Kwankwaso, Eagle Square and fear for 2019
The denial last Wednesday, of the use of the Eagle Square, which Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, former Kano State governor, had earlier obtained approval to use for launch of his presidential campaigns, has raised new questions about how Nigeria has fared in the observance of basic democratic tenets.
Kwankwaso, who was one of the pillars of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that provided support for the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), when he alongside four of his governor-colleagues defected to the new platform in 2014, recently retraced his steps back to his old party.While some observers say the former governor who now represents Kano Central at the Upper Legislative Chamber was driven out of the APC by his presidential ambition, which appeared unachievable because President Muhammadu has declared to run for a second term, others are quick to point to the seemingly destructive politics of the APC that characterized its post-victory era.
Yet, others allude to the crisis of confidence between Kwankwaso’s protégé and governor of Kano, Abdukkahi Umar Ganduje, who has found a new mentor in Buhari to replace the man he served as Special Adviser and two-term Deputy Governor.While the former governor had been declared by his successor as persona-non-grata in his Kano base, he has continued to wax strong in Kano nooks and crannies because of the perception by supporters that Kwankwaso shows all signs to be a possible alternative to Buhari in a nation grappling with a myriad of socio-economic and security problems that now appear intractable despite promises by the APC government.
Although many overtures were made to Kwankwaso not to leave the APC when it was obvious that he was set to repeat what he and his colleagues did to PDP in 2014, including a personal entreaty by Buhari on the eve of his departure, the former governor defected to the PDP.
It was gathered that the new national Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, while pleading with Kwankwaso, offered to secure a commitment to truce from Ganduje and provide a platform of inclusion for the former governor, not only in Kano but also in Abuja, the seat of federal power.However, Kwankwaso who had already been seen holding meetings with members of the opposition and had commenced oiling the machinery of his massive Kwankwasiyya movement across the country, rejected all entreaties, thereby courting the ire of the Abuja powerhouse.
Many believe that the denial of the use of the Eagle Square by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) was part of a grand plan of the ruling APC to flex some muscle, frustrate Kwankwaso and show its capability to muzzle opposition and create a narrow path for only Buhari to ascend the presidency once again next year. Although approval had been given to Rasy International Limited, a Kano-based concern that applied for the use of the facility on behalf of Kwankwaso, on 20th of August, a letter withdrawing the approval was issued two days to the event, and a day after the organisers had publicly announced the venue and event.
In a letter signed by Usman Mukhtar Raji on behalf of Integrated Facility, Management Services Limited, manager of the Abuja International Conference Centre and the Eagle Square, the authorities hinged its decision to deny the PDP presidential aspirant access to the venue on the need to avoid disruption of “work flow” at the Federal Secretariat, a major hub of civil servants.
The letter reads: “We are sorry to inform you that the event can no longer hold on the said date because it is a political event and the 29th of August, 2018 happens to be a work day, as it would disrupt the usual work flow of the Federal Secretariat. We apologise for the oversight on our part to note the date in relation to the nature of the event. We regret every inconvenience caused by this.”Sources within the FCTA claimed that the initial request for the use of the facility did not disclose that it would be used for a political gathering and that no approval would have been given if it were so stated.
However, The Guardian obtained a copy of a receipt numbered 3921 and dated 17th August issued to the organisers by the same Usman Mukhtar Raji for the sum of N2.2 million as payment for the use of the facility where it was stated that the money was received for “Kwankwasiyya Declaration.”Apart from this, many commentators have put a lie to the claim that the denial was because it was a workday, citing the example of Buhari’s October 14, 2014 presidential declaration, which was made on the same venue, but was not denied by the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration because it was a workday.
And to confirm the allegations that the venue was denied with the intention of muzzling the opposition, attempt to shift the event to the International Conference Centre (ICC), which would present no inhibitions to movement of workers, was also rebuffed by the authorities.According to the organisers in a release where they pointed accusing fingers at the APC Federal Government: “We at the Kwankwaso Campaign Organisation sees the development as a handiwork of the government in power who will not see anything good in growing our fledgling democracy as no level playing field has been created to allow for viable opposition in the country.
“Even at that, earlier Tuesday morning the Abuja International Conference and Eagle Square, managed by the Integrated Facility Management Services Ltd refused us access to inspect the premises demanding us to present a police permit, when actual approval for the use of the Eagle Square had been sought and paid for more than one week to the said declaration.“The above development will in no way dampen our morale to go ahead with the declaration or chicken out as it will only embolden us to legally pursue our fundamental right to freedom of movement and association.”
Reacting to the development, the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) sees the action of the police in sealing off the venue on the grounds that events are not held there on weekdays as untenable.Spokesman of the coalition, Ikenga Ugochinyere, cited four instances where events had taken place during the same period to buttress his point.His words: “Kwankwaso is declaring on the platform of the PDP, which is one of the coalition partners in the CUPP. We want to inform Nigerians that this act of growing culture of impunity and intimidation has got to a very dangerous level with the decision of the Police to seal the venue of a venue of somebody who wants to be President. The Eagle Square was built for such events and people who want to use it pay for it.
“The venue was paid for and we were just informed a few hours ago after the Police told them they could not use the venue because they cannot control the crowd that is going to come. And a few hours after the Abuja Integrated Facility Management Limited, managers of the Eagle Square and ICC wrote a backdated letter, which they brought this evening, telling them that they cannot use the venue tomorrow (today) that they have discovered that the event falls on a working day.” Also condemning the development, the duo of Senate President Bukola Saraki and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, two presidential aspirants on the platform of the PDP like Kwankwaso, decried the move as sending a wrong message about the country’s democracy.
Speaking through Yusuph Olaniyonu, his Special Adviser on Media, Saraki said: “The refusal to allow Senator Kwankwaso to utilize the Eagle Square for his presidential declaration, despite an earlier approval, sends a wrong message about our democracy, particularly the tolerance level in our politics. That square belongs to all Nigerians because it was built with public funds. We hope this is not what we will be seeing as we approach the 2019 general election.”
Indeed the denial has raised a lot of concerns about the level of political tolerance in the country, which is a backbone of representative governance and also creates apprehension about the possible effects on preparations and conduct of next year’s general election.With the growing tension, division along ethnic, religious and social lines, there are indications that if the rules of democracy and participatory governance are not followed to the letter, the effects on the country may be profound.
Despite the denial, the Kwankwasiyya movement rescheduled the event, at the last minute, to Chida Hotel in Abuja’s Utako District, but that was after despair had set in to undermine the enthusiasm that initially greeted the planned declaration.
Thousands of supporters, who were identified with their red caps and white garments for men and red mufflers over white gowns for women, were seen in disarray, loitering around Abuja on the eve of the event. But Kwankwaso who pledged a new lease for Nigerians, nonetheless, delivered a message of hope.
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