Will Okpaleke’s “Hijack ’93” Portray Kabir Adenuga as Leader of the MAD Boys?
A story is, arguably, humans’ greatest conception – even long before it became a concept. Stories give us identities; stories give us importance; stories give us the initiative to live, and they impact generations to come when they are preserved.
Hijack ’93 is a story of such worth, which Charles Okpaleke, a prominent moviemaker in Nollywood is telling. It follows the actions of four young men on a cool Monday mid-day of Oct. 25, 1993, and their motivations to hijack a Nigerian airplane in protest against the military injustices of the day.
As with any basic story, there are characters, goals, conflicts, and points-of-view. Kabiru (stylized as Kabir and pronounced ka-barr; but more on that later) Adenuga is one of the characters in this fateful, historical event, whom little is known of in the media.
It is for this reason that his story may fall prey to the pitfalls of narrative, rampant in our highly consumerist, hyper-visual, short-span-attention world.
Since we are the center of our own universe, we, justifiably perhaps, tell our story in a way that casts us in a prismatic light, leaving others at the mercy of our interpretation and representation. That is, unless they pick up the mantle of story-telling and documentation themselves to combat the monster of “a single story”, which insidiously presents itself “not only as one story, but as the only story” in the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her acclaimed 2009 TED Talk.
I had reached out to Kabir Adenuga for his comments on the upcoming movie “Hijack ’93,” just as I did for Richard Ogunderu, another ‘main’ character in the ‘hijack ploy’, but found myself drawn into a drastically different lore. He (Kabir) was ready to set the records straight, in his judgment, having tire of fearing the government all these years.
A plane, it may well seem, was not the only thing that was hijacked, but a perspective as well.
Tell me a bit about yourself.
I am Kabiru Olawale Adenuga, and I was born on Nov. 16, 1970, to a family of seven. I went to Lagos Baptist Academy in Obanikoro, and I graduated as the best student. My dad’s Owolowo Alaba Adenuga; he was a managing director with the Nigeria Airports Authority, and my mum, Yetunde Adenuga, worked with a printing company. They are of blessed memory now.
I loved the arts growing up, and I still do. I was something you’d call a child prodigy. Any artistic expression, in any form, I was good at it. I was creating things even adults couldn’t attempt, and they were always left awed. I could mimic voices of great musicians of our time from Freddie Jackson to Luther Vandross to Ray Parker. Even political acts. You know, I see politics as a form of art, too. You need flair and charisma for it. Sure, you should have a genuine passion for the people and development, but how to get them on board? With you? You have to act.
So, whether as drama or campaign, I love to act. I could also draw, and crack jokes. I made a lot of things with my hands: I’d melt candles and use its wax to mold objects. My speaking and dressing also reflected my persona. Others would call it “Americana” (Laughs). So, I consider art life, total. I would have pursued a degree in fine arts if universities had not been closed at that time in the country.
So, the inability to do that was what fostered your meeting with Jerry? After you left secondary school?
More or less, yeah. Aside oratory, I love politics, and its potential as a tool for change. I was a spirited young man, especially about the society and bettering it, and everybody knew. So, this guy I knew, Bobola—he was a FUTA student—said to me, “You like to fight for the masses, and I know someone who you can align with.” He told me the person was on the run from the government, and he took me to meet him. That was how I met Jerry – – Mallam Jerry. He was from Ilorin, and he was a pretty fearsome man.
But your relationship with him blossomed, nonetheless…
I had for him what you’d call ‘reverence’, but he took a liking to me all the same. We became close. Like a snail and its shell, or peas in a pod. We were stuck together for all of three, four days before we met the other guys, and the hijack. He was a fugitive, and I lived through him. I usually stay with my friends for days then, so my parents had no idea. They were used to my absence.
Bobola had long left us.
Jerry and I talked at length. He queried if I really was serious about being a freedom fighter, and I said, “why not?” I was ready to give it all it takes: lay down my life even, anything to see the country thrive. We either stand up or get trampled upon. That endeared me to him the more, and he shared with me the circumstances leading to his fleeing.
He was a military man himself and was privy to some plots. The military with their civilian collaborators had connived to thwart the results of the presidential election. This led to crises in the Western region. It infuriated me. It was a sickening robbery, and such blatant fraud should not stand to (the) self-respecting citizens of any nation. I did have a little affinity for M.K.O Abiola as well, being a Yoruba man, and Jerry determinedly wanted him to become the president. So, he set the hijack plan in motion, and told me to keep it a secret, while we roamed the streets of Mushin.
And how did you survive [out there]?
We couldn’t stay at one place for long. He was that flighty. He even refused to follow me to my parents’ house when I suggested that we go there to lay low. If he were caught, he’d be killed. We walked at a distance apart from each other. We begged food, two-four-seven, from Togolese vendors, who were quite generous to us as they – they were ladies – were smitten with me. Sometimes, they offered us their sleeping places and money, because I had introduced Jerry as my father to them.
It was a hard time of our lives. We struggled. Suffered. Lived wild out in the open, what with Jerry wearing these huge beards and jalabiya like an Imam, but it forged our bond tighter, you know. Our brotherhood and trust for each other deepened. Together alone, I didn’t care. I believed I was acting under divine guidance. ‘If I perish, I perish.’
And you stayed on the streets for four days? How, and when, did you come in contact with the other guys?
Just like Bobola and, now me, Jerry had lots of young guys like that under him. They respected him as much as I did, though, I was special to him. You know, he never reached out to them all the while we were wandering, when he had access to them. It was when he wanted to form the group—Movement of the Advancement of Democracy—with me as the captain, that he brought them on board. That is, Benneth Oluwadaisi and Hassan Razak-Lawal. They lived in the environs of Mushin there, too.
So, we made those beans, yam and plantain sellers’ shops – the Togolese I mentioned – our meeting spot, just by the roadside. We called ourselves “the MAD boys.” Jerry thought it sounded menacing and would make people take us seriously. We had yet to meet Richard here. Since we were getting conspicuous on the road, Jerry suggested we find some other rendezvous point, and that was how we moved to Kingsland Hotel in Surulere.
Where you met Richard. . .
That’s right. It was on the sixth day, and it was late in the night. Our arrival made an entrance. I don’t know what Richard saw – he was the one who opened the gate for us, by the way – but he started hassling Jerry for money. I was displeased. Jerry and the others went upstairs while I remained downstairs with Richard to iron things out. He also wanted to know why we were journeying so late.
Somehow, we got into talking about the state of affairs in the country. He was no more disenchanted about everything going on than the average Nigerian out there. He was like, “I know o. It’s only God that can help us.” I said to him, “You see that man who walked in earlier, he is ready to fight for us.” Richard told me he was interested in joining us and implored me to introduce him to my ‘boss’. I could sense a distinctive aura about him: just like the type we sought.
He was a young, brawny man with bravado. I didn’t tell him what exactly we hoped to do, but I promised to put in words for him. The next day, I’d spoken to Jerry about him, and ‘sold’ him as a significant addition. Jerry agreed and made him one of us.
And the hijack followed?
Yes. Well, not immediately. We had some days for rehearsal and surveillance. We went to the airport a day before to find out about a plane going to Frankfurt, Germany, because we wanted international coverage. Jerry appointed me the leader and gave me an alias – Captain Kabir (kah-barr). His reason was that this felt more like an actual “terrorist” name, unlike Kabiru, an Hausa/Yoruba derivative.
On the day, we took gallons of petrol, dummy guns, and arms. Jerry escorted us to the airport, and he has given me a cover story already. He told me to tell a hostess that I had a message for the pilot from my sister, his girlfriend.
When we boarded, I caught the attention of a hostess and told her that. She refused on grounds of some safety or technical issues – I can’t remember. Anyway, I then went to the toilet to hide my arms, since I wouldn’t be needing them in the meantime. I also signaled to the other boys to do the same, one at a time.
After a while, I called the hostess again, and she allowed me entry. This was about fifteen minutes to landing. I retrieved my weapons, stormed the cockpit and tear-gassed the captain and his co-pilot. Brandishing my gun, I said to them the words: “I am Captain Kabir, and this plane has been hijacked by men of the Movement of the Advancement of Democracy. We demand that you comply with every of our instructions and desist from any suspicious acts. We are not here to harm you; simply stay calm. This is all for your own good in the end,” which they relayed to the passengers and, for all the good it did, they panicked, wetted their pants, fainted, discarded their identifications, while Richard and co. searched and identified them.
We’d heard that the lady justice who presided over the Abiola’s case was aboard as well as some high-ranking military personnel (we had their guns confiscated).
So, the pilot told us that we couldn’t make it to Germany as I had intended because fuel was only sufficient for a local flight. I settled for Niger, and there we began negotiations with the outside world from the Diori Hamani International Airport. We doused the plane and ourselves in petrol and gave the authorities an ultimatum of 72 hours to meet our demands. This included the announcement of M.K.O. Abiola as the rightful winner of the June 12 election; the probe of Dele Giwa’s death; the reopening of all schools across all levels, and the prosecution of corrupt military officers, amongst others.
Our delegates that were sent to come and speak to us – for where? They lodged at a hotel and said we should come and meet them. Of course, we declined. It was a delegate from the American embassy there that I spoke to. Steven Burkell or something and he, surprisingly, praised us for our courage at going against the Nigerian government, given their notoriety. He only pleaded that we hurt nobody. Things were becoming quite dire in the plane, regardless. The co-pilot was sick, and the AC had stopped working, leaving the passengers hot and hungry. I panicked that some were going to die. I had to let the women and children go the next day and was forced to seek for aid.
Maybe it was some of the passengers that we released that went and gave the Nigérian soldiers a profile of us – our ages, weapons – I don’t know, but I reckon we stayed expectant for all of the day, waiting for a response (we needed food and drugs), while I chatted away with the captain, cooped up in the cockpit. Yeah, we’d become that familiarized. He spoke like a father to me; said he’d been expecting something of the hijack nature to happen eventually.
Anyway, it was very late in the night, around 12 a.m., when we saw these people coming with food. I was like, “Ah. Since morning that we’ve asked for it?” I sha told Richard, who was in the cabin, to be very careful when he goes to collect the food from them. That it could be a trap.
And a trap it turned out to be. They began shooting at us – these Chinese and Nigèrian men. Richard ran in and while he was ordering the passengers to get on the floor, a bullet hit him. A passenger was shot dead, too. I saw Benneth take off to the toilet. It was all so fast; four of the soldiers were already walking up to me before I could react. They grabbed me and, through the airplane’s door, hurled me to the ground, feet below. I was knocked unconscious, for about ten hours, and I still have difficulty breathing ’till now as a result of that.
Richard…he was taken to a university teaching hospital and treated by a white doctor. With something like a gold or…stuff. But it was good. It turned out well, or so I thought, and he was walking fine, until I read in your article about him that he now uses a walking stick. That’s so sad.
What a recollection. It seems from your story then that you were the leader of the operation?
Speaking on that, and Richard, I was (Laughs). I was the leader. Me, myself and I. All me. Captain Kabir. I was caught between surprise and laughter. Richard? He – him as the leader? What? Did he, perhaps, think I was not going to return back to the country? I cannot wrap my head around why he’d spin the event like that. And that is why Kenny and Benneth’s sides are important as well. So that we’ll get the full picture, if not for anything else other than to corroborate all I’ve narrated.
And that means you and Jerry didn’t fall out? Because Richard claimed that you had some sort of disagreement.
Nah, that’s a lie. Jerry loved me like hell. You can see how I’ve described our relationship. I was like the vein in his neck. A spiritual son to a prophet, because I practically see him that way, and he, too, believed that he was sent to liberate the people. Did I mention that we fasted? Oh, yes. We did, before going for the mission.
I was the accounts keeper, and the only one privy to Jerry’s movements, in and out of the country. When he went to get our arms in Germany, I knew. So, it sounds crazy to hear that he and I were at loggerheads. Someone I respected like no man’s business. We’d stuck together for about a week, so what could ever bring about our disagreement? I couldn’t even look at Jerry in the face. We all couldn’t stare into his eyes! None of the boys under him could. Ah. A military man with a gun? So how could a person like that have asked me to do anything and I’ll refuse?
So, you guys were arrested afterwards?
Yes. We were separated and taken to some kind of administrative building to be interrogated. This was after I woke up and I found myself among strange-looking men. The guys kept taunting me and calling me Kaptain Kah-barr, saying, “what do you have to say to the people now you’re going to die?” in their bad English, because they were French-speaking.
They also denied our Nigerian delegates access to us. I managed to send a surreptitious message through some translator there, and who got the word out that they were planning to kill us. So, the guys were taken away from us.
François Mitterrand, the president of France then, rejected the proposal of us being flown to our home country to serve time, and that was how we ended up in a Niger’s prison.
How was life in the prison like?
Terrible. It was very terrible. The food was bad, and I had to make money from my skills to feed us; we were all imprisoned together.
I’d melt coins and use them to make jewelry and sell. I also cut hair. Richard picked up a scholastic interest in books. He read, taught and developed himself so much that you’d think he was a university graduate. And I find that inspiring about him. I wish I’d had more time for myself, too . . .. He started preaching from there, you know, he was a big lover of God, and some guys who’d come to listen to him would give him meat, after getting converted. So Kehinde and Benneth also picked up my skills and started attending to others. That was how we lived. Up until the time we were released.
Where was Jerry?
He was in another prison in another state. We heard he was doing fine as he sent us messages once in a while.
And you spent nine years there?
There about. We were released in 2001, and we suffered. It wasn’t easy, but God didn’t kill us, since we were convicted of the sacredness of what we did. When we got out, some of the acquaintances we’d made in prison helped us. I remember a pastor from Egypt.
We went back to Nigeria, and had a press conference and TV appearances, radio interviews, the likes.
I went back to Niger – on the advice of my mom fearing for my life as the captain of the MAD boys. Jerry had been killed – and I continued to live there until this moment, except for a period when I came down to Nigeria for a few days and met Richard around Iju-Ishaga/Agege. I don’t know, he seemed to me to be under some serious strain or stress then.
The other guys, I was in an on-and-off communication with them on Facebook for a while and decided to abandon my accounts later on, fell off the radar. I still miss them.
What’s your opinion on the movie being made in honor of you all?
It’s a great initiative, really. Even Jerry had the idea to do something like that until his passing, so Charles Okpaleke is doing a fantastic job. I believe Jerry’s spirit is still operating. I’m not certain if he (Charles) was the one who reached out to me, but I was contacted by some men, and was in talk with them on WhatsApp. They wanted to make a movie, too, so they needed me on board. Maybe it’s him. Anyway, the movie would go a long way in educating the youth of today. Stoke up their political consciousness and let them realize how the malignant ulcer of our government’s misrule has eaten deep for us to have been pushed to such an extreme act. Our plight as a people didn’t start today. This is a part of our history. I want them to be inspired in continuing to fight for a better nation.
How has Niger been like for you?
Not very good at all. What with it being one of the poorest countries in the world? There’s no place like home, you know, and I would love to go back to Nigeria. There’s nothing here. Despite all that has plagued us, we are still the ‘Giant of Africa’. Everyone wants to go there; everybody wants to be us.
About two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand CFAs here, for the work I do, is millions in naira. I make a living as an artist: painting and sculpting. Like, not just little things. I make edifices with cements – aquariums, fountains, ornamental pillars and roadworks. Up to 5,000ft. I am very good at it. I get hired by both private and public citizens on a contract basis. Some even go to places like Dubai and, on their return, they ask me to recreate magnificent statues they’ve see over there, for their homes, and I deliver beyond their expectations. If not for a lack of choice – unless I get some sponsor – I’d prefer practicing this in Nigeria. I can’t start all over again, you know, and begin to depend on friends and relatives. I wanted to sing at one point, too, but the people here are territorial about foreigners venturing into their local tradition. As for acting, I’m holding on to hope, eventually, to begin a career in that area.
Any final thoughts? On the youths? The current situation of things in Nigeria?
From the look of things, I’d say we’ve done our part. It’s like a stepping stone scenario, you get? The youth should build upon what we’ve done. Nigeria is certainly still far from being the haven we all dream of; we’re “coming up”, just as those foreign publications like to class us as a ‘developing nation’. I hope for the best for the country, under its current administration, as any patriotic citizen should. Or maybe not. I can’t say.
I’ll only advise the youths to have a positive outlook towards politics, and get active in it, whether directly or indirectly. It is a powerful tool and, when wielded right, can cause a cataclysmic rebirth in our land. The youths should not allow themselves to be broken; they should embody the giant we represent, truly, and turn Nigeria around to be a force to reckon with, and feared in strategic relations and combat, in the affairs of the international communities.
I love Nigeria, and God bless our motherland.