BY EMMANUEL AZIKEN, POLITICAL EDITOR
There was a mystique of power around the feeble looking Alhaji Umaru Dikko that made him the rallying point for the North at every time of crisis.
In 1966 and at the age of 30, he was appointed as the head of the secretariat appointed by the military governor of Northern Nigeria, Gen. Hassan Katsina to unite the Northern Region following the 1966 crisis that engulfed the country. Even at the point of death at the age of 77, Dikko was also the one that the embattled national chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur sought to help him regain the power that was slipping from him last year.
Despite his prowess as a political power enforcer, it is on record that he never won election in his own right. He always wielded power on the behalf of principals.
However, it was in the Second Republic that Dikko radiated the power that brought him to national renown. At the onset of the campaigns for political office in 1979, Dikko easily got the nomination of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN to contest a Senate seat from his native Kaduna State. But he looked beyond the Senate seat as he also positioned himself as the national campaign director of the Shehu Shagari Presidential Campaign Organisation. It was a job that easily came his way given that he was Shagari’s son in law.
Whether it was the focus on delivering Shagari or some other reason, Dikko lost his bid for the Senate. But that was no problem as he took position as Minister of Transport in the Shagari cabinet.
Dikko turned out to become the political enforcer in the Shagari cabinet, and alongside the late Senator Uba Ahmed, the secretary of the NPN, formed the power caucus around whom the pivot of the administration rotated.
Dikko above all, was seen as the eyes of the president, given that he was the son-in-law of the president. It was a relationship that Dikko exploited to the fullest. It made many of his cabinet colleagues envious as he extended his power even beyond the ministry of transport.
At a time that rice was a special commodity for many and with the import license for the product a special privilege, Dikko made himself the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on rice.
The committee was supposed to be composed of political stakeholders who were to use the committee to position the NPN properly for the 1983 general election. Remarkably, most of the committee members including the then minister of agriculture, Isaac Shaau abandoned the committee for Dikko.
As the 1983 elections approached, Dikko continued to wax in power and offend many in the party. The ultimate was the face off with party financier, Chief Moshood Abiola who was at that time seeking the presidential ticket of the NPN.
In a famous retort in 1982, Dikko said the presidential ticket of the party was not for the highest bidder, forcing Abiola out of the party.
Dikko proceeded to deliver a second term for Shagari in an election that was termed a moonslide.
By that time, the NPN big men had sufficiently annoyed the rank and file in the army. The officers’ corps in order to save themselves from a more bloody revolt from the junior ranks preempted a coup that eased out Shagari on the last day of 1983.
Shagari was arrested and detained but an unforgiving Dikko who fled to the United Kingdom from there continuously railed against the new military rulers led by Gen. Muhammadu Buhari.
Buhari was so peeved that his government organised with some Israelis to crate Dikko as diplomatic baggage from Britain. A last minute intervention of fate saved him leading to a shouting match between the Buhari junta and Mrs. Margaret Thatcher’s government.
Dikko continued in the UK throughout the years of the Ibrahim Babangida regime which overthrew the Buhari regime.
It was a trying time for the Dikko family to the extent that his children schooling in Gusau in the then Sokoto State had to change their surname to Shagari, their mother’s maiden name.
Agitations in the polity
It was not until 1994 that Dikko returned to the country. The Sani Abacha junta had in 1994 convened a National Conference to quieten agitations in the polity arising from the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
Northern emirs and leaders had to prevail on Abacha to nominate Dikko to represent the interest of the North given that other sections of the country were sending their first eleven.
Dikko returned and duly participated in the conference. However, the gait and grandeur was gone.
His incursion into the politics of the Fourth Republic was largely insignificant. He joined the All Peoples Party, APP and could hardly fit the frame of opposition to the PDP.
It was an irony that at the twilight of his life that he was called upon to chair the Disciplinary Committee of the PDP. Dikko died at the age of 78 last Monday after a protracted illness.