Even though I was not old enough to vote, I paid close attention to the series of before and after events that surrounded the 1993 Presidential elections. This is courtesy of my dad who ensured I sat through the news on Radio Nigeria, BBC, VOA, Radio France International, and much later, Kudirat Radio.
He also ensured I read through paragraphs of the TELL and Newswatch Magazine which he often came home with, after which we would watch the NTA Network news which I found boring at the time.
Looking back now, I realised how easy it was to fall in love with the charismatic Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. Standing over 6 feet tall, with huge hands and a rich baritone voice, Chief MKO (as he was fondly called) was one man who understood the plight of Nigerians.
Flying the flag of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), his campaign train traversed the length and breadth of the nation, while his campaign jingles connected with both the young and the old. The nation was tired of military rule.
It, therefore, did not come as a surprise when he recorded a landslide victory. He even defeated his rival, Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa of the National Republican Convention (NRC) in his home state, Kano.
Nigerians had barely started celebrating this victory when the self-styled ‘President’ Ibrahim Babangida annulled the elections. This resulted in a storm of protests and strikes by human rights groups which brought thousands of people into the streets.
In Lagos, people built and burned barricades, shops were looted, cars were hijacked, stones were hurled at the police, and the police fired tear gas at the protesters. The government subsequently cracked down on the media and human rights groups, with prominent persons thrown into detention.
Of all the protests, the one which stood out for me was the event of Monday, October 25, 1993, where a group of young boys who called themselves Movement for the Advancement of Democracy (MAD) hijacked a Nigeria Airways airbus A310 flying from Lagos to Abuja and diverted it to Niamey, Niger Republic.
The boys, Richard Ogunderu (19), Kabir Adenuga (22), Benneth Oluwadaisi (24), and Kenny Rasaq-Lawal (23) were said to have boarded the plane just like everyone else before seizing it with the aid of a toy gun, knives, and petrol.
Their demands were simple, or so they thought.
They wanted the Nigerian Government headed by the Interim National Government of Chief Ernest Shonekan who was at that time attending a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Cyprus to meet their demands which includes.
1. Dissolve the Interim National Government which they termed illegal.
2. Reverse the annulment of the June 12 Presidential elections, and declare Chief MKO Abiola as the President of Nigeria.
3. Arrest General Ibrahim Babangida, and prosecute him for corruption.
4. Identify, arrest and prosecute the ‘looters’ of the nation’s economy among whom are top government officials who stashed away $33 billion in Swiss bank accounts.
Thereafter, they gave a 72-hour ultimatum for their demands to be met, or else they would set the plane ablaze. Although 34 passengers were released, the remaining 159 were held hostage including some government officials.
A few days later, the National Assembly held a meeting and gave orders to the Nigerien commandoes to storm the aircraft. They eventually gained access to the aircraft in the middle of the night, and captured the hijackers, even though the co-pilot died in the cause of the rescue operation. The boys were subsequently arrested and imprisoned for 9 years in Niger Republic.
During an international press conference in 2009, Ogunderu, the youngest of the hijackers who coordinated the operation apologized to Nigerians. In his words, ‘’All we wanted was the freedom, freedom to choose our leaders. We were pushed to the extreme and we reacted in an extreme manner.’’
It’s disturbing how 29 years after this incident, Nigerians are still being pushed to the extreme by the elected representatives. Young people are becoming disillusioned, while those with the means are migrating to saner climes in pursuit of a system that works.
The Endsars campaign which climaxed in October 2020 is an indication of how powerful young people can be, and how much can be achieved should they decide to speak with one voice.
For those with a PVC, the next general elections provide yet another opportunity to make a statement. The time is now!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Olugbemi is a historian, creative writer and communications strategist. An avid reader with a passion for a system that works, he has consistently used his Facebook page to inform, encourage and entertain his friends and followers within and outside Nigeria.
A Google Certified Digital Business Developer, John presently heads the Marketing and Communications Unit of the Millard Fuller Foundation, an organisation with a vision to provide truly affordable homes to Nigerians who are in need.
His hobbies include writing, reading, cooking travelling, and jogging.
He is married to an adorable woman, and they are blessed with three beautiful daughters.