How did Umaru Dikko come to command the attention of the British official who stood above him in the above photo? How did the photographer know his famed brilliance was the big elephant in the room, and wanted to capture the moment his mind wandered away to territories where he may find answers to the puzzles triggered by his eye contact with the opened books in front of him? How did magnetic become an apt word for describing the late former minister of transport under President Shehu Shagari?
Perhaps the answer lies in the reason his older brother, Yahaya Dikko prevailed on their father to bring him to Zaria when he turned nine. He had been born in Wamba. His mother was younger sister to the wife of the district head of Wamba.
Perhaps more clues may be found in the account of some of his classmates like late Kaloma Ali, Dr Ahmadu Ali, and others who have reported that but for his influence and insistence, they may not have taken their education seriously. He had challenged them to study hard so as to better students of Government College, Keffi in the 1954 School Certificate Exams. And they did.
Perhaps the answer may be found in his reaction to the news that results of the 1954 School Certificate Exams had been released. He was on a football field in Kaduna with his friends enjoying a match when someone walked up to them and announced that the results were out and five students scored distinctions.
“Who are the other four students?” he asked. Of course, he was one of the five students.
Later he was recruited by the BBC Hausa Service in Kaduna and sent to the UK, to read news on the Service. While in the UK, he enrolled at Cambridge University for his A ‘levels. Thereafter he went for his degree in Mathematics. On his return to Nigeria, he was made Managing Director of an investment company of Northern Nigeria.
When former head of State, General Yakubu Gowon created states in 1967, he was appointed a commissioner in North Central State. With the passage of time, captivated by the charm of politics, he plunged head on, becoming one of the most easily recognized face of politics in Nigeria in the 70s and early 80s.
Betty Bob Hayes, daughter of Nigeria’s first commercial pilot, Robert Hayes, who was his secretary when he was minister of transport and eventually married him, was in his ‘magnetic field’ on the fateful day in which the most famous incident for which Umaru Dikko is now known happened.
Umaru Dikko had remained in the United Kingdom after President Shagari’s government, in which he was a prominent member was overthrown by the military in 1983. He made his home in Bayswater. Betty saw him to the door as he walked out for a meeting on the fateful day. If she had looked away from him as soon as he was out the door, perhaps the plan to bring him to Nigeria forcefully would have worked. Because she continued to look at him, she saw when some men came out of a car, walked briskly towards him, and forced him into a waiting car. Immediately, she rushed for the telephone and put a call through to a family friend in New York, who later alerted the Prime Minister of Britain, who in turn gave instructions that all borders be closed immediately. The robust search that followed eventually yielded Umaru Dikko.