In 1993, Nigeria’s Interim President Ernest Shonekan was battling to keep the tumultuous country under control.
He had been appointed to that position after the illegal and unjust annulment of the June 12, 1993 general election by the Ibrahim Babangida administration. MKO Abiola was the presumed winner of the cancelled election.
Four angry Nigerian youths decided to make a statement concerning their displeasure about the election annulment.
Richard Ogunderu (19), Kabir Adenuga (18), Benneth Oluwadaisi (20), and Kenny Rasaq-Lawal (19) were the teenagers. They were members of the Movement for the Advancement of Democracy (MAD).
On Monday, October 25, the four young men boarded a Nigerian Airways Airbus A310. The flight was from Lagos to Abuja.
They boarded the flight quite gently and waited until the pilot announced that passengers could unfasten their seat belts. It was then they swung into action.
Ogunderu, the group’s leader, signaled to the boys to take over the plane. And they did, with guns.
Aboard the plane were top government officials including Rong Yiren, the vice president of China, and some Nigerian government officials.
In the moment that followed, the other passengers were bewildered to hear a voice, different from that of the pilot, addressing them.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this plane has been taken over by the Movement for the Advancement of Democracy,” the rather tiny voice said.
“Remain calm, we will not harm you. You will be told where the plane will land you.”
The air hostesses were so terrified that they almost passed out. They were instructed not to move, else they would be dead.
According to reports, a passenger who was inside a toilet remained there until one of the hijackers came and pulled him out.
The initial plan was to divert the plane to Frankfurt, Germany. However, when it became obvious that they were running out of fuel, they landed at the Diori Hamani International Airport in Niamey, Niger Republic.
On landing, the hijackers met hundreds of gendarmes (Niger police) waiting on the ground at the airport.
The hijackers demanded for the resignation of the interim government in Nigeria and that MKO Abiola be installed as the president.
They also warned that they would set the Airbus 310 on fire in 72 hours if their demands were not met.
After two hours of negotiations they freed 129 people, including Rong Yiren, from the plane while detaining the pilots and representatives of the Nigerian government.
Their action immediately made news headlines in local and international media. It was unprecedented in Nigeria’s history.
The Nigeriene police could not initially attack the plane because they were unsure of how much of weaponry or explosives the hijackers had.
After 4 days, the gendarmes broke into the plane and arrested the hijackers. A crew member (Ethel Igwe) was killed during the raid.
The hijackers later admitted that they took the action to attract the international community’s attention to what Nigeria was going through at that time. The arms they were with were later discovered to be toy guns.
As punishment, the youths spent nine years and four months in prison in Niamey, Niger.
Shortly after the hijack, Ernest Shonekan’s interim government was replaced by General Sani Abacha’s dictatorship.
While in prison in Ndjamena, the four hijackers had no contact with relatives and loved ones throughout their incarceration.
During the period, they learnt several skills, but most importantly, they learnt how to speak French fluently.
Kabir Adenuga also improved his skill for drawing on canvass, sketching personalities and painting.
Kenny Rasaq-Lawal kept his fashion design prowess alive throughout the horific nine years.
After their jail time, they returned to Nigeria. Ogunderu attended the Alliance Francaise in Lagos where he brushed up his French language with a diploma degree.
Kabir and Kenny returned to Niger Republic where their knowledge of French and their professions now earn them a living.
In an interview in 2009, Ogunderu said, “Our only regrets is that the “evil” that Nigerians fought against several years back continues to lurk around the country’s image.
“It’s unfortunate that our leaders continue to oppress us, the worst being that we cannot even elect our representatives in the face of fraudulent elections and the daring posture of the perpetrators of crime,” Ogunderu said.
Richard Ogunderu with the late Pa Anthony Enahoro after his return to Nigeria
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