Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

The Dikko affair - a test of efficiency?

Kwaku Kpatakpa Gyampo

The Dikko kidnap continues to be one of the major conversation openers three weeks after the event. And as the Nigerian Government begins steps to rectify' the botched kidnap attempt, fresh newspaper reports continue to muddy the already unsavoury diplomatic waters. Below a correspondent throws his personal searchlight on the whole issue. By Kwaku Kpatakpa Gyampo, Los Angeles
African coup makers have too often arrogantly claimed that they are efficient, precise, and disciplined. However, two major gaffes committed under the current Federal Military Government (FMG), sharply contradict this efficiency myth and make the so-called incompetence of the much maligned politicians seem like child's play.

The first is the currency change which was initially hailed as the most successful exercise which only a milit- ary regime is capable of in Nigeria; and the second is the recent botched attempt to kidnap Umaru Dikko, former Nigerian Transport Minister in the Shagari government.

If we are to believe Onyeka Eze of Benin City's account, (Talking Drums, 9 July, 1984), then Nigerians must be asking themselves whether they are better off now under military rule in which precision efficiency and discipline are administered with 'Koboko,' or under the so-called corrupt politici- ans. But one thing is certain: when the politicians were around, Nigerians had enough naira to buy basic necessities of life, and left-overs to 'spray' at parties. By contrast, Nigerians now have barely enough of their hard earned naira to keep body and soul together, much less have surpluses to pay for their children's education. That the banking system should be one of the first victims of the 'efficiency'-conscious regime is only a prelude of the worse to come. Only time will tell if Nigerians will have the patience to tolerate this military confusion or have their freedom under the corrupt politicians.

If they choose neither, that is if they can make a choice, then they are indeed caught between a rock and a hard place. I don't have an answer to how they can come out of this bind. Can any one help?

But the failed kidnapping of Umaru Dikko from London will be remembered as the dumbest attempt at abduction in the annals of terrorism. It is said that Africa never ceases to amaze, and I must confess that I still have not recovered from the shock of the episode. The thought of crated live human beings, one of them drugged, and the other, a full blown Anaesthetist, ever ready with a syringe to administer yet more doses of the soporific substance, sends a cold chill down my back.

I have tried to visualize the event by reconstructing the planning and execution of the kidnap: First, the Israelis are hired and probably invited to offer the best methods of transporting Dikko that will attract very little attention. The planners finally agree on the human cargo concept and proceed with the design and construction of the crates.

kidnapped victim umaru dikko

— Dr Umaru Dikko

In the meantime the movements of Dikko are being closely monitored possibly by hired agents to avoid suspicion. It is clear that Dikko was wanted in Lagos alive rather than dead, otherwise a hired hitman could have eliminated him the way Libyan opponents are eliminated. Or is it that that would have attracted too much attention to a possible official complicity? Whatever the intentions were, the plan was bungled.

Rather than the FMG admitting that the kidnapping attempt was a silly mistake and then proceeding to mend fences by playing it down, or possibly announcing that the escapade was 'unauthorised' the sleeping giant of Africa is flexing its flabby muscles. The High Commissioner does not deserve to be in London in the first place, and the British government was right in not inviting him back to their country.

Interestingly, the kidnapping story has an ironic twist to it. It comes in the wake of news that two journalists of the Guardian newspaper have each been sentenced to one year in prison. Mr Thompson, the senior diplomatic correspondent's unstated concern when he reported the scoop from the Foreign Ministry that several military officers had been slated for diplomatic posts was, in effect, to draw the attention of Nigerians to the fact that the military boys are giving the nice jobs to their own kind, never mind whether they were qualified or not. What a more eloquent vindication of Mr Thompson!

In the meantime, it will be interest- ing to observe what commentaries will come from the Nigerian media. And if you wish to be cynical, you may ask: what if the world media had not focused attention on the incident? Would it have been reported in Nigeria, and if it were, what would have been the fate of the journalist and the news organization that would carry the story in the face of Decree No. 4?

What these incidents and others like the current kangaroo trials do, is to distract attention from the critical issues facing the country, namely, how to put Nigerians back to work; how to develop industry, and especially agri- culture to feed the ever expanding population; how to clean up the squalid environment; what to do with housing; how to fashion out an educational system that will create a skilled workforce; how to improve the man- agement of public and private institutions.

In short, how to go about developing the country. Unfortunately, these crucial matters have been overshadowed by base score settling and fleeting military dramatics. Again Nigerians will be better judges as to whether they are better off today than they were under Shagari.

A major pastime of this military regime, like its counterpart in Ghana, has been to heap insults on the Nigerian people. They are undisciplined, dishonest; they are unfeeling and unpatriotic; they are... etc. What Nigeria needs is not a government that is contemptuous of its own citizens (as if to say that those in government come from Mars!) What they need is a government that will be honest to say, hey Nigerians! this is the way we are: how can we run our affairs so we don't destroy ourselves?

In essence, Nigerians need a government that will generate and exude hope, not one that will spread pessimism. They need a government that will make Nigerians feel good about themselves, not one that will humiliate them in the streets and in queues like herds of cattle gone beserk that need to be whipped to order. If the military junta cannot generate that hope, if it cannot let Nigerians be proud of themselves as a people with peculiar characteristics and seek to highlight the positive aspects of the quintessentially Nigerian idiosyncracy, if it cannot tell the people what precise plans it has to turn the economy around, then I dare say that it has no place in Nigerian politics.

Rather than the FMG admitting that this kidnapping attempt was a silly mistake and then proceeding to mend fences by playing it down, the sleeping giant of Africa is flexing its flabby muscles.

Of course, the beneficiaries of bungling military regimes have always remained those renegade politicians who could never win an election; those super civil servants who exploit the ignorance of the over-enthusiastic men-in-uniform; those university professors who are near to becoming academic fossils; and those lawyers whose bitterness as failed legal practitioners goad them to draft ridiculous decrees that hide behind the military to cover up their incompetence.

Sooner than later, Nigerians will start probing the personalities behind those big military titles: major general, group captain, commodore, brigadier, squadron leader etc, to find out what qualifies them as leaders of a complex society. They will discover, as most impartial observers have, that these apparently well-meaning compatriots are as human, corrupt and corruptible as the ordinary mortals without guns. What Nigerians will do when they come to this realization, as unpredict- able as it is, can be devastating. Only time will tell.

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