, the contractor wisely refused the offer (Life Is an Excellent Adventure: An Irreverent Personal Odyssey, by Jerry Funk).
Apart from being the Transport Minister, Dikko also headed a notorious presidential task force charged with alleviating food shortages by distributing imported rice. The task force was accused of hoarding rice to artificially exacerbate existing food shortages in order to drive prices up further, and of issuing import licenses to businessmen with connections to the ruling NPN party. Dikko’s name became synonymous with corruption. In many ways Dikko became the 1980s answer to first republic Finance Minister Festus Okotie-Eboh who was similarly disliked by army officers (leading to his assassination during a military coup in 1966). The comparison was not fanciful. Dikko was the ultimate personification and symbol of 1980s corruption and shady deals in Nigeria. He perhaps thought himself untouchable because he was President Shagari’s brother-in-law and had the President’s ear. Stories have been told of how Dikko would follow Shagari around after major policy decisions so as to ensure that Shagari would not change his mind, and to ensure that each day, his was the last opinion that Shagari heard.
Dikko also had a way of rubbing people the wrong way. At a time of soaring inflation, scarce commodities and falling oil prices, Dikko’s contribution to a debate about poverty in Nigeria was to remark that things were not so bad, since after all Nigerians were not yet eating out of dustbins. He managed to antagonise even his colleagues in the ruling NPN. The NPN had an elaborate zoning system for the distribution of government portfolios - including the presidency. Since the presidency had been zoned to President Shagari (from the north), the multi-billionaire businessman, Moshood Abiola hoped he would benefit from the NPN’s zoning system. Abiola assumed that when President Shagari’s term of office expired, the NPN would “zone” the presidency to the south, and he would be allowed to run for President. He was wrong. When Abiola articulated his presidential ambition, he was rebuffed by Dikko who told him that “the presidency is not for sale to the highest bidder”. Abiola “retired” from politics soon after – totally exasperated with the NPN. Abiola was however to remerge from the shadows to play a key role in Nigeria’s political history.
Dikko and the Military
Dikko also made himself unpopular not just with the public, colleagues and the press, but also with military officers. Given his high profile in the government and scandalous corruption, Dikko knew that if a military coup occurred, he would be a marked man. He kept tabs on senior military officers by ordering covert surveillance on them. Dikko was playing a dangerous game given that the senior echelons of the armed forces officer corps were highly politicised and loaded with officers with significant coup plotting or military regime experience. Among such officers included the Director of Staff Duties and Plans Major-General Ibrahim Babangida, the GOC of the 3 armoured Division in Jos Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, and brigade commander Brigadier Ibrahim Bako. There was political experience among the service chiefs too. Chief of Defence Staff Lt-General Gibson Jalo was a former SMC member, Chief of Army Staff Lt-General Mohammed Wushishi was the former Minister of Trade and Industries and Chief of Naval Staff Akin Aduwo was a former Military Governor. Babangida, Buhari, Jalo, Wushishi and Aduwo all served together under the military regime of General Obasanjo. Buhari complained to President Shagari that Dikko had ordered his movements to be monitored. Dikko had woken a sleeping tiger.
In October 1983 President Shagari was re-elected for his second and final term of office in an election that was marred by accusations of electoral malpractice. His campaign was managed by his brother-in-law Dikko. The stage was set for another military rescue operation.
The Military Returns
Around 2:30 a.m. on New Year's Day 1984, armed troops moved to strategic locations, set up roadblocks and took over the radio and television stations in Lagos. Communication lines were cut and airports, border crossings and ports were closed. In Abuja more troops moved to seal off the President's residence. At 7:00 a.m. normal programming was interrupted by martial music interspersed with the following broadcast by a hitherto unknown army officer:
“Fellow countrymen and women. I, Brigadier Sani Abacha, of the Nigerian army address you this morning on behalf of the Nigerian armed forces.You are all living witnesses to the great economic predicament and uncertainty, which an inept and corrupt leadership has imposed on our beloved nation for the past four years. I am referring to the harsh, intolerable conditions under which we are now living. Our economy has been hopelessly mismanaged. We have become a debtor and beggar nation. There is inadequacy of food at reasonable prices for our people who are now fed up with endless announcements of importation of foodstuffs. Health services are in shambles as our hospitals are reduced to mere consulting clinics without drugs, water and equipment. Our educational system is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Unemployment figures including the undergraduates have reached embarrassing and unacceptable proportions. In some states, workers are being owed salary arrears of eight to twelve months and in others there are threats of salary cuts. Yet our leaders revel in squandermania, corruption and indiscipline, and continue to proliferate public appointments in complete disregard of our stark economic realities.
After due consultations over these deplorable conditions, I and my colleagues in the armed forces have in the discharge of our national role as promoters and protectors of our national interest decided to effect a change in the leadership of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and form a Federal Military Government. This task has just been completed. The Federal Military Government hereby decrees the suspension of the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979 relating to all elective and appointive offices and representative institutions including the office of the President, state governors, federal and state executive councils, special advisers, special assistants, the establishment of the National Assembly and the Houses of Assembly including the formation of political parties.
Accordingly, Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari ceases forthwith to be the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. All the incumbents of the above named offices shall, if they have not already done so, vacate their formal official residences, surrender all government property in their possession and report to the nearest police station in their constituencies within seven days. The clerk of the National Assembly, the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives shall, within two weeks, render account of all the properties of the National Assembly. All the political parties are banned; the bank account of FEDECO and all the political parties are frozen with immediate effect. All foreigners living in any part of the country are assured of their safety and will be adequately protected. Henceforth, workers not on essential duties are advised to keep off the streets. All categories of workers on essential duties will, however, report at their places of work immediately.
With effect from today, a dusk to dawn curfew will be imposed between 7pm and 6am each day until further notice. All airways flights have been suspended forthwith and all airports, seaports, and border posts closed. External communications have been cut. The Customs and Excise, Immigration and the Police will maintain vigilance and ensure watertight security at the borders. The area administrators or commanders will have themselves to blame if any of the wanted people escape. Fellow countrymen and women, the change in government has been a bloodless and painstaking operation and we do not want anyone to lose his or her life. People are warned in their own interest to be law abiding and to give the Federal Military Government maximum cooperation. Anyone caught disturbing public order will be summarily dealt with.
For avoidance of doubt, you are forewarned that we shall not hesitate to declare martial law in any area or state of the federation in which disturbances occur. Fellow countrymen and women and comrades at arms, I will like to assure you that the Armed Forces of Nigeria is ready to lay its life for our dear nation but not for the present irresponsible leadership of the past civilian administration. You are to await further announcements. Good morning.”
It was the monotone voice of Brigadier Sani Abacha, the commander of the 9th mechanised brigade in Ikeja. Nigerians had heard such messages from uniformed men before. On the last day of 1983, President Shehu Shagari was overthrown in an almost bloodless military coup as the army abandoned the barracks once again in order to “save this nation from imminent collapse”. The only casualty of the coup was Brigadier Ibrahim Bako who was shot while trying to arrest President Shagari in Abuja. The coup was financed by an extremely wealthy southern businessman that Dikko had upset earlier. The new military Head of State was the officer that Dikko had so antagonised earlier: Major-General Muhammadu Buhari. Dikko’s problems were just beginning.
Next part: Nigeria and Israel - The Stalking and Capture of Dikko…… “Quick, surgical and precise, it was a typical Mossad operation.”
The Mossad Affair:
The Kidnap Of Umaru Dikko (Part 2)
by Max Siollun
Sunday, 13 January 2008
Yet Another Military Government
The new military regime suspended several parts of the constitution (primarily those relating to freedom of assembly, association and political activity), banned party politics, declared all borders closed, and began to arrest and detain ministers and officials from Shagari’s government on charges of corruption and embezzlement. The new Head of State Major-General Buhari’s first broadcast to the nation made it clear that the new regime would target corruption and corrupt former ministers:
“In pursuance of the primary objective of saving our great nation from total collapse, I, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari of the Nigerian army have, after due consultation amongst the services of the armed forces, been formally invested with the authority of the Head of the Federal Military Government and the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is with humility and a deep sense of responsibility that I accept this challenge and call to national duty. While corruption and indiscipline have been associated with our state of under-development, these two evils in our body politic have attained unprecedented height in the past few years. The corrupt, inept and insensitive leadership in the last four years has been the source of immorality and impropriety in our society. Since what happens in any society is largely a reflection of the leadership of that society, we deplore corruption in all its facets. This government will not tolerate kick-backs, inflation of contracts and over-invoicing of imports etc. Nor will it condone forgery, fraud, embezzlement, misuse and abuse of office and illegal dealings in foreign exchange and smuggling. Arson has been used to cover up fraudulent acts in public institutions. I am referring to the fire incidents that gutted the P&T buildings in Lagos, the Anambra State Broadcasting Corporation, the Republic Building at Marina, the Federal Ministry of Education, the Federal Capital Development Authority Accounts at Abuja and the NET Building. Most of these fire incidents occurred at a time when Nigerians were being apprehensive of the frequency of fraud scandals and the government incapacity to deal with them. Corruption has become so pervasive and intractable that a whole ministry has been created to stem it."Buhari quietly warned that his regime would ensure that "Corrupt officials and their agents would be brought to book". That placed Dikko squarely in the cross-hairs of the new regime. Dikko knew he was a target. Armed soldiers went looking for him at his official quarters in Ikoyi, Lagosand ransacked it. Dikko claims his family, son and elderly family were also harassed by the military authorities. With the assistance of friends and a fistful of raw cash, Dikko drove to Nigeria’s Seme border with the Republicof Benin. Bribing his way through the border he traveled to Togo’s capital Lome, and from there boarded a KLM flight to Londonvia Amsterdam. Contrary to popular belief, Dikko denies fleeing in disguise as a woman, and claims he was dressed in traditional male northern attire.
Dikko in Exile
In London Dikko joined a host of other distinguished Nigerian fugitives from justice. They included former ministers in Shagari’s government such as Adisa Akinloye (national chairman of the NPN), Joseph Wayas (former Senate President) and Richard Akinjide (former Attorney-General and Justice Minister). London became a Shangri-La for former government ministers as the new military government continued to detain, try and jail deposed politicians for massive corruption. Dikko set himself up as an outspoken critic of the new military regime and launched continual verbal attacks upon it. He appeared on British TV, and granted interviews which condemned the Buhari regime. Dikko was making a bad situation worse. He quickly became name number one name on Nigeria’s most wanted list.
The Israeli Connection
During the “Cold War” between the U.S.and USSR, Israel was seeking to infiltrate, and gain influence in Africa. Its initial links with Africa were disturbing. Israel’s relationship with the Apartheid regime in South Africais well known and rankles with many black South Africans till this day. Israel sold weapons to and cooperated with the South African government at a time when it was an international pariah. Worryingly, Israel’s intelligence services also shared intelligence and interrogation techniques with South Africa’s dreaded Orwellian sounding security service named “BOSS” (South African Bureau of State Security). Such actions did not win Israel friends among black or Arab African nations.
Nigeria’s relationship with Israel was complex. At the instigation of the Organisation of African Unity, Nigeria terminated diplomatic relations with Israel in 1973. Although Nigeria officially did not have diplomatic relations with Israel the two countries continued to conduct business deals with each other out of public sight. Nigeria supplied more than 50% of Israel’s crude oil in exchange for military hardware. From Israel’s perspective the continuation of the oil flow from a country with a high Muslim population was strategically important. The continuation of that flow was cast into doubt on January 1, 1984 when news of the coup reached Israel, and Israel became aware that Nigeria’s new military regime would be led by another Muslim: Major-General Muhammadu Buhari. Israel unsuccessfully tried to make contact with the new military regime.
In his book on Mossad entitled “Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad”, Gordon Thomas claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was concerned that the new regime might interrupt Israel’s oil supply from Nigeria. According to Thomas, Israel saw an opening to gain favour with the new regime when Nigeria began to arrest leading politicians from the former government for corruption. With Dikko still at large and the regime unaware of his whereabouts, Israel offered to track Dikko down using its formidable intelligence agency Mossad. Although oil was doubtless a factor, it seems illogical that Israel would independently offer up the services of its intelligence agency solely to maintain the supply of oil it was already receiving. A more plausible scenario is that the new Nigerian regime solicited Mossad’s intervention through its network of contacts among the Israeli security establishment. Several senior officers in the Nigerian army had long standing associations with Israeli businessmen and security agents. For example former Head of State General Olusegun Obasanjo had established an agricultural farm with the assistance of Israeli experts including a contractor named Elisha Cohen (the author does not suggest or believe that Obasanjo has any involvement in the Dikko affair). Cohen and his company Solel Boneh had operated in Nigeria for decades, doing construction work. A subsequent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz claimed that Cohen was instrumental in securing Israeli cooperation.
Mossad’s Director Nahum Admoni traveled to Nigeria’s then capital Lagoson a Canadian passport to meet with the new Head of State Buhari. Much to the chagrin of its friends and host countries, Mossad agents were fond of traveling on forged diplomatic passports of friendly countries. Admoni made Buhari an offer he could not refuse. He offered to find Dikko and repatriate him to Nigeriato face justice. It was at this meeting that the two countries hashed the plot to find Dikko and deliver him back to Nigeriato face what would be a sensational show trial and cause celebre for the new regime’s war on corruption. However Buhari wanted more. He wanted not just physical custody of Dikko, but the location of the offshore accounts where Dikko had deposited loot he embezzled from Nigeria, an undertaking by Israel to cooperate with Nigeria’s National Security Organisation (NSO), and for Israel to take no credit when Dikko was eventually captured. Admoni agreed and put his formidable resources within Mossad to work. If the plan succeeded it would be a pivotal moment for Nigeria’s battle against corruption, and would symbolise a once and for all break with the corrupt politicians of the past.
The Leviathan Called Mossad
ha-Mossad le-Modiin ule-Tafkidim Meyuhadim (“The Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks”) was formed on December 13, 1949 as the "Central Institute for Coordination" after its formation was recommended by Reuven Shiloah to Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. The organisation is now simply known as “Mossad” (a Hebrew word meaning “institution”). By the 1980s Mossad had evolved into the most sophisticated and feared covert intelligence agency in the world. Its exploits were legendary. Its notable successes include the famous capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann who was tracked by Mossad to Argentina where he had been living there under the name of Ricardo Klement. In a daring operation he was captured by Mossad on May 11, 1960, and smuggled to Israel where he was tried and executed. Mossad also carried out the spectacular car bomb assassination of the “Red Prince” Ali Hassan Salameh who was the head of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s “Force 17” security outfit and was accused of being the mastermind behind the Black September massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes during the 1972 Olympic games in Munich, Germany. The trailing of, and attempt to capture Dikko was a prototypical Mossad operation.
Intelligence and Preparation: Stalking Dikko
The same modus operandi used in the capture of Eichmann would be used in the planned capture of Dikko. It would take months of intelligence gathering, surveillance and a great deal of bravado to carry out the operation. All these were Mossad specialties. Mossad put its extensive network of Sayanim to work. The Sayanim are non-Israeli Jews living outside Israel who assist Mossad. To work for Mossad,Sayanim must be 100 percent Jewish. Sayanim assist Mossad with covert operations and to circumvent red tape. For example Sayanim may help Mossad rent a car or apartment without having to fulfill the usual documentary and qualification procedures (thereby leaving no paper trail), or could offer medical treatment for a bullet wound without reporting it to the police. The Sayanim provide Mossad with a constantly available and loyal network of assistance not on its official payroll. Dikko’s personal preferences and physical characteristics were to be exploited in order to find him. Sayanim across Europe were put on alert and memorised Dikko’s image and physical description. Doctors were told to look out in case Dikko came in for plastic surgery to change his appearance. Lookouts were posted at his favourite hotels, and clerks at car rental companies and airlines were on the lookout in case he rented a car or bought a plane ticket. Tailors were given his measurements and shoemakers were given his shoe size and details of his customised shoes. Publishing tycoon Robert Maxwell was tapped and asked to explore his high level contacts for news of Dikko’s whereabouts (Gordon Thomas – “Gideon’s Spies”). Dikko was up against a formidable intelligence machinery.
Next part: “Major Yusufu protested furiously that the crates were protected by diplomatic immunity and could not be searched. His vehement protests were dismissed and the customs officers opened the crates with a crowbar. What they found inside was shocking."
The Kidnap Of Umaru Dikko
Monday, 18 February 2008
Over the past few weeks I have been revisiting the controversial attempt to kidnap Umaru Dikko in 1984. Dikko was one of the most powerful and notorious figures in the government of President Shagari between 1979 and 1983. This is the concluding part of the series which recounts the circumstances, timing and details of the kidnap.
Mossad boss Nahum Admoni felt that London was the most likely hideaway for Dikko. London was a favourite haunt of Nigerian fugitives from justice. They were typically Anglophile and had residences in the most affluent areas of London. Some Mossad agents set up base in London along with Nigerian Major (retired) Mohammed Ahmadu Jarfa Yusufu. Yusufu was a 40 year old former army officer. After the military coup that overthrew Shagari he was transferred to the Nigerian Ministry of External Affairs and posted to Nigeria’s High Commission in the UK on May 1984. Although Yusufu entered the UK on a diplomatic passport, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office was not notified that he was a member of the Nigerian diplomatic mission. Clearly, he had been planted for the specific purpose of taking part in the Dikko operation.
Two separate groups of undercover agents worked underground among London’s Nigerian community. The search was narrowed to west London where many Nigerian officials had opulent residences purchased with embezzled Nigerian state funds. The Dikko trail seemed to be running cold until a chance encounter during the summer of 1984. On June 30, 1984 a Mossad agent spotted a man fitting Dikko’s description in London’s wealthy Bayswater neighbourhood. The agent surreptitiously followed Dikko on foot to a house at number 49 Porchester Terrace. For several days the house was continuously watched by the agents, and Dikko’s routine and movements were noted.
The plans for Dikko’s capture were assembled by a small team. It involved making arrangements to capture, anaesthetise, and then transport Dikko out of the UK to Nigeria to face trial. Dr Levi-Arie Shapiro was a 43 year old Israeli national, a consultant and director of the intensive care unit at Hasharon hospital in Tel Aviv. “Lou” Shapiro was also a reserve Major in the Israeli army. Shapiro was recruited into the plot by a 27 year old Mossad field officer named Alexander Barak who gave him money to purchase anaesthetics which would be used to stupefy Dikko. Barak was from the Israeli coastal town of Netanya and came from a family of diamond dealers. Another Mossad field officer named Felix Abithol (31 years old) arrived in London on July 2, 1984 and checked into the Russell Square hotel. Meanwhile Major Yusufu hired a van which would be used to convey Dikko once he had been captured. Strangely, Yusufu’s men opted to hire a bright conspicuous canary yellow van.
On July 4, 1984 a Nigerian Airways Boeing 707 cargo plane flew in with no cargo from Lagos and landed at Stansted airport. The UK authorities were informed that the plane had come in to collect diplomatic baggage from the Nigerian High Commission in London. Several Nigerian security officers were onboard the plane and had orders not to leave the airport.
July 5, 1984
The next day Major Yusufu drove the van he had rented from Notting Hill Gate in west London and parked outside Dikko’s house on Porchester Terrace. With Yusufu in the van were Dr Shapiro, Barak and Abithol. Meanwhile, back at Stansted airport the Captain of the Nigerian Airways plan that landed the day before filed a departure time of 3pm and claimed that on its way back to Nigeria, the plane would be carrying “documentation” for the Nigerian Ministry of External Affairs. Diplomatic immunity was claimed for the “documentation”.
Porchester Terrace - Midday
Just before lunchtime Dikko emerged from the house in Porchester Terrace for a midday interview with a Ghanaian journalist named Elizabeth Akua Ohene. Ohene was then the editor of Talking Drum magazine but later became a Minister of State in Ghana’s Ministry of Education. As Dikko walked, two men burst out from the yellow van parked outside his house, grabbed him and forced him into the back of the van. Within seconds the van doors had closed and the van sped away at break-neck speed. Quick, surgical and precise, it was a typical Mossad operation. Inside the van Dikko was dumped on his back and handcuffed. After traversing through London’s busy streets the van eventually came to a halt. Dikko was initially relieved and thought his kidnappers had been stopped by the police. He was wrong. They had simply stopped to refuel. Dikko was told to keep quiet as his captors refuelled. At a predetermined rendezvous point near Regent’s Park, Dikko was transferred to a waiting lorry. Dr Shapiro went to work and injected Dikko in the arm and buttock with a powerful anaesthetic. Dikko lost consciousness.
However there was a hitch. Through a window Dikko’s secretary Elizabeth Hayes witnessed Dikko being bundled into the van. The astonished secretary managed to compose herself enough to quickly dial 999 (the UK’s emergency services number) and alerted the authorities of the incredible incident she just witnessed. Given Dikko’s profile as a former Nigerian government minister, the call was quickly escalated and within minutes police had arrived at the scene, closely followed by officers from Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist squad. The Foreign Office and the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were also alerted. All customs officials at airports, ports and border crossings were told to be extra vigilant with regard to Nigeria bound vessels.
There was a second hitch. When subsequently interviewed by Israel’s biggest selling newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Alexander Barak said "In retrospect, I found out that the main culprit had been Group Captain Banfa, formerly head of the Nigerian air force and now CEO of Air Nigeria. This guy was supposed, according to the plan, to meet at 9:00 A.M. with Yusufu and Dr. Shapiro at the apartment in London and give them the right documents and join us, to supervise the loading of the diplomatic crates at Stanstead Airport. But at the last minute Banfa got cold feet." The absence of the correct diplomatic documents would come back to haunt the kidnappers.
Back to Stansted Airport
By mid-afternoon on July 5, 1984 Dikko had been anaesthetised into unconsciousness by Dr Shapiro, locked into a crate and taken to Stansted airport. However at Stansted there was no visible sign of Dikko, Shapiro, Abithol or Barak. Instead a lorry ferried two crates to the airport. The lorry was escorted by two black Mercedes Benz cars bearing Nigerian diplomatic licence plates. Shortly before 3pm two crates labelled "diplomatic baggage" and addressed to the Nigerian Ministry of External Affairs in Lagos were being loaded onto the Nigerian Airways plane. The crates were 1.2 meters in height, 1.2 meters in depth and 1.5 meters in width. They were accompanied by Major Yusufu and a member of the Nigerian High Commission in London named Okon Edet. Having been warned by the security forces to be wary, customs officers were unusually inquisitive and vigilant.
A customs officer named Charles Morrow noticed an unusual medical smell (probably the powerful medical anaesthetic sodium pentathol) and a noise emanating from one of the crates. Although the 707 was minutes away from take off, this gave Morrow an excuse to use red tape to get a closer look at the crates. On the pretext that the crates did not have the correct official seal, Morrow insisted on having a closer look at them. Major Yusufu protested furiously that the crates were protected by diplomatic immunity and could not be searched. His vehement protests were dismissed and the customs officers opened the crates with a crowbar.
What they found inside was shocking. In the first case was a bound and unconscious Dikko with his torso bare. Dikko’s captors had shoved an endo-tracheal tube in his throat to prevent him from choking on his own vomit when he was out cold, but he was still alive. They wanted him brought to Nigeria alive rather than dead. Beside him was Dr Shapiro brandishing syringes and a supply of additional anaesthetics with which to administer replenishments to Dikko. Dr Shapiro asked the customs officers “Well gentlemen, what do we do now?”. Abithol and Barak were found in the second crate. Dikko was rushed to Hertfordshire and Essex Hospital in Bishops Stortford. He regained consciousness at midday the following day having been unconscious for 36 hours. He awoke totally oblivious to the ensuing drama and his dramatic rescue, and received treatment at the hospital under heavy police guard. Barak later blamed Nigerian air force officer Bernard Banfa for the plan’s failure.
Britain was angry at the kidnap attempt on its soil. Nigeria’s sending of security agents to commit a crime within the borders of a friendly country was a hostile act of the highest magnitude. The Nigerian government played a straight bat and denied any involvement in the affair. Nigeria’s High Commissioner in London, Major-General Haladu Anthony Hannaniya claimed the incident was the work of ''some patriotic friends of Nigeria''. Hannaniya was formerly Nigeria’s military attaché at the Nigerian High Commission in London, but was promoted to High Commissioner when the military returned to power.
A Diplomatic Standoff
It was the turn of the British security forces to go to work. The Nigerian Airways 707 was detained by the police and was not permitted to take off. 17 people were also arrested on suspicion of complicity in Dikko’s kidnap. The 17 suspects included the 707 crew, Abithol, Barak and Yusufu. Nigeria retaliated swiftly. Forty-five minutes after a British Caledonian Boeing 747 flight took off from Lagos it was ordered back ''for security reasons''. The plane's 222 passengers were allowed to disembark and leave the airport, but the plane was held. This led to a days long standoff between Britain and Nigeria until Britain released the Nigerian 707 plane, and Nigeria eventually released the British Caledonian plane. However the damage had already been done and diplomatic relations between the two countries became badly strained. It was the worst diplomatic crisis between them since Nigeria expelled the British High Commissioner in Nigeria Sir Martin Le Quesne in the aftermath of the February 1976 coup, and Britain’s refusal to extradite General Gowon to Nigeria in connection with it.
Originally, the Dikko kidnap attempt was suspected to be the work of mercenaries. Foreign intelligence involvement became apparent only when the sophistication and daring of the plan was revealed. With the presence of Nigerian diplomatic passports and cars, the British police expanded the scope of their investigation and asked Nigeria to waive diplomatic immunity for its High Commission staff so they could be interrogated. Two members of Nigeria’s High Commission staff Peter Oyedele and Okon Edet were also arrested, and there was talk of calling in High Commissioner Hannaniya for questioning. Outraged at the treatment of its officials, the Nigerian government recalled Hannaniya to Lagos for consultations. The British government was pleased with the development, and as far as it was concerned, Hannaniya could stay there. It announced that Hannaniya would not be welcome back. The British Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe went a step further and ordered the expulsion of Oyedele and Edet (the two Nigerian High Commission staff that were arrested as part of the investigation).
Trial and Punishment
Of the original 17 suspects, 4 were tried (Barak, Shapiro, Abithol and Yusufu). The legendary defence barrister George Carman QC represented the defendants. Sticking to the traditional Mossad response of denying involvement, the defendants argued that they were mercenaries acting on behalf of Nigerian businessmen. The judge did not believe them and was convinced that Mossad was involved. The judge told the jury that “The finger of involvement almost certainly points to Mossad”. Even Carman’s famed legal skills could not prevent the defendants’ conviction. The convicts were sentenced to the following prison sentences:
- Alexander Barak - 14 years
- Mohammed Yusufu – 12 years
- Levi-Arie Shapiro - 10 years
- Felix Abithol – 10 years
All the other convicts have subsequently been freed. Barak was freed after serving 8 and half years of his 14 year sentence. Yusufu was freed in 1991 after serving 7 years of his 12 year sentence. Abithol and Shapiro were freed after serving 6 years of their 10 year sentence. Abithol, Barak and Shapiro were quietly deported to Israel after their release. The dramatis personae have since refused to comment on the matter. Barak later told the Israeli magazine Haaretz that "All those involved in this old story have embarked on new lives or have returned to their Maker, and I do not see any point in recycling the affair."
The fall out from the crisis led to a two year suspension of diplomatic relations between Nigeria and Britain. The controversy also weakened Nigeria’s war on corruption by hardening British attitudes, and creating a pretext for Britain to refuse cooperation in Nigerian attempts to extradite and prosecute corrupt officials. After the kidnap, Nigeria submitted a formal request to Britain for Dikko’s extradition. The request was refused and Britain also refused to extradite other Nigerian fugitive politicians in the UK who Nigeria sought to prosecute for massive corruption (such as Richard Akinjide and Adisa Akinloye). It also complicated Nigeria’s economic relations at a time of falling oil prices and worsening economic conditions. The British government led by Margaret Thatcher responded to Nigerian government requests for debt rescheduling by threatening to publish the names of prominent Nigerians with bank accounts in the UK whose account balances were sufficient to pay off Nigeria’s national debt. This would probably have compromised the legitimacy of past and present highly placed officials. Full diplomatic relations between the countries were not restored until February 1986 when the government of Major-General Ibrahim Babangida came to power.
The role of Mossad, the Nigerian government and the NSO was never admitted by either of the Nigerian and Israeli governments. Dikko remained bitter and in 2001 took his case to the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa chaired Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission. Dikko accused the following of complicity in his abduction: air force officer Bernard Banfa (ex Nigeria Airways), Alhaji Lawal Rafindadi (former Director-General of Nigeria’s National Security Organization), Nigeria’s former High Commissioner in London Major-General Haladu Anthony Hannaniya and Lt-General T.Y. Danjuma. All the accused except Danjuma refused to appear before the Commission. Danjuma denied involvement in Dikko’s kidnap and he and Dikko reconciled during the Commission’s proceedings.
After recovering, Dikko remained in London for another 12 years. He was confined at home under police guard for a year. In exile he fulfilled a childhood ambition by qualifying as a barrister. Dikko was eventually invited back to Nigeria in 1995 by the military regime of General Sani Abacha (who was a member of the government which tried to kidnap and forcefully repatriate him in 1984). On his return he formed a political party called the United Democratic Party (UDP). Cynical Nigerians dubbed the party the “Umaru Dikko Party”. Dikko is still alive. He was a founding member of the Arewa Consultative Forum and remains a prominent spokesman and non-governmental political figure.
4 Held in London Deny Nigerian Role in Plot, Time Magazine, July 27, 1984
An Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Conflict and Conflict Resolution, 1945-1996, by John E. Jessup. Greenwood Publishing (1998).
Britain Convicts 4 of Kidnapping Nigerian, Time Magazine – February 13, 1985
British Custom Officials Open a Pandora's Crate, New York Times - July 8, 1984
Development: Critical Concepts in the Social Sciences, by Stuart Corbridge. Routledge (1999).
Diplomatic Baggage: Mossad & Nigeria, The Dikko Story, by Kayode Soyinka. Newswatch Books Limited, Lagos (1994).
Life Is an Excellent Adventure: An Irreverent Personal Odyssey, by Jerry Funk. Trafford Publishing (2006).
Nigerian Foreign Policy Under Military Rule, 1966-1999, by Olayiwola Abegunrin. Greenwood Publishing (2003).
The Light That Failed, Time Magazine - Monday, Jan. 16, 1984