A few heroic tales have been told of instances where ordinary Nigerians took fate into their hands and moved to alter the direction history follows. Examples such as Wole Soyinka holding a broadcasting house at gunpoint to switch tapes of a Western region Premier’s broadcast remains one of the top daring acts in Nigerian politics. But not many have told the tale of a group of ideological young men who believed their heroics could tie the hands of the General Ibrahim Babangida-installed Shonekan government into doing the right thing.
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On a fateful day 27 years ago, four Nigerian teenagers, took control of a Nigerian Airways A310 passenger aeroplane flying from Lagos to Abuja and diverted the flight to Niamey, Niger Republic.
The incident which happened on a Monday, October 25, 1993, shook the Interim President as of the time, Ernest Shonekan, who was evidently struggling to hold a chaotic country together on the other hand.
The men in their teenage years were fed up with the gloomy trajectory which Nigeria’s democracy was toeing following the illegal and unjust annulment of the June 12, 1993, general election by the Ibrahim Babangida administration.
The four young men with the names Richard Ogunderu, Kabir Adenuga, Benneth Oluwadaisi and Kenny Rasaq-Lawal boarded the commercial flight quite innocently and without suspicion. Led by Richard Ogunderu, they waited for the plane’s ascent into the clouds patiently – until the pilot announced that passengers on could now unfasten their seat belts.
According to reports which later culminated from the event, the four teenagers were members of a pressure group called Movement for the Advancement of Democracy (MAD). MAD was the brainchild of a more radical leader, named Mallam Jerry Yusuf, who confessed to grooming the boys for the hijack. He himself did not escape being punished by the government of General Sani Abacha who had seized power by then.
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As was later recounted by Ogunderu himself, all the boys needed to kick into action was to signal to one another and seized the plane with no lethal weapon but just a toy gun.
Once the controls had been taken over from the pilot, an announcement read out from the plane’s address system:
“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.”
Passengers aboard the aircraft, including top businessmen and senior government officials from Nigeria, who were not initially aware that a non-violent take over of the controls of the plane suddenly became agitated when they heard the soft-spoken teenage voice addressing them.
Unknown to them, they had just been rerouted to Niamey, Niger Republic where they hoped to be able to refuel and head over to Germany.
Unfortunately – and fortunately for the passengers and crew – the Nigerien government had devised strategies for their gendarmes to outsmart the youngsters with delay tactics at the Niamey airport until they were able to invade the plane and free the occupants.
As was expected, and in accordance with most aviation regulations around the world, the four boys who were arrested were treated like terrorists even though their struggle was for the sake of Nigerian democracy.
According to an Ogunderu interview in 2009, he said:
“We wanted to change. Our action confirmed that when a system is inhumane, it could produce the extreme in all of us.”
The heroics of the four boys of that time went unrewarded. They were arrested and summarily jailed with the least years of incarceration being at least 9 years. They languished miles away from their country of birth in a prison in Ndjamena with 55 temperature.
While Nigeria has only fared a little better since Nigeria finally returned to democracy in 1999; the youth would have been totally lost in these men if not that on regaining freedom, they educated themselves in French language and some of them went on to obtain diplomas and other skills in spite of their fate.
The story of these brave men is an inspiration meant to rouse the docile recesses of our nationhood – to always fight for democracy no matter what the consequences might be.
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