The date was October 25th, 1993 just less than a month before General Sani Abacha‘s palace coup.
A Nigeria Airways airbus A310 plane destined to Abuja from Lagos had just taken off around 3pm, when four men— Bennett Oluwadaisi, Kabir Adenuga, Richard Ogunderu and Kenny Rasaq-Lawal stood and just as seen in movies, took over the aircraft.
This was Nigeria’s first and only plane hijack till date and it was obvious that these young men were daring.
The plane had high ranking government officials and businessmen onboard. The hijackers probably thought they had hit the jackpot. This was never the case though as history would prove.
Reason for the hijack
The boys — Bennett Oluwadaisi, Kabir Adenuga, Richard Ogunderu and Kenny Rasaq-Lawal — belonged to the group Movement for the Advancement of Democracy (M.A.D), a group keen on installing democracy.
According to Richard Ogunderu in an interview in 2009 “We wanted change. Our action confirmed that when a system is inhumane, it could produce the extreme in all of us”.
Their demands were that the Nigerian government should reverse the abrogation of the June 12 election and swear in self acclaimed winner Moshood Kashimawo Abiola (MKO) giving them (government) 72 hours to heed to their request else the plane would be blown up.
While on board the Nigeria Airways airbus A310 flight heading from Lagos to Abuja, the hijackers had each other in sight and signaled to take action after the pilot had turned off the seat belt light.
The intention was for the plane to be flown to Germany as it was felt that their demands might be met with international pressure but they saw their plan see-saw from Germany to Niamey, Niger as a result of low fuel.
On the 25th of October, 1993, the hijackers — Bennett Oluwadaisi, Kabir Adenuga, Richard Ogunderu and Kenny Rasaq-Lawal— shortly after takeoff moved into position. Fear gripped passengers when they heard a stout-hearted voice which was not that of the pilot shortly after take-off saying “Ladies and gentlemen, this plane has been taken over by the Movement for the Advancement of Democracy (M.A.D), remain calm, we will not harm you. You will be told where the plane will land you”.
Ogunderu said “I walked into the cockpit and seized the process and then 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”.
They had 193 passengers held as hostages. The Nigeria Airways plane landed in Niamey less than two hours after it had taken off from Lagos.
Unsure about if the hijackers were armed with firearms such as explosives, the Nigerien authorities opened up negotiations tempting the hijackers with freedom if they surrendered and left the passengers unarmed. Not wanting to risk anything, while negotiations were on going, the government simultaneously held talks with the security officials on a possible raid on the plane. After some days, the gendarmes ambushed the plane at night. Reports state a passenger was however killed during the show of power by Nigerien security officials.
The four-man gang was eventually arrested and taken into custody in Niger, facing trial and in due course found guilty and sentenced to over nine years in prison. Investigations revealed that Mallam Jerry Yusuff the leader Movement for the Advancement of Democracy (M.A.D) leader was the mastermind behind the hijack. He was abducted in Kwara, Nigeria and extradited down to Niger for trial. He was initially acquitted by the presiding Judge because he was said not to have been involved in the crime in Niger but a future appeal saw him spend several years behind bars.
Life in custody in Niger was hell on earth for the boys as they neither understood French nor Hausa spoken by the inmates and prison wardens, were poorly fed and not familiar with the weather as the average daily temperature was about 55?C. They also had no access to relatives or friends throughout their entire stay in prison. They soon adjusted to the situation as they were left with no other option, the group learnt how to speak French fluently and developed vocational skills while incarcerated.
Upon release, leader of the pack, Richard Ogunderu returned to Nigeria and continued his education graduating with a diploma in French language. Kabir Adenuga had mastered the art of canvass drawing, sketching and painting, Kenny Rasaq-Lawal, now a fashion designer and alongside Kabir Adenuga decided to relocate back to Niger Republic. Rasaq-Lawal is said to have returned back to Nigeria to start a new life shortly after. Nothing has been heard about Bennett Oluwadaisi but he is also believed to be in Nigeria.
It is sad to not that nothing has really changed. Despite our return to democracy in 1999, we have merely exchanged tyrants in uniform for inept politicians. The state of our union remains fragile and is an indictment on us all.