There was pandemonium at the headquarters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday as former Vice President Atiku Abubakar submitted his presidential nomination form.
The event, which should have been a simple ceremony cheered by supporters, was marred by a stampede and gunshots as people scampered to safety.
Atiku enthusiasts with posters of the aspirant and PDP insignias had arrived at the venue as early as 9:00 a.m. The contestant himself came at about 12:00 p.m. in a convoy of branded campaign vehicles.
Trouble broke out, however, when persons armed with machetes and sticks were seen pursuing people. The ensuing panic resulted in a stampede at the front gate of the premises.
The footage of the incident showed a mass of mostly women and some men jammed helplessly on ground as concerned individuals rushed to their rescue.
An attempt by a number of Atiku supporters to confront the attackers inflamed the situation as a fight broke out.
A man believed to be a supporter of Atiku was beaten and was saved by the intervention of some policemen attached to the secretariat.
An eyewitness, who is also a fan of the former vice president, said: “The fight started when some thugs with APC posters attacked us along Michael Okpara Street opposite the party secretariat. The APC supporters started singing a song against the supporters of the former vice president. The supporters of Atiku retaliated and a fight ensued.”
Some Atiku backers claimed the thugs were sent to disrupt the event and portray the aspirant in a bad light.
Shots fired into the air by the police in a bid to restore order merely worsened the situation, heightening confusion and fear in the minds of the people.
Atiku, in a statement signed by his media adviser, Paul Ibe, condemned the incident by persons he described as troublemakers. He urged his supporters to show restraint in the face of provocation. He also praised the police for containing the situation, adding that he wanted the PDP’s presidential ticket to “get Nigeria working again.”
The party, in its own statement, said: “The whole world witnessed with dismay how APC thugs, brandishing their party’s famished brooms and charms, armed with machetes and other dangerous weapons, stormed our national secretariat, which has become a beehive of activities and attacked and wounded our members and supporters before they were dispelled by security operatives.”
The opposition party said it had repeatedly “warned against APC’s proclivity for violence and unprovoked attacks, but we never imagined that their desperation for power will drive them to the insanity of attacking our national secretariat.
“Intelligence report available to the PDP shows that the thugs were assembled and mobilised from the national secretariat of the APC. We therefore charge security agencies, who also witnessed this attack, to immediately investigate this development, arrest and prosecute all individuals and officials of the APC connected with it.”
The party noted further that all social, economic and political indicators had shown that the game was up for President Muhammadu Buhari ahead of the 2019 general election, in spite of “the many anti-democratic machinations of the presidency and the APC.”
It said Buhari’s alleged bid to use his veto to frustrate the amendment to the Electoral Act, showed that the president and his party were now clutching at straws. It also criticised “the use of a shadowy group as a front to purchase the N45 million APC nomination form for Buhari as a worn-out stunt, smacking of fraud and worsening the already battered image of the president.”
The APC, however, dismissed claims it staged the attack at the PDP secretariat. A founding member, Prince Tony Momoh, cautioned Nigerians not to be deceived by the accusation. He said such finger-pointing was common to democracy and should only be believed after a thorough investigation.
Also, some residents of Okitipupa in Okitipupa Local Government Area (LGA) of Ondo State fled for dear life yesterday as unknown persons invaded and disrupted activities at the APC secretariat.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the thugs destroyed parts of the secretariat, setting flags ablaze and tearing up the posters of candidates vying for various positions.
A witness, who preferred anonymity, said the assailants, chanting solidarity songs, came in large numbers and besieged the premises. “Their action is not unconnected with the alleged mishandling of delegates’ lists and names submitted for ward positions by some party leaders at the state level,” he said.
He said the attackers threatened there would be no peace during the forthcoming chairmanship and councillorship elections in the local government unless the will of the people was respected.
APC chairman in the LGA, Bode Ikulala, confirmed the incident.
He said: “I was in Akure when the incident happened. They told me that some people came to destroy things at the secretariat over an alleged change in delegates’ lists, which were yet to be released, even as we speak.
“Those people are certainly not APC members because if a husband and his wife have differences, for instance, and the house is destroyed, when they later settle, where will they live?”
He said the situation would be brought under control, as he had already contacted the police.
The Ondo State government will conduct elections for chairmen and councilors in the 18 LGAs of the state in December.
In another development, the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT) barred its members from supporting and campaigning for any aspirant.
Rising from a meeting in Abuja, the BoT chairman, Senator Walid Jibril, warned: “If you are a member of the BoT, you remain the conscience of the party. They should not move about with any aspirant. That was what happened during the last national convention when we elected the national chairman. Some of us went and pitched camp with aspirants, taking them all over the place. This time, we will not allow that to happen. Anyone of us who moves about with any aspirant should resign from the BoT. We are the ones that settle complaints. But if we are involved, it will not be fair.”