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Why Shagari Was Overthrown – Dikko

Alhaji Umaru Dikko was Minister of Transport during the Shagari regime. He holds the opinion that the military was and still is the nation’s problem. He also spoke to David Odama on why Shagari was overthrown.
Nigerians of the younger generation are almost forgetting that there was  once a minister called Umaru Dikko. Why have you gone into obscurity?

In life, there are times you talk, there are times you listen. The young ones have been complaining that we don’t give them the chance. So sometimes, it is wise to keep quiet and give them the chance to see how they handle things. But it looks as if they are more interested in money rather than governing the country properly.

I’ve not quit. I’ll never quit. I have politics in my line and that is where I choose to remain until death do us part.

The situation in this country is quite troubling and that is why many can’t sleep.
Are you comfortable with stepping aside?

Mind you, I didn’t say I quit. I only took time to listen and watch how other people can shape the country.

Secondly, I’ve been away from Nigeria. I’ve been in the UK for quite some time. There was a time I was not feeling well, so I had to go abroad. But we are still on the ship. Now, we are back. If there is anything the country wants us to participate in, we will oblige.
What have you been doing at the background to help protect the democracy you were fully part of?

I have been talking to people quietly, not necessarily to the press but those people who care to listen.
A minister of the Federal Republic once ran away when military boys struck and some efforts were made to forcefully extradite him. What really happened?

They made efforts to bring me back. They had no reason to wish to bring me back. I told them they could not succeed. I told them Nigerians wanted democracy; they felt I was insulting them. Any time they made any effort, they failed.

I said presidency in this country was not for sale. Also, if you want to govern the people, you must understand. Military rule is different from our own. Their own is shoot on sight. Our own is talk, convince; try to convince your fellow country man, let him understand what you are trying to do for him and let him willingly agree to go along with you.
What really happened when the military struck?

When they struck, I knew for sure that they would fail. Shagari’s administration was doing its best and everybody knew that. If we’re doing a referendum on all the governments that Nigeria has had, Shagari’s government would be the best. So, I saw no reason why the military would want to come in.

We civilians are not allowed to hold guns but our gun is our tongue and the tongue, I assure you, is more powerful than the gun.
What were those efforts they made to bring you back?

They said I was talking too much when I was in London. The BBC gave me chance to talk and I was talking. I said the military would fail and that Nigerians would soon realise that the government the military removed was the government the people themselves chose.
If Shagari’s government was good, why did the soldiers intervene?

They found that they were not making enough money during Shagari’s government and they wanted to be rich! Shagari’s government committed no wrong. People were happy. They were reasonably alright.
You headed the transport sector. What linked you to the rice issue?

At that time, our political opponents tried to make people dislike our government. They ensured that there was scarcity of rice. You know rice is one of the staple foods in Nigeria. They organised and bought rice in the market so that there would be shortage in the country.

They found out that agriculture was the main focus, therefore, if there was shortage of food in the country that meant we didn’t succeed. We wanted to bring rice into the country so it would be cheap. That time, American rice was sold for N30 per bag. They wanted to hold unto something to blame us.

I was given the chance to head the rice import taskforce. Why was I chosen? I’m not a farmer. I was chosen because I was in charge of transport and I could order ships to come into the ports using my position as minister. I was in charge of the rail line. The trains could take the rice to every part of the country.

The same price in Lagos was the price in Sokoto or Maiduguri, N30 per bag. Today, they sell it for N8, 000.
Who killed the Nigeria Airways?

They killed the airways!
The same military?

Which military government killed the airways?

At that time, we had planes but some people in the military wanted to make money. So they sold our aeroplanes. With Nigeria Airways, everything was going fine.
Was it during Buhari’s administration?

Yes! They were planning coup detat, so they wanted to make life difficult for everybody so they could blame the government.
Of all the military governments, which was the worst?

Kai! None of them was good. I can’t say which one was the worst because military regime in any case is an aberration.
Moumuh Ghadafi of Libya is a military ruler but his people seem to be comfortable with him.

That is different. If you go to Ghadafi’s house, it is his own small private house until today. He doesn’t have a villa. Our own people came to make money.
Some of these military men, after ruling in uniform still want to come back in plain clothes. So Nigerians are weighing the options—which among them was good?

I think General Yakubu Gowon tried his best. He wasn’t after money. So if you are talking of military regimes, I think his own was…
So which was the worst?

They are equally bad.
Should Nigerians allow someone who has served in uniform to rule?

Nigerians describe General Buhari as an honest person. The only former president without mansions like others.
How do you know? That is the assumption.

We don’t work on assumption. You have to find out. Don’t vote somebody on assumption. You have to find out.
This country has been witnessing pockets of crises. Why is it so?

Some of these people that take to bad ways are forced to do so by circumstances. Not everybody wants to be a highway robber. People are without jobs. They are looking for food. The government of the country has to look into why people are taking to bad habits. There are people that are naturally bad but there are people that are forced into such by circumstances—hunger, etc.

We’ve got land, almost limitless, empty land. Why can’t you farm? When I say farm, I don’t mean the one that you use the hoe. Government can bring tractors and employ people. If you open a large farm, a doctor can be employed; a nurse can be employed there and so on. Government is to blame for leaving people to be idle. They gravitate to robbery.

Is there anything wrong in government, for instance, setting up agricultural companies and putting investments there so that people can go there, operate the machines and be paid at the end of the month? They are not doing that. With employment, there is no point going to steal. What is the point going to steal N10 and going to jail for 10 months—10 months for N10?
What was the late Umaru Musa Yar’adua to you?

He was my very good friend; very obedient person. He was a very humble person, except that he wasn’t well. And maybe, Obasanjo chose him, hoping that he would die early. Go and tell Obasanjo that I said so!
What has his death caused this democracy?

All along, everybody knew Yar’adua was ill. He wasn’t well. Obasanjo knew this very well. He chose somebody who was more likely to die. Anyway, everybody leaves the time God has destined. Yar’adua was a very humble person. I visited him twice in his office. Whenever we finished and I was leaving, he would come and open the door for me. I respect him for his humility.May his soul rest in peace.
When the situation became critical, did his advisers and associates manage the crisis properly?

In Nigeria, how many would have the courage to look at the Head of State and tell him, “please resign because you’re sick.” Even you the pressman, can you do that? Umaru Yar’adua’s illness was not hidden. Even when he was governor in Katsina, there was a time he went for treatment for nearly six months. Everybody knew this. But this is the man that Obasanjo chose to make Head of State so that he would die and then the man he wanted would succeed. Simple! We know the story.

We felt that northern elders would find a solution to this before it got to the level it got. But many of the northern elders are northern hypocrites [laughter]. When they were going there to look for something, would they tell him to leave?
What is the fate of the average northerner from the way things are now?

The position of northerners now is that they should go and register. Get a card for voting. If you have no card, you can’t vote. Every Nigerian of correct age should go and register and when the time comes, you go and vote. Then you have done your duty. Leave the rest to God.
There is  apprehension  that the country may be divided.

People are already divided as God wanted. Some are tall, some are short, and some are fat. Are we all the same? No! God has given us divisions so we should stop there. What is the point of dividing and dividing and dividing?
So you don’t foresee break up of the country like it is happening now in Sudan?

Well, it won’t help anybody. If they divide this place, maybe, I would become Permanent secretary. But what is the point of being Perm sec in a tiny area? We should try, unite and work together so that we can survive. Each one of us has got our own day to die. Nobody can change it nor foresee it. What is the point? Whether you are divided or united, the day you are going to die, you will die. We should try and help one another.

There are states in the US that are bigger than Nigeria—one state. There are two or three states in America, each one is bigger than Nigeria as a whole and yet, one man rules.
What is your assessment of Jonathan’s programmes? What are his programmes? He talks of power, education, agriculture…

Alright, of all those who have ruled this country, who has not talked about these things? If I were to rule this country, I would do two things. First, security. You can go to any part of this country without robbers stopping you. Second, I would make sure there is electricity. Even if I  achieve only these two, I would be happy.

But they take so many things: 10-point programme, one million-point programme and achieve nothing. Thirteen-point agenda in how many years? One million-point agenda. I call it one million-point confusion. Let there be security, let there be power then the rest can follow. Do you know the amount of rain that falls? If we can harness it, it is enough for us to drink and do everything for the rest of the year. The rain is pure, you can drink.

Why did God do that? Look at sunshine now. Are you paying God anything?   If Jonathan can solve the problem of power—and when he says power, they want to give power to small villages. What about the big towns with industries? There is no power; you go and give it to a village because you want them to praise you. Security, security, security. Power, power, power, then two-point agenda is enough. I will vote for the person with two-point agenda if he will achieve them.
You didn’t talk about the money lawmakers collect. When I was a minister in this country, I never put money in any bank because there was no point. I was given only N1, 000 a month.

A minister with all the name, N1, 000. After sometime, they took away N100 to donate to one of those countries that was in trouble. So I was given N900. I said there was no point opening any bank account. I always put it in my pocket. So what are the Assembly people talking about? It is the same country.
What is the political interest of Umaru Dikko?

I want our country organised. We don’t know where we are going. If we can’t organise one thing, we cannot organise anything, not even water to drink. There are places without water. Our roads are infested with highway robbers. At night, I cannot go to Kaduna. Why? I will have to sleep here. And you will say Nigeria is big, great! If you are talking of greatness by size, one state in America is bigger than Nigeria.
Which of the political parties have you pitched tent with?

We formed a political party but we had no money. We were totally broke—United Democratic Party, UDP. The only difference between PDP and UDP is the U. We can’t move. Maybe, we’ll form another party. Union of Journalists of Nigeria [laughter].
What is the secret? Umaru Dikko of yesterday looks not much different.

Once you are honest to yourself, that is the secret. I urge you to check all the banks in the world if Umaru Dikko has money from Nigeria to the outside world. If you find that I have money in there, I beg you, take it.
You keep your money in your house?

I’m serious. I’ll allow you to check. If you find money anywhere here, take it. In the garage here, there are three cars. Only one is mine and it happens to be the oldest one there.

When I was in exile in England, when I was asking for asylum, they sent three police secret servicemen to me who said, “Nigerian government is accusing you of taking public money. British government cannot give you asylum if the allegation in Nigeria is true. So if you agree, we will investigate worldwide. If we find that you have money like they are saying in Nigeria, then you cannot live in this country. But if we find that you are clean, we will recommend that the British government should give you the chance to live here for life.” I agreed. In fact, I cracked a joke.

I said if you find out that I have some money somewhere, then you will help get it; then I will pay you tax. They laughed and they investigated me worldwide for two-and-a-half years. They came back and said they were satisfied that all the stories about me were lies.

That is why during Oputa’s time, I went there; I challenged any Nigerian to come and tell me I stole money when I was in government. Nobody came.


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