Briton: How I aborted Umaru Dikko’s kidnap

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…By Customs Officer who impounded crate at London airport

By Alex Last

Twenty-eight years after the British government foiled the attempt to kidnap Dr. Umaru Dikko and smuggle him out of the UK in a cargo crate, the customs officer at the centre of the drama tells his story.

In London in 1984, a team of Nigerians and Israelis attempted to kidnap and repatriate the exiled former Nigerian minister Umaru Dikko.

Mr. Dikko, who had fled Nigeria after a military coup, was accused of stealing $1bn (£625m) of government money.

The plot was foiled by a young British customs officer, Charles David Morrow, who has now told the BBC World Service Witness programme what happened.

On a summer’s day, Mr. Dikko walked out of his front door in an upmarket neighbourhood of Bayswater in London.

Within seconds he had been grabbed by two men and bundled into the back of a transit van.

“I remember the very violent way in which I was grabbed and hurled into a van, with a huge fellow sitting on my head and the way in which they immediately put on me handcuffs and chains on my legs,” he told the BBC a year later. Mr Dikko had been minister for transport in the government of Shehu Shagari until it was overthrown by the military at the end of 1983.

He fled to London accused by Nigeria’s new rulers of embezzlement, a charge he has always denied. Labelled “Nigeria’s most wanted man”, a plot was hatched to get both him and the money back. The extraordinary plan was to kidnap Mr Dikko, drug him, stick him into a specially made crate and put him on a plane back to Nigeria alive. An Israeli alleged former Mossad agent, Alexander Barak, was recruited to lead the kidnap team. It included a Nigerian intelligence officer, Maj Mohammed Yusufu, and Israeli nationals Felix Abitbol and Dr Lev-Arie Shapiro, who was to inject Mr Dikko with an anaesthetic.

The kidnappers switched vehicles in a car park by London Zoo and headed towards Stansted airport where a Nigerian Airways plane was waiting. They injected Mr Dikko and laid him, unconscious, in a crate. The Israeli anaesthetist climbed into the crate as well, carrying medical equipment to make sure Mr Dikko didn’t die en route. Barak and Abitbol got into a second crate. Both boxes were then sealed. At the cargo terminal of Stansted Airport, 40 miles (64km) north of London, a Nigerian diplomat was anxiously waiting for the crates to arrive. Also on duty that day was a young customs officer, Charles David Morrow.

“The day had gone fairly normally until about 3pm. Then we had the handling agents come through and say that there was a cargo due to go on a Nigerian Airways 707, but the people delivering it didn’t want it manifested,” Mr Morrow said.

“I went downstairs to see who they were and what was happening. I met a guy who turned out to be a Nigerian diplomat called Mr Edet. He showed me his passport and he said it was diplomatic cargo. Being ignorant of such matters, I asked him what it was, and he told me it was just documents and things.” No-one on duty at Stansted had dealt with a diplomatic bag before and Mr Morrow went to check the procedure.

Just then a colleague returned from the passenger terminal with some startling news. There was an All Ports Bulletin from Scotland Yard saying that a Nigerian had been kidnapped and it was suspected he would be smuggled out of the country. The police had been alerted by Mr Dikko’s secretary who had witnessed his abduction from a window in the house. Hearing the news, Mr Morrow realised he had a problem on his hands.

“I just put two and two together. The classic customs approach is not to look for the goods, you look for the space,” he said. “So I am looking out of the window and I can see the space which is these two crates, clearly big enough to get a man inside. We’ve got a Nigerian Airways 707, which we don’t normally see. They don’t want the crates manifested, so there would be no record of them having gone through.

And there was very little other cargo going on board the aircraft. “If you want to hide a tree, you hide it in the forest. You don’t stick it out in the middle of Essex.” But any cargo designated as a diplomatic bag is protected by the Vienna Convention from being opened by customs officers. So Mr Morrow got on the phone to the British Foreign Office.

“To qualify as a ‘diplomatic bag’ they clearly had to be marked with the words ‘Diplomatic Bag’ and they had to be accompanied by an accredited courier with the appropriate documentation. It was fair to say they had a Nigerian diplomat I’d seen his passport – but they didn’t have the right paperwork and they weren’t marked ‘Diplomatic Bag’,” he said. The decision was taken that the crates could be opened but it would be done by the book. That required the presence of a Nigerian diplomat, but as Mr Morrow pointed out, one was already on hand.

By now, the crates were up on special trolleys ready to be loaded on to the plane. “Peter, the cargo manager, hit the lid on the bottom and lifted it. And as he lifted it, the Nigerian diplomat, who was standing next to me, took off like a startled rabbit across the tarmac,” Mr Morrow said. “You have to remember we are on an airfield which is square miles of nothing.

He ran about five yards (4.5m), realised no-one was chasing him and then stopped. “Peter looked into the crate and said: ‘There’s bodies inside!’ He parked a forklift truck so its tines lay across the top of the crate so it couldn’t be opened. Mr Morrow dialled the emergency number 999.

“My name’s Morrow, from Customs at Stansted. We’ve got some bodies in a crate. Do you think you can send someone over,” he recalls saying. “They said: ‘Alive or Dead?’ “I said: ‘That’s a very good point. I don’t know.’

“They said: ‘We’ll send an ambulance as well.’” After half an hour, police started to arrive, and they opened the second crate. Inside they found an unconscious Mr Dikko, and a very much awake Israeli anaesthetist. Mr Dikko was lying on his back in the corner of the crate. “He had no shirt on, he had a heart monitor on him, and he had a tube in his throat to keep his airway open. No shoes and socks and handcuffs around his ankles.

The Israeli anaesthetist was in there, clearly to keep him alive,” recalls Mr Morrow. The kidnappers in the other crate were unrepentant. They said Mr Dikko was the biggest crook in the world. The Nigerian intelligence officer and the three Israelis all received prison sentences in the UK. Diplomatic relations between the UK and Nigeria broke down and were only fully restored two years later.

The Nigerian and Israeli governments have always denied involvement in the kidnapping. Mr Dikko returned to Nigeria the following decade and still lives there. Mr Morrow was commended for actions that day by the head of UK Customs, who described the incident as a “very tricky situation”. •Culled from BBC

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27 Comments

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  2. If only looters will be brought back to nigeria in the crates nobody will dare steal our resources again. Remember $1m in 1984 was a national budget stolen by one rogue who happened to be a public offficer by change. He deserved hanging. IBB legalized the looting of public treasury and upheld by subsequent governments.
    PDP is bringing back this issue for us to sympathise with Dikko or to castigate Buhari as usual?

  3. That was how loot became a catapilar and canker worm in Nigeria…when Dikko was protected to eat and enjoy his one billion dollar loot.

    Since then thousands like Omaru Dikko are looting freely and answering the rich…

    Thats how we get the rich and the super rich in Nigeria…

    Who is exempted the woman in charge of the bank or the the man or the pension commission chairman?

    Police at one coner robbing and shoot the people while forcing extortion…

  4. Mr David Morrow, you did us a disservice. He should have tested prison life like Bode Gorge, Tarfa Balogun and James Ibori. $1 billion usd as at then 1984 to be precise. That was how the so called political elites destroyed Nigeria economy, still the wicked British govt under magret Tatcher abhorred the useless Umaru Diko. Today he is downtrodden, vanity upon vanity, eternity shall judged all of them.

  5. So, what happened a decade later when he returned to the country on his own volition? Did Nigeria not have a president then? No police in Nigeria then? Ok, I see! The country didn’t have an attorney general, right? EFCC was a far cry then, but that we know about! The courts were still quite corrupt then as they are now & that was why they didn’t pay Umaro Dikko any attention? And the $1billion heist, by a supposedly known thief, remains unsolved. Why is anyone surprised about that familiar pattern? I know I’m not because it has been a recurring narrative in the Niaja scheme of corruption cases. Orji Uzor Kalu, Odili, Dariye, Nnamani, Mbadinuju, Tinubu, and the other thieves are still walking tall like colossus on our streets & flaunting their loots in opulence & with impunity. The subsidy thieves are still thumbing their corrupt noses at all of us mugus. The police pension fund raiders, the rural electrification fund embezzlers, Anenih & his well-deserved $300 billion works projects steal, Airport national radar project, National ID, INEC, and countless others are still unaccounted for project monies. Who cares anymore. Who really cares!!

  6. Muhammad Auwal sharif zaria on

    I have to make it simply and short that buhari’s houses in both kaduna and abuja are much better than Alh umaru DIKKO’S house,then without any fear or regret I am very much sure that buhari is more corrupt than Alh umaru Dikko And his morethan 1 million times richer than Alh umaru Dikko,so All critics to Dikko is a blessing Long life to Good Nigerian people like Umaru Dikko who bring good thing to this nation

    • A man without the right information is like a a crown without a king, Muhammad, the house u said Buhari has but built by j.berger, when the found out that his house does not worth be shown as a house of one time head of state of Nigeria, Am sure u are not born when all this took place or possible u might be a toddler. Ensure u make appropiate finding next time.

  7. God has given monkeys long rope to hang themselves, when time reach na yamutu final. Then they will confess all the evils and looting of the public treasury.HELL FIRE WILL BE THEIR PLACE OF ABOARD

  8. The problem with Nigeria is that corruption has eaten deep into the main fabriic of the nation polity . No one in the political office is clean. There is no way corruption can be eradicated in this country becouse soiled hand cannot wash another clean. To eradicate corruption, it must be champoined by a person is clean like Flightlieutenant Jerry Lawrence of Ghana.

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  10. I think most of d comentators on dis article are geting it wrong. I must justify dat allegatn lavelled against Umar Diko was absolute pathetic, bad nd unaccepted in any society,whc if guity afta probe shld be punished. I want 2remind us dat Nigeria was under democracy Govt, b4 being unjustly overthrow by Military rulers on d ground of corruptn, mismanagement, misrulg etc whc most of countries abroad includg UK, AMERICA. etc were nt happy. That was why d Military rulers were unable 2arrest Dikko in a normal way by then, even wt high level of corruptn nd other related crimes whc similar 2wht dey(British Govt) jaile Ibori for. They decide 2harbour Dikko whc was democratic leader. While his abductors was military tyranies whc their believes nd traditional ruling was totally difference nd unaccepted by british Govt nd United Nation. They failed in their plan as British Govt also tried nd jailed all d instrumentalist (abductors) used by then Military rulers of Nigeria Govt and subsequently led 2breakage of international relation btw d British govt nd Nigeria Govt (military rulers) b4 it was restored in last 2years…When Nigeria was under democracy sxstem of govt.

  11. Ovetly or covetly d british govt aided crime, n naija govt wantd 2 b smat … Wat hapnd 2 dikko on ritenz? Was trial done on him 2 pruf him guilty or free? Wat abt odaz who servd in sem n sub-c-kwent govt.

  12. The corruption in Nigeria would not have reach this level but for the international collaborators. Governments that are benefiting from the stolen money in their nations always support the corrupt leaders to go free.
    What stop British government from publishing names and amount that Nigerian public officers have in their nation.

  13. ACCORDING TO TAM DAVID WEST, BUHARI REMAINED THE ONLY FORMER HEAD OF STATE THAT DOES NOT OWN A HOUSE IN ABUJA, THATS WAY THE BIG MEN WILL CONTINUE TO SMEAR HIS NAME AS RADICAL, BIGOTORY ETC SO AS TO POLLUTE THE MINDS OF NIGERIANS PARTICULARLY THE SOUTHERNERS THAT DO NOT KNOW HIM WELL. ONE DAY THE TRUTH WILL EVENTUALLY MANIFEST. PHD HOLDERS BECOMING TRUCK DRIVERS, WHAT ABOUT THOSE THAT HAVE COMPLETED DIPLOMAS AND DEGREES?

  14. This story is an umbrella after rain. The British Government are double standard, if it were the British Government’s money that was stole the way Umaru Dikko stole Nigerian’s money, he would have been repatriated anywhere he fled to face justice. The truth is that the British Government used the money to improve their own country. Some foolish Nigerians including some top Government officials till today continue to loot our resources and take them abroad to their own advantage and to our own detriment.
    I don’t know why many Nigerians would love a white man’s country than theirs. There is an adage that says ”that charity begins at home”. The way these foolish Nigerians behave you will think that when they get to England or America, it is the Lord Jesus Christ that will welcome them at the point of entry and not an human being like themselves.

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