Friday, 2nd June 2023

Violence, internal crises mar campaign rallies in Niger, Rivers

By Bala Yahaya (Minna), Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt) and John Akubo (Abuja)
01 February 2023   |   11:16 am
The internal crisis rocking the All Progressive Congress (APC) in Niger State came to the fore, yesterday, when the party’s State Working Committee disassociated itself from a planned rally to galvanise support for its presidential and governorship candidates slated for New Bussa, in Borgu council, after police operatives swooped on the venue to stop the rally.

Ogun State Governor, Dapo Abiodun (left); All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his running mate, Kashim Shettima, during the party’s campaign rally in Abeokuta…Tinubu could not hold another political rally in Niger and Rivers state due to internal wrangling within the party.

• Security operatives stop rally for Tinubu/Shettima, others in Niger
• How face-off between governor, senator disrupted pro-Tinubu rally
• Thugs attack APC campaigners in Rivers
• APC chieftain chides Rivers guber, NASS candidates for not campaigning for Tinubu

The internal crisis rocking the All Progressive Congress (APC) in Niger State came to the fore, yesterday when the party’s State Working Committee disassociated itself from a planned rally to galvanise support for its presidential and governorship candidates slated for New Bussa, in Borgu council, after police operatives swooped on the venue to stop the rally.

The event, tagged: ‘Grand Lockdown Rally,’ was organised by the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate and National Coordinator of Project 774 for Tinubu/Shettima 2023, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Niger North).

The gates of New Bussa Township Stadium, which was already decorated in readiness for the event to commence by 11:00a.m. were locked and barricaded by police operatives, preventing supporters from gaining entrance.

Abdullahi had invited the Niger State Working Committee of APC to the rally in a letter signed by his Special Assistant (operations), Mohammed Danladi, which was addressed to the state Chairman, Haliru Jikantoro.

But the party’s state executive disassociated itself from the rally, asking all party faithful not to attend. A statement by the state publicity secretary, Mallam Musa Sarkindaji, said the rally contravened the unified campaign structure as designed by the party.

The party, instead, urged its executives, stakeholders and supporters to attend the grand zonal rally, which is scheduled for today (Wednesday) in Bida, headquarters of Bida council.

When The Guardian visited the New Bussa Township Stadium, dozens of personnel from the police, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) blocked the entrance, preventing APC supporters from accessing the venue.

The police spokesman in Niger, DSP Wasiu Abiodun, said security operatives were mobilised to the venue to prevent a breakdown of law and order having got intelligence of a likely breach of security.

In a terse statement, Abiodun said: “The police had to take over the venue of the planned rally as a proactive measure due to intelligence received of likely breach of security at the venue.

“Hence, we have to do the needful to avert any possible attack or hijack by suspected miscreants to cause mayhem and breach of peace in the community. The Command will not fold its arms and allow an act of political violence, avoidable loss of life, destruction of property, and lawlessness.”

The dissociation of the APC state Working Committee from the rally laid bare the cold war between Governor Abubakar Bello, who is in control of the party structure in the state and Senator Abdullahi, organiser of the rally.

The senator, who currently occupies the Niger North senatorial seat, contested the APC ticket to retain the seat despite pressure to step down for the governor, a development that pitched him against the state executive. The governor won the primary and since then, both have not been in good terms.

Meanwhile, tension is rising among opposition political parties in Rivers State following repeated attacks on their campaign rallies. The APC governorship candidate in the state, Tonye Cole’s campaign train was attacked in Opobo town, Opobo/Nkoro council yesterday, with a member of the party kidnapped and later released.

The attack, yesterday, is coming less than 24 hours after the Social Democratic Party  (SDP) governorship candidate, Senator Magnus Abe, escaped assassination when thugs attacked his campaign train at Mbiama in Ahoada West council. Similarly, the Accord governorship candidate, Dumo Lulu-Briggs, recently also suffered attack.

The Guardian gathered that the latest attack on APC campaign followed inability of the council chairman, Enyiada Cookey-Gam, to grant the request of the party to use the sand-field, a government-controlled facility, for its campaign.

The chairman said to have informed APC that given that there was a law that regulates the use of government controlled facilities, all they should do was to comply with it. The chairman was said to have waived the issue of advance notice, but insisted the said sum provided in law has to be paid.

It was learnt that APC, however, moved on to fix canopies at the venue, which resulted in resistance by some opposition supporters. In a viral video, bottles and some dangerous weapons, like cutlasses, were used during the attack.

APC chieftain in the state and 2015 governorship candidate, Dakuku Peterside, condemned the attack. Peterside, who hail from the area, accused the council chairman, Enyiada Cookey-Gam, of introducing violence into an area that has been insulated from political violence since 1999.

According to him, “it is a shame that the local government chairman will go the extent of attacking his fellow Opobo people because of politics, something that has never happened in our political history. This is a new low for a chairman, who has largely been incompetent and a stooge to an equally incompetent governorship candidate.”

Calls put to Cookey-Gam were ignored, but the Rivers State Police Command said it has launched an investigation into the attacks.

However, an APC chieftain and member of the party’s Presidential Campaign Council (PCC) in Rivers, Sir Tony Okocha, has condemned the party, its governorship and National Assembly candidates for leaving out the presidential candidate of APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, intheir campaigns.

He also called on the G-5 governors of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), popularly known as the ‘Integrity Group’, to support the presidential aspiration of Tinubu. Okocha called out the Rivers APC and its governorship candidate, Cole, during a press briefing in Port Harcourt yesterday.

He regretted that members of the APC in Rivers were still dwelling on events that led to the presidential primary, saying: “One would have thought that after the presidential primary that threw up the presidential candidate of our party that those who hitherto were averse to the candidate’s aspiration would have struggled to come out of what First Lady, Aisha Buhari, referred to as ‘trauma of defeat syndrome’ and worked conscientiously for the party’s victory. Unfortunately, the bile, anger, hurt and hatred that greeted the moment before the election are still very palpable.”

Okocha, who was former Chief of Staff to Governor Rotimi Amaechi, stated that since the APC in the state has been enmeshed in several disputes, the national body of the party should make the upcoming presidential campaign in the state a whole day event to settle the dispute in the state.