An era ends as Umaru Dikko, Buhari’s “diplomatic baggage”, passes on

Former Minister of Transportation, Umaru Dikko

Mr. Dikko survived a daring abduction.

Umaru Dikko, the once powerful minister in the Shagari administration, who survived a failed abduction by Nigerian and Israeli agents detailed to drug and repatriate him from London, died Tuesday at 78.

Mr. Dikko passed away in a London hospital where he had been on admission since August 2013, his son, Bello Dikko, confirmed. Another family source said the late politician suffered three strokes in a row.

President Goodluck Jonathan praised Mr. Dikko’s “significant contributions” as a leader, especially his “life-long advocacy for stronger political parties, greater discipline within political parties and the supremacy of political parties”.

As politician and Minister of Transportation under Shehu Shagari between 1979 and 1983, Mr. Dikko loomed large and acted as the de facto president. Some say he was more powerful than Mr. Shagari, a former school teacher from Sokoto State.

Mr. Dikko headed the presidential task force on rice importation, a role that came with much power as Nigeria faced one its worst economic conditions characterised by widespread hunger and unprecedented inflation.

Questioned about that grim turn of event, Mr. Dikko, a man steeped in controversy, offered an impertinent response, claiming ignorance of hunger since Nigerians were not “eating from the dustbin”.

The remark sparked outrage, and haunted Mr. Dikko to his death on Tuesday.

When the then General Muhammadu Buhari deposed the Shagari administration in a military coup in December 1983, it was Mr. Dikko’s voice that rang loudest amongst former officials opposed to the takeover.

On Tuesday, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar hailed Mr. Dikko as a “fierce opponent of unconstitutional seizure of power by soldiers”.

Mr. Abubakar said it was for that role that the former Minister was singled out for special punishment by the Buhari regime.

The punishment came in unusual ways.

Having fled to London following the takeover, Nigerian authorities teamed with Israeli agents to abduct Mr. Dikko from his home in the U.K., before crating him to Stansted airport where he was to be flown as “diplomatic baggage” to Lagos to face charges of allegedly stealing $1 billion.

The plot flopped after a vigilant British Customs officer, who suspected foul play, got the police to abort the trip. The Buhari government denied any role in the failed mission, which resulted in a major diplomatic spat between Nigeria and Britain for two years.

Mr. Dikko finally returned to Nigeria but hardly stayed off controversy, even decades after.

As chairman of the delegation sent by 19 northern states to the 2005 political conference, Mr. Dikko led a rancorous push against resource control and eventually played a key role in scuttling the conference.

In 2013, he was appointed the chairman of the disciplinary committee of the governing Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. He had hardly taken the role when he was first flown to the U.K. on health grounds.

Born in Wamba in 1936, Mr. Dikko’s first role in government came in 1967, when he was appointed a commissioner in the then North Central State of Nigeria (now Kaduna State).

He was also secretary of a committee set up by General Hassan Katsina to unite Northerners after the 1966 military coup.

In 1979, he became Mr. Shagari’s campaign manager on the platform of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN.

Thirty years after escaping the crate from London, Mr. Dikko, this time, will travel in one, but not alive.

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