Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Dikko, diplomacy and expediency

- By a correspondent

Diplomacy, you would gather, operates on a level not meant to be understood by us lesser mortals. Gradually, it is becoming clear that the more outrageous the behaviour of a particular government, the more likely it is to get away with it.
The news item that has been making the headlines in the United Kingdom this past week involves the strange case of the Syrian diplomat who will not leave a flat that he had rented for six months.

The details of the case sound very bizarre to you, the average reader. But the essentials of the case seem to be that a Mr and Mrs Chaffey rented out their London flat to a Mr Rajab for a period of six months while they were away in the United States. At the end of the six months, the Chaffeys wanted their flat back but Mr Rajab wouldn't move and neither persuasion nor the courts would move him - he is a diplomat and he was claiming diplomatic immunity.

There are other strange details to the case, Mr Rajab wanted to buy the flat, the Chaffeys weren't selling. Mr Rajab went to the rent tribunal and got his rent reduced from £125 a week to £100. When Mr Rajab went to Syria, the Chaffeys entered the flat to take possession, back in London, Mr Rajab went to court and not only regained possession, (the Chaffeys obeyed the court order and moved out) but was awarded damages. The court order which awarded him the damages also stated that he should move out of the flat by the end of last February.

Mr Rajab is insisting on collecting the damages but has ignored the order to move out of the flat and the court and the Chaffeys can do nothing about it. Mr Rajab is claiming diplomatic immunity. In other words, he does not have to obey the laws of Britain even though he can obviously use those laws to his own advantage if they suit him.

Anyway, that is how this matter has gone on, with the Chaffeys reduced to splitting up their family.

And thus, undoubtedly, things would have continued but for the fact that Mrs Chaffey in her desperation decided to write to Her Majesty the Queen and suddenly things started happening. The Foreign Office (which had been in the know all along) moved into high gear and by last Tuesday Mr Rajab was moving out of the flat.

Diplomacy, you would gather, operates on a level not meant to be understood by us lesser mortals. Gradually, it is becoming clear that the more outrageous the behaviour of a particular government, the more likely it is to get away with it.

That is possibly the perspective in which one must view last Friday's announcement that the British government (the Home Secretary) had rejected the application for political asylum that was made by Alhaji Umaru Dikko, the former Nigerian Minister of Transport and Aviation.

The Dikko saga, as the whole world now knows started soon after the Nigerian coup of December 31, 1983 when the former Minister made his way out of Nigeria and "instead of keeping quiet and enjoying his wealth, started challenging our new rulers..." (the quote is from the Concord, July 8, 1984).

Alhaji Dikko did the unthinkable and unforgivable and condemned the coup that overthrew the government in which he had served.

It is important to recount here what the normal scenario is when there is a coup in an African country: All the politicians quietly walk to police stations and army barracks to give themselves up as requested by the new military authorities in radio announcements, those who happen to be outside the country send messages of congratulations to the coup makers and after a decent interval, everybody makes his peace with the new rulers and go back and after a while the majority of the politicians are released.

To have broken this code so outraged the Nigerian authorities that it was obvious that Alhaji Dikko had to be taught a lesson. Thus the attempt to kidnap him on July 5, 1984. The Federal Military Government denied complicity even though their behaviour and reaction to the incident made it very difficult to believe that denial. Even though those who were tried for the kidnap all pleaded guilty and the world was therefore denied the details of their stories being aired in court, enough was told to explain why Maj-Gen. Hannaniya (the then Nigerian High Commissioner in London) was so unwilling to allow his staff members to be interviewed by the British police.

Many of the writers in the Nigerian press made it obvious that they understood "diplomacy" or at least how the British understood it. "Having executed their abduction in the day time. . . they should have taken Dikko to a hideout, possibly the Nigerian High Commission, where the British police would not have entered to conduct a search unless the Thatcher government wants a break in diplomatic ties with Nigeria... it would have been possible to smuggle him out one day long after the hullabaloo of the British would have died down ... wish to God Almighty there is another opportunity to kidnap Dikko . . . and where kidnap has failed, outright assassination would be the next strategy.

"Lagos must not waive diplomatic immunity and must not allow Nigerian diplomats to be questioned by the British police, let alone being tried. We should stand our ground as Libya did in the incident near its embassy in which shots that rang out of a window in the embassy killed a British policewoman about three months ago The quotes are from the Sunday Concord of July 8, 1984.

Outrageous one would have said, but then events have shown that the Nigerians judge it quite rightly. Mohammed Yusuf, the Nigerian diplomat convicted with the three Israelis for the abduction has engaged the attention of the FMG quite extraordinarily, for a government that proclaims innocence of the crime for which Yusuf has been jailed. It is said that the new Nigerian High Commissioner in London has visited Yusuf in jail.

Behind it all, nobody omits to point out that Nigeria represents Britain's biggest market in black Africa and that nothing should be done to jeopardise that situation.

Nobody is saying anything about the two British aircraft engineers being held in Nigeria as virtual hostages. Doubtless, it all has something to do with diplomacy and if in the midst of it all somebody is misguided or naive enough to think that democracy, rule of law and even good old commonsense have anything to do with it, they will soon find out just how wrong it is.

The message will obviously not be lost on others. "The number three man" in the Shagari administration - Senate President Joe Wayas, nobody mentions him in the Nigerian press any more nor Chief Adisa Akinloye, the NPN Chairman, nor the other NPN Ministers who live "quietly in London enjoying their wealth..."

talking drums 1985-06-17 campaign against death penalty in Ghana