The Four Plane Hijackers of Nigeria
Should I call them Nigeria’s bravest boys or the most deluded youths of this Federation? Or place them in between? I really don’t know but I am hoping that by the time you finish reading this, you will help me out. On the 25th of October, 1993, there was a fantastic drama high up in the skies of Nigeria. 30,000 feet above sea level, a commotion was in play. Four young Nigerian men (one of whom was a teenager) had hijacked an aircraft belonging to the Nigerian Airways with a toy gun, four litres of petrol and knives. The nation was spellbound and the entire world shifted its focus on the West African behemoth in a matter of minutes. The New York Times ran away with the news spreading the buzz of the four men while the Nigerian press went gaga.
Rumour mongers had a field day spinning all sorts of tales. Coming at a time when there was a lot of political tension and social chaos in the land, many Nigerians were simply stunned while others stayed glued to their black-and-white TV sets, staring in disbelief. In no time, the hijackers had taken control of the aircraft, contacted the control tower, made confidently grand demands, held every single passenger on board hostage and threatened to set the aircraft on fire. No be shereshere o! But what actually happened on that Monday and what led to it? Let’s go there…terror in the Nigerian skies, the scintillating story of the four hijackers.
It was a big bird -an Airbus A310-200, a twin-engined widebody jet airliner (see pictures).
THE FLIGHT AND PASSENGERS
The exact number of the passengers varies slightly depending on your source. But according to the New York Times, there were 159 passengers on board. Some other records indicated there were between 135-137 passengers inside the plane. The plane’s flight was supposed to be from Lagos to Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, a distance of about 509 kilometres. Inside the plane were top Nigerian government functionaries and businessmen off to Abuja for very important deals.
-RICHARD ‘Richie’ AJIBOLA OGUNDERU
In an interview with the Nation newspaper, Ogunderu revealed the intent behind their action and narrated their experience. He stated that the boys were ‘meaningfully desperate’ and they were truly frustrated by the annulment of the June 12 elections. He said that it seemed the nation was drifting towards the cliff of another civil war and he and his group had to do something to ‘send jitters down the spine of those in power.’ to show that ‘Nigerians were not everlasting dummies’. Well, I am not sure former Governor Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State will agree with that last statement…lol! Hear Ogunderu:
‘We wanted change. Our action confirmed that when a system is inhuman, it could produce the extreme in all of us. A system that cares not, a system that does not listen to our cries and our woes, a system that wants to exterminate us does not deserve a day of existence’. He also stated that he was not afraid when the commandoes stormed the aircraft: We were on a mission, we wanted to show the evil regime that young people were prepared to go the extra length to free Nigerians from the yoke of military dictatorship. We were not afraid, at that moment, death meant nothing to us. They stormed the place and we were alarmed, we didn’t shoot, we tried to perfect our safety and the safety of the passenger.’ Ogunderu was the one in charge of the coordination of the hijack and was responsible for delegating to each of the hijackers, their duties and the steps to be taken during the hijack. He said: ‘We wanted freedom, freedom to choose our leaders. We were pushed to the extreme and we reacted in an extreme manner.’
Richard had just finished high school from Ondo State at that time and he was the one who got up first as the plane climbed and he approached the cockpit where he gave orders to the pilot and the co-pilot. You know, like a boss…lol! His father was arrested and detained by Abacha after the hijack and interrogated. Interestingly, Ogunderu was the youngest then, he was just 19.
The second of the hijackers, Adenuga said they carried out the hijack ‘to show the resentment against annulment of the June 12 election.’ He is still sad that today, the system has not changed. Were their actions in vain? He was 22 years old.
-BENNETH OLUWADAISI OSOSANYA
He was 24 years of age at that time.
He was 23 at that time.
For the four hijackers, they were obviously inexperienced with the dangerous art of hijacking and for some of them, that was the first time they would fly in a plane.
Just as the bird was up in the sky, settling for the cruise phase, the pilot announced that passengers could unlatch their seatbelts. At that moment, the four young men gave signals to each other by blinking and in a flash, they took over the craft. They were armed with guns and knives. Ogunderu led the hijack team and he recalled: : ‘I walked into the cockpit and seized the process, and then the others followed me. Two of us stood in the plane to intimidate the passengers. We took over the plane and asked the pilot to head for another country.’
From the microphone, the leader of the strike team thundered:
‘Ladies and gentlemen, this plane has been taken over by the Movement for the Advancement of Democracy, remain calm, we will not harm you. You will be told where the plane will land you.’
According to Ogunderu, one of the four hijackers, the air hostesses were visibly frozen with fear and the terror in the faces was clearly palpable. O’boy, if na you too nko…lol! Ta lo ma ri iku to ma ping? LOL! They were threatened and told not to move if they do not want to be killed. One of the passengers who was inside the aircraft lavatory kuku decided to stay locked inside until Ogunderu went inside and pulled him out of the toilet….lmao!
LANDING IN NIGER REPUBLIC AND DEMANDS
Before landing in Niger, the aircraft made attempts to land in Ndjamena, the capital of Chad, and then head for Germany but were unsuccessful. Upon being diverted to Diori Hamani International Airport, Niamey, Niger Republic where they arrived in less than two hours later for refuelling. As they were landing in Niamey, Nigerien commandoes armed to the teeth were already on ground waiting for them and they could see them from the aircraft windows.
It is amazing to know that some of those released were the Vice President of China, Rong Yiren. Then the hijackers dropped the bombshell: they would burn down the aircraft within 72 hours should the Nigerian authorities refuse to accede to their demands. Una see sey e don tey wey FG don dey enter kasala. But what were their demand(s)?
-That the Interim National Government (which they termed ‘illegal’) of Chief Ernest Shonekan should be dissolved with the abrogation of the Decree 61 that formed it and Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola be declared the President of Nigeria. They called for the ‘the trial of all those who collaborated with the military regime‘ and the dissolution of the present government.”
-They also demanded that press freedom in Nigeria be guaranteed and that General Ibrahim Babangida be prosecuted on corruption charges.
-That ‘looters’ of the economy which “included 3,000 government officials who stashed away $33 billion in Swiss accounts” be fished out and all prosecuted.
In Niger Republic, the hostages then demanded that they be given enough fuel with which the aircraft be flown to Frankfurt, Germany. But why Germany? No one knows…lol! After their release, Ogunderu later revealed that they intended to also achieve the following goals with their action:
-The probe of the September 26, 1992 mysterious crash of the Nigerian Air Force C-130 Hercules transport plane in Ejigbo, Lagos where an entire batch of some of Nigeria’s most intelligent military officers perished.
-Full probe into the death of Dele Giwa, Nigeria’s foremost journalist who was blown to smithereens in October 1986 in Nigeria’s first parcel bomb attack.
You know the most interesting thing? The questions remain unanswered even decades after the events.
Kept inside the aircraft to witness all the horror as it played out were six officials of the Nigerian government and the six terrified crew members.
STORMING THE AIRCRAFT
On the 27th of October, the National Assembly called an emergency meeting and on the 28th, the Nigerian government gave orders for the aircraft to be stormed. Gegeun! Aptor and Bossi! LOL! In the dead of the night, Nigerien commandoes, assuming the hijackers would be asleep stormed the Nigerian Airways aircraft. It was not funny. They bombarded the plane, fired at the hijackers and successfully captured the four of them, their arms were flung to their backs, shiny handcuffs were produced and they would start their long journey into captivity. But it would not come cheap. In the ensuing fracas, one person died (the co-pilot was killed during the operation), a member of the crew, five other passengers and one of the hijackers were all injured. At the end of the operation, all the four hijackers were captured. Lobatan. Later on, the hijackers would say that they were not afraid when forces stormed the aircraft.
After days of negotiation, the gunmen freed all the passengers -except 39 who were kept as hostages after two hours of negotiating with government officials. The government of Niger Republic had to take it slow and steady as they were not too sure of how well-armed the hijackers were, whether they had explosives on board and the rest. They baited the hijackers promising them freedom if they do not harm any of the passengers but at the same time, secret meetings were being held by Niger’s security chiefs on how to storm the aircraft and even kill the hijackers if need be.
MAD was formed in 1992 and the hijackers refused to name their sponsors (if any) or reveal the exact details of the hijack or their modus operandi. But they all claimed to have been motivated by the events of June 12. MAD was led by Mallam Jerry Yusuf from Offa, Kwara State. He was 42 at that time but today, he seems to have disappeared from the radar. Before the hijack in 1993, MAD was already organizing protests against the brutal regime of Nigeria’s military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. They organized seminars and conferences at the National Theater, Iganmu, Lagos where they lashed out against the IBB regime.
After the hijack, Mallam Yusuf, the leader of MAD said that they did so to ‘terrorize the few people who have terrorized us politically and economically, to recover the money stolen from us.’ Yusuf was born in Offa, Kwara State in 1952 and lived in Germany between 1973 and 1977, during which he was believed to have learnt German. He studied fundamental Islam and was also a businessman dealing in the sale of cocoa. After the hijack, he was picked up on the streets of Ilorin by secret operatives on his trail and handed over secretly to the Nigerien authorities even without any extradition request. Then, he was clamped into jail and throughout 1995, he was in Kollo with the four hijackers, his followers. Yusuf once stated that he had the ‘antidote to coups’. He embarked on hunger strike to protest his ‘arbitary detention’ in Niger. Now, that’s some mad stuff!
LOCAL AND INTERNATIONAL REACTIONS
Although the hijackers were acting to restore MKO’s mandate, Abiola condemned the action. Abiola described their action as being barbaric, he said: We should do nothing that will be interpreted as a resort to the law of the jungle. I appeal to them (the hijackers) to end the hijacking.”
After the four hijackers were arrested, they were taken to the Kollo-Zarma Prison, 30 kilometres south of Niamey. In a desert nation like Niger, daytime temperature was unbearable as searing heat could reach 55oC. Ogunderu recalled their nasty experience: ‘We were poorly fed. We could neither speak Hausa nor French and nobody spoke English to us.’ Mahamane Ousmane, then the President of Niger had to go on TV to announce to his flabbergasted citizens that the situation was under control. Then Abacha took over and just three days after he came to office, the hunt started for the leader of MAD, Mallam Jerry Yusuff, the mastermind of the whole hijacking operation. Secret security agencies and outfits across Nigeria were tipped.
Not long after, he was abducted on the streets of Ilorin and whisked away. He was told that he would be bundled to Abuja for interrogation, only for him to open his eyes and meet himself in Niamey, Niger…lol! His abduction was a clandestine operation planned and executed by the governments of Nigeria and Niger. In Niger Republic, the President slipped while meeting with Association Nigerienne Por La Defense Des Droits Dehomme, a human rights group that had visited the Nigerien President on behalf of the hijackers and mistakenly revealed that Yusuff was already detained in Niamey, thus causing a major legal tussle in the arid West African nation. Some argued that Yusuff committed no crime in Niger and should be held in the territory. As the legal fireworks continued, Yusuff and his cohorts languished in jail.
While in prison, they had to contend with hunger atimes, heat, death threats, total lack of communication with their relatives and a culture that is totally alien to theirs. For nine long years and four months. But you know the interesting part? They never gave up. Richard took to learning French which he now speaks fluently but he said he is frustrated that he cannot find a job in Nigeria after his release (that was as at 2011).
In May 2000, a suit was filed exparte by Festus Keyamo before a Lagos Federal High Court, asking for an order of mandamus (judicial remedy) which would compel the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Foreign Affairs Minister to call for the extradition of Mallam Jerry Yusuf and others held in Nigerien prison. After their release and finally landing in Nigeria, just a handful of family relatives and friends were on hand at the airport to receive them. No high-sounding celebrations. No trumpets were blown. No bugle was sounded. Many did not even notice their return despite the fact that they had wasted away in a desert jail for almost 10 years…
…. Adenuga on his own part, sharpened his artistic skills of drawing while in prison while Rasaq-Lawal, a talented fashion designer kept on practicing. For Adenuga and Rasaq-Lawal, they had to return to Niamey since they could not find a job in Nigeria but Rasaq-Lawal later came back home. In Niamey, they found some jobs with some fair income, at least sometin to hold body and soul togeda noni.
As for Richard, he still remains hopeful and undaunted. He even attended Alliance Francaise (I did too…lol!) where he perfected his French and even bagged a diploma. But he still hopes that one day, he will get a decent job, and wait for this: his dreams of becoming Nigeria’s President remains intact even if he has accepted that he cannot be a pilot again. Of late, he has been as a social worker with the Pro-National Conference Organizations (PRONACO). But there are times when he ironically misses the country where he was jailed. Richard said: “I’m already missing Niger Republic. During our stay, there was no light-out, water ran for 24 hours. We had a good diet while in prison. We also studied French while in jail”. Hmmm…
During an anniversary to celebrate the founding of MAD, the hijackers apologised to all Nigerians. Ogunderu, leader of the hijackers said before an international press conference in Lagos: Our intention was not to harm anybody and that they were not terrorist neither were they sponsored by any foeign body, but were energetic young men,full of ideas and burning with the desire to save millions of Nigerians from the trauma that the annullment of June 12 election had foist, a decison to decisively intervene with the view to bringing the crisis to an end.” During the event, he also blasted the Nigerian airport security officials who did not detect a thing while they all boarded like innocent passengers with all their weapons. He stated that they never made any material demands from the passengers. They were released from prison in Niamey on the 2nd of January, 2002.