The Crating of Another Umaru Dikko

by Banjo Odutola

The attempt to smuggle Mr. Umaru Dikko out of London was audacious and once believed uncharacteristic of a Nigerian enterprise as was the murder of Mr. Dele Giwa by a letter bomb. These two incidents are accounts that many would recount to future generations, as history shall bear of our past.

Mr Dikko, the former Federal Minister of Transport and staunch supporter of the former President Shehu Shagari, is a Herculean of a man and politician. His utterances when he was in power had a canny resemblance to the current president of the United States of America, who Ann Richards the former Governor of Texas at the 1988 Democratic convention keynote speech referred to as a man with the silver foot in his mouth. It is not that much about Mr. George Bush has changed. He is an example of why a third rated mind must never be allowed to succeed to a very high political office.

But Umaru Dikko is different. He has a first class mind. Often one is told of his excellent performance as an undergraduate at a British University. I can vouch that he read law, when he was in exile here. I had the privilege of attending a meeting in the Board Room of an International Bank for a matter unrelated to Mr. Dikko. I was nervous at the opulence of my surrounding and at such situations, I am trained to look the part to succeed. In an attempt to do that, I went straight to start a conversation with the man who exuded authority in the room and was clearly the “Big Boss”; trusting that if I was found rubbing shoulders with the man, his subordinates would treat me well. And, it worked. I had to search through a standard list of topics in my mind to discuss, so as to retain the attention of this man. You see, the longer you have the attention of an important man, his importance rubs off on you, as if you had an advantage over the others. I learnt that a long time ago.

None of my topics worked this time. So, I had feared the big boss was going to abandon me quicker than UI wanted. Interestingly, the man inquired of my origin and as this causes me a great deal of irritation when a person of a different skin asks, somewhat, in the company of powerful men in a Bank at the City of London, I was very proud to announce “I am a Nigerian and very proud to be one.” My inquisitor must have wondered the reason for the emphasis, as I wondered why his face lit up and why he was still interested in spending more time with me to exchange small talk about my country. I had thought he was going to make the mistake of his life by bringing up 419 letters. I had spent the previous night armed with facts and figures, not to defend the exploits of the 419 scam but to share out the blame on those gullible to be duped; and that scam is not peculiar to Nigerians alone.

Well, it was not 419, he talked about. It was Umaru Dikko. He asked, if I knew him. I worked out, if it was wise to deny Mr. Dikko before the Cock even crowed once. I chose to play on words as a safe bet. That is what a lawyer does for a living. I said, I knew of him. At least, that guaranteed that whatever the sins Mr. Dikko may have committed would not be visit on me as a mistaken relative in the third or fourth generation of his lineage.

As the big boss fondly recalled his younger days as a Barrister, he intimated how Mr. Dikko had placed a called to a City Law firm requesting one of the partners to send someone who could coach him for his Bar Vocation studies. I almost fell to the ground with either shock or laughter, which one, I cannot quite remember. The big boss found Mr. Dikko a likeable man. I am sure he is. But, it was not lost on me that the interesting aspect of the account is that Mr. Dikko had his own personal trainer from a City Law Firm. This just implies that when money talks, something else walks. You know what!

Anyway, it is the attempt to bundle Mr. Dikko that provides a parallel for my topic. However, this article may be before its time because it shall attempt to forecast the departure of the former president of Liberia, Mr. Charles Taylor from Nigeria in what I suspect may be too familiar with Mr. Dikko. If that happens, there would be a need for Mr. Obasanjo, the Nigerian President to set in motion his apologies for granting asylum or explain the intentions of the aggressors in chiefs nations: United States and United Kingdom to repatriate Mr. Taylor to face the United Nations Court. You may have learnt that Mr. Bush, the American president, he has been provided with two million dollars to ensure Mr. Taylor is brought to justice.

This is the mainstay of this article. Mr. Taylor may now die of paranoia before he reaches the criminal court. I can safely say that if Mr. Obasanjo were to deliver the former Liberian president to justice, it would have nothing to do with the American money. It would be out of conviction because the man is that much decent. But, as for most other Nigerians, Mr. Taylor is advised to keep away from sawmills, carpenters’ workshops and furniture shops. Even, if invited by a Nigerian State governor for an evening stroll around the park, he had better refuse such invitations as it may portend grave danger. It just so happens that the attraction of the American money may entice a State Governor.

If those in authority do not send the former Liberian president in a crate, he should be mindful of civil servants, who spend part of their working week on the queue at the American Embassy, seeking travel visas to settle in the United States. This group of desperados will be happy to satisfy the Americans with an enticement of a “green card”. The American Congress may soon realise that delivering Mr. Taylor to the International Court ought not to be over valued with such hefty amount because that is how cheap we project ourselves.

Now to the other side of this sordid mess – How much are the Americans willing to spend in ensuring that the former president of Liberia is brought to justice? A measly two million dollars – contrast it to the fifteen million dollars paid for the capture of Uday and Qusay Hussein, the two sons of Saddam Hussein killed by the Americans. I hate to import any racism into the poser but it just cannot be helped. Though the facts in the two examples are distinguishable, the parallel makes the conclusion persuasive. To the Americans, spending two million dollars for ensuring Mr. Taylor is brought to justice is enough dosh to entice a Nigerian hustler.

With such amount of money provided by the American Congress, this present American administration is succeeding at blighting our memory. It feels to the senses that it was centuries ago inter – government negotiations and diplomacy were used to resolve differences. With the daily reports of the subterfuges, damn right falsehoods and blatant breaches of tried and tested conventions, this American government will stop at nothing to declare that it cares less, if it kills and maims to achieve what it wants.

So, does the bounty to be provided by Mr. Bush provide new challenges for Mr. Obasanjo? I am uncertain of what to believe. Whichever side of a legitimate defence proffered by the president of our nation, I take the side of the retired Chief of Army Staff – General Victor Malu. I cannot but conclude that if the Americans and the British have their way to deliver Mr. Taylor to the international court through no means other than diplomacy; the position of Mr. Obasanjo in granting asylum to Mr. Taylor deserves to expose our president to ridicule.

As the position of Mr. Obasanjo is ambiguous in this matter, he may well submit that Mr. Taylor was granted a safe haven in Nigeria but was never promised nor granted a permanent haven from justice. That is a forked argument but plausible submission to absolve Mr. Obasanjo until he attempts to rescue another African Head of State. Hence, if Mr. Taylor is bundled out of Nigeria, who would believe the promises of Mr. Obasanjo? Perhaps in 1999, we should not have believed him and the hope he peddled.

The only hope that we now have, as a nation, is that never again would our nation be afflicted by this same man who promised to alleviate the afflictions of the masses; but has delivered his own type of affliction and yet in one breath, he informs us that he knows “Nigerians are suffering” but in the other, he volunteers that the economy is great and his government is doing well. Do you see why I am perplexed?

When Mr. Obasanjo says he sees hope in the policies so far delivered, may be we should ask what hope. Is this the hope at Delta or Zaria? Or, where is the hope in wasting money on the African Games that the nation could ill afford? The hope that the president peddles is a brand that the citizen must not rely upon. His antecedent is such that when he promises hope, we should be asking when and where. Would it be after his presidency and does the hope apply to another country.

So, as Mr. Taylor has bought into a hope peddled by his “brother”, Mr. Obasanjo, the former Liberian president had better call on Mr. Umaru Dikko to provide a better hope on where to avoid; who to sidestep and never associate with; and what not to eat or drink, if he wants to avoid being delivered to Liberia in a slatted wooden box, which some Nigerians stand to share two million dollars from the American Congress. After all, experience is a better teacher than promises that cannot be relied upon. And, if Mr. Taylor fails to heed my advice, I shall see him in that court. That is not a threat. It is a promise and not the type from the Nigerian president.

The writer is a solicitor of the Supreme Court, England and Wales and a Lawyer at a Firm of Solicitors in London, England.

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