Blackbox Nigeria

BBN Special

FLASHBACK: How four Nigerian teenagers hijacked airplane to fight for MKO Abiola’s mandate in 1993

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Leshi Adebayo

Only a few might remember the events that occurred after the historic June 12, 1993 presidential elections which was presumably won by Late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola and annulled by Ibrahim Babangida military government.

Of all the heated events of the latter part of year 1993, the hijacking of the Nigerian Airways Airbus A310 for 3 days by 4 Nigerian teenagers for MKO Abiola’s mandate was significant in the history of the fight for democracy.

With 29 years gone since this historical event, details of the hijack attempt was made known to Nigerians by the Nigerian Tribune’s Akin Adewakun who got on-record the account of the leader of the 4-man gang, Ajibola Ogunderu.

Still in the commemoration of the events of June 12, 1993, Blackbox Nigeria brings to your memory how the hijack attempt came to be, how it was hatched and its eventual failure.

The conception of the hijack attempt

According to Ajibola, who led the hijack team at the age of 19 at the time, the idea to hijack the aircraft didn’t come from him but originated from one Jerry Yusuf (late) an international businessman.

He recounted partly that, “It was by Jerry Yusuf, now late. He was a business man, known internationally. We met in a hotel in Surulere. He called me and we had a meeting with some other guys. He said he read a report where somebody used a toygun to hijack an aircraft, and that we could do same here. But, what actually touched me was the objective: that we wanted to reclaim the stolen mandate, freely given to Chief M.K.O Abiola, by the Nigerian people.”

Ajibola stated that Jerry formed a movement called the Movement for the Advancement of Democracy (MAD) which served as the platform on which the whole hijack plan was built. Having gained the confidence of Jerry, the former, at all cost wanted Ajibola to join the plan to make it formidable, of which Ajibola agreed at the detriment of his educational plans. Even Ajibola claimed that the team chosen for the job was chosen by Jerry Yusuf and he was the last recruit.

How the hijack plan was designed and carried out

Surprisingly, the hijack attempt was impromptu, so there was little time to hatch a solid plan. But, the purpose of the hijack, at least was “to raise an alarm on why Nigeria needed democracy, and why the mandate given to Abiola must be respected.” However, at the time of carrying out the hijack, Ajibola disclosed that Abiola was faraway in America.

So, the 4 teenagers namely, Richard Ajibola Ogunderu (Leader), Kabir Adenuga, Benneth Oluwadaisi and Kenny Razak-Lawal, boarded the targeted domestic flight, which was en route to Abuja, in Lagos on October 25, 1993. The initial plan was to take over the plane, get it to Germany, and in case it didn’t work, get the plane to an alternative country in Africa– Kotoko, Ghana – and pass MAD’s message to the world.

And with a toy pistol in their possession, they hijacked the plane, before it could land in Abuja, revealing their mission to the pilot and everyone onboard. After getting the pilots’ attention, the crew explained their plan to them and told them to do same to the passengers via the air hostesses who read a message containing the team’s mission statement.

Unfortunately, the plan had to change because the plane could not go to Germany due fuel scarcity, so the time needed to find another alternative. Ajibola narrated, “So, I had to use my own initiative that whatever it was, we had places in Africa. So we looked for an African nation that could accept our idea, fortunately the pilot was in agreement with me.”

With the passengers in a panicking state, Ajibola said he threatened them with petrol which safely brought into the plane in a bag. Everywhere was wet with petrol to drive home the threat of the hijackers to their hostages.

Having tried and denied permission to land in Gabon and Ghana, in that order, the plane eventually landed in Niger Republic, who promised to refuel the A310 aircraft. At this time, the news of the hijack attempt broke and even the international community became aware as New York Times and Associated among others reported the event. Ajibola stated that they conversed with Niger Republic’s Aviation Minister, at the time and again told him their mission.

How the hijack attempt failed

Although, the international community was aware, the hijack team still wanted to fly to Germany. Ajibola explained that 24 Nigerian delegates reached out to them from an hotel asking them (the 4-man team) to come over but they refused. The team, as a show of good faith, released some passengers and withheld the other for negotiation.

According to Ajibola, they stalled in order to get the attention of the international community. However, little did they know that from the time it was discovered that the aircraft lacked enough fuel for the intended journey, their plan was doomed to fail. The reality of failure dawned on them when Gen. Sani Abacha threatened to send soldiers to capture the crew from Nigeria. But, Abacha could not carry this plan out on a non-british territory. So, the Niger Republic government took it upon itself to salvage the situation even though Ajibola and his crew attempted to set the aircraft ablaze.

Detailing how their plan was foiled, Ajibola narrated that on the 3rd day (almost 78hrs) of the operation, someone demanded for water which was disguisedly brought by armed soldiers in an ambulance.

He said partly, “When, I got down there, I saw an ambulance, and was wondering why they brought food in an ambulance. I was about going back when I heard gun shots behind me. I ran back into the aircraft, but they followed me inside. We were arrested from there. They took me to the hospital because I had some gunshot wound, and others were taken to the police station. We were remanded, and were later released around 2001.”

Even with the failed operation, Ajibola said he was glad that he was alive to see the democracy they fought for or it could have been his only regret.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Airways Airbus A310 had 193 passengers. Although, Ajibola’s previous interview with International Center for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) in 2017 claimed one person died when the Niger military stormed the plane.

However, inspite of the interviews and accounts given by Ajibola Ogunderu, in 2009, 2017 and 2020 respectively to different news platforms, what remains is the that the actions of these 4 teenagers contributed to the uncheckered democratic dispensation that Nigeria has enjoyed since 1999.

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