'Crate man' goes home to Nigeria

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The Independent Online
THE MAN who was kidnapped in a London street and put in a crate to be flown to Nigeria ten years ago finally went home on Sunday - care of KLM First Class. Alhaji Umaru Dikko, a former Nigerian minister of transport, was welcomed back to Nigeria that night, invited back by its military rulers, the very men who once arranged his kidnapping. The military government of Sanni Abacha which seized power last year, has nominated him as a member of the body which is supposed to return the country to democracy.

In 1984, Mr Dikko was found drugged and chained in a crate at Stansted Airport by customs officers after three Israeli agents and a Nigerian major had clumsily kidnapped him outside his home in Porchester Terrace.

His kidnapping led to a rift in Anglo-Nigerian relations and gave rise to a generation of 'It's a crate way to travel' jokes. But the best joke was played by the Nigerians as Britain's anti-terrorist squad searched for the mastermind of the plot. The Nigerians smuggled him out of the country on a Nigerian Airways plane - in a crate.

Mr Dikko's return is one of the most remarkable examples of Nigeria's Byzantine politics. After its failure to kidnap him and put him on trial, the military tried to extradite him. The military regime which overthrew the last civilian government claimed in extradition papers that he had amassed pounds 3.5bn during his time as minister of transport. Yesterday he was welcomed by the members of the new nominated constituent assembly in Abuja - a meeting the winners of last year's annulled election have denounced as a farce.

Mr Dikko always maintained that he had arrived in Britain penniless and relied only on donations from friends. He claimed the large house in a fashionable part of Bayswater was not his, but he sent his children to public schools and made frequent trips to the United States.

He applied for political asylum in Britain and the Foreign Office, caught between its lucrative trade with Nigeria and its stand on terrorism, fudged the issue by allowing him to stay in Britain indefinitely but without any particular status. The extradition proceedings lapsed.