Max Siollun is a historian and commentator on Nigerian political and governmental issues, with a focus on those pertaining to Nigerian history and the Nigerian military’s participation in politics. He has written a number of articles and critiques regarding Nigerian history, politics and its military coups. He is also the author of a forthcoming book on the origins of military engagement in Nigerian politics. Mr Siollun welcomes reader feedback on his articles and may be contacted by clicking here. His website.
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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 second of a three part series which recounts the circumstances, timing and details of the kidnap.
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, Lagos and 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 Republic of Benin. Bribing his way through the border he traveled to Togo’s capital Lome, and from there boarded a KLM flight to London via 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 Africa is 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 Lagos on 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 Nigeria to face justice. It was at this meeting that the two countries hashed the plot to find Dikko and deliver him back to Nigeria to 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. Sayanin 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.