Umaru Dikko, a Nigerian politician, served as minister of transportation in the civilian government led by Shehu Shagari from 1979 to the end of 1983, when the country’s army deposed the government and placed Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari as the president. The new military government led by General Muhammadu Buhari imprisoned scores of government ministers who served in the previous administration of Shagari for corruption. Dikko, who had expressed his dissatisfaction with the military rule under Buhari, managed to leave to London, where he was purportedly disguised as a priest.
In London, he continued to be a vocal critic of the military regime, which accused him of corruption and stealing millions of dollars from a rice distribution program that he was in charge of when he was there. Dikko categorically disputed the allegations. Although he was considered “Nigeria’s most sought man,” the military administration developed a plot to abduct him from the streets of London and bring him back to Nigeria to stand trial for the crimes against humanity.
Nigerian intelligence agencies and covert agents (as well as many Israelis who were said to be members of Israel’s espionage agency, the Mossad) were tasked with tracking Dikko down to a house in west London, according to the Independent. When the joint Nigerian-Israeli squad arrived, they immediately began monitoring the former minister’s residence. Among the members of the kidnapping team were a Nigerian intelligence officer, Maj Mohammed Yusufu, as well as Israeli nationals Felix Abitbol and Dr. Lev-Arie Shapiro. The crew was purportedly commanded by an Israeli accused former Mossad agent, Alexander Barak. One of the team members was responsible for administering anaesthesia to Dikko.
A huge crate addressed to the Nigerian Ministry of External Affairs was stolen from outside Dikko’s residence in London on July 5, 1984. He was placed in the back of a van and driven to Lagos, where he was imprisoned. In order to keep Dikko breathing, the kidnappers administered an injection before placing him in a box and placing the Israeli anesthetist at his side in the crate to keep him awake. Both Barak and Abitbol were contained into a second box. The two boxes had been securely closed. The captors took Dikko to Stansted Airport, where they loaded him onto a Nigerian cargo plane that was waiting to transport him back to Lagos.
The kidnapping was witnessed by Dikko’s secretary, who was completely unaware of what was going on. She went to the police station. Following this, the British government instructed customs officials at airports, ports, and border crossings to be especially vigilant while checking vessels going for Nigeria. After hearing the news of a kidnapping, one young customs officer, Charles David Morrow, ordered the containers to be opened just as the Nigerian cargo jet was ready to take off from Stansted International Airport.
“Things had been going along quite normally until about 3 p.m. Then we had the handling agents come through and tell us that there was a cargo scheduled to be transported on a Nigerian Airways 707, but the folks who were delivering it did not want it manifested,” Morrow explained to the BBC about what happened.
It was downstairs that I went to find out who they were and what was going on. The man I met turned out to be Mr Edet, a Nigerian diplomat who was visiting the United States. He gave me his passport and informed me that the package contained diplomatic material. “Being unfamiliar with such stuff, I inquired about what it was, and he replied that it was simply records and such such things.”
Several Nigerian intelligence officials and diplomatic staff members, according to Morrow, claimed that the containers could not be opened because they were covered by diplomatic immunity.
As Morrow was well aware, any cargo marked as a diplomatic package is protected from being opened by customs agents under the terms of the Vienna Convention. As a result, he dialed the number for the British Foreign Office. A ‘diplomatic bag’ must be clearly marked with the words ‘Diplomatic Bag,’ and it must be transported with the appropriate papers by an authorised courier. “It was reasonable to assume they had a Nigerian diplomat – I had seen his passport – but they lacked the proper documentation and their bags were not labeled as ‘Diplomatic Bags,’” he explained.
The final decision was made to allow the containers to be unlocked and opened. Airport personnel were evacuated as customs authorities called in anti-terrorist police and sealed off the area with barbed wire. They then opened the crate in the presence of the police officers who were present. They discovered Dikko, who was asleep, inside one of the shipping crates. The doctor who had shot him was sitting right next to him.
In addition to having no shirt on, Dikko was also equipped with a cardiac monitoring device and a catheter in his throat to maintain airway patency. He is not wearing shoes or socks, and he is restrained by handcuffs around his ankles. As Morrow observed, “the Israeli anesthesia technician had been brought in, clearly to keep him alive.”
The other kidnappers were discovered in the other shipment by customs officials. The BBC interviewed Dikko a year after the incident and he described the “extremely aggressive method in which I was kidnapped and pushed into a van, with a giant fellow sitting on my head” as well as “the way in which they instantly put on me shackles and chains on my legs.”
Ultimately, the Nigerian intelligence officer, along with the three Israelis, were found guilty of the crime and sentenced to prison. The governments of Nigeria and Israel, on the other hand, have both denied any involvement in the heinous act. For two years following the incident, relations between the United Kingdom and Nigeria were strained. “The kidnapping resulted in one of the biggest diplomatic crises ever experienced between the United Kingdom and Nigeria,” historian Max Siollun wrote in the London-based newspaper The Independent in 2012. A persona non grata order in London was issued against the Nigerian high commissioner, and the CEO of Nigeria Airways narrowly avoided being apprehended by British law enforcement. Nigerian and British diplomatic connections were suspended for a period of two years.”
Almost a decade after the incident, Dikko made his way back to Nigeria. Later, on July 1, in London, he passed away, leaving behind “two wives, eleven children, and a large number of grandkids.”
Dikko was born in 1936 in the Nigerian town of Wamba, in the country’s central region. He studied at the University of London and afterwards worked for the BBC for a period of time. His subsequent positions included commissioner in Nigeria’s northern region (now Kaduna State) and campaign manager for his brother-in-law, Shagari, in the presidential election of that year.
Immediately following his kidnapping, he attended law school in London and was admitted to the bar. During his second stint in politics in Nigeria, in the 1990s, he rose to the position of chairman of the disciplinary committee of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which was then led by President Goodluck Jonathan.