A protest by leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) over the outcome of the Osun State governorship election yesterday in Abuja took a dramatic turn when policemen released teargas canisters to disperse them as they approached the national headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force.
The party leaders, who had earlier stormed the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) , wanted to register their grievance over the way the Osun governorship election was conducted. They also warned against any moves to replicate same in the 2019 general elections.
LEADERSHIP Weekend recalls that INEC had announced Oyetola as governor-elect after a supplementary election in which he defeated the candidate of the PDP, Ademola Adeleke, by a slim margin of less that 500 votes. Adeleke had led with 352 votes in the first ballot but INEC ordered a rerun in seven wards due to irregularities. In the rerun which Oyetola won, the PDP cried foul that the police connived with APC to prevent its members from voting.
Leading the protest was the Senate president, Dr Bukola Saraki, and national chairman of PDP, Prince Uche Secondus. Other party stalwarts at the protest were Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal, Senator Datti Baba Ahmed, Sen Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Gombe State Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo, former governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, Taraba State Governor Darius Ishaku and Sen Dino Melaye.
They described the declaration of APC’s Gboyega Oyetola as the winner of the governorship election as a call to civil unrest, even as they criticised the conduct of security agents at the just concluded poll.
Most of the protesters wore white T-shirts and carried placards with various inscriptions such as: ‘Declare Adeleke winner of the Osun State governorship election’, ‘INEC Chairman Must Resign’, ‘Police an arm of APC’, ‘INEC, Enough is Enough,’ among others.
They drove in an open truck from the INEC office. However at the entrance of Force Headquarters, the protesters were denied access to the premises as policemen mounted a barricade.
An attempt by Sen Melaye who was at the forefront of the protests to force his way in was resisted by policemen who fired several shots and teargas canisters to disperse the crowd, sending the protesters scampering in different directions.
The other PDP leaders who were in a truck, however, used handkerchiefs to cover their faces to prevent suffocation, while those on foot scampered for safety.
Earlier, addressing the crowd at INEC headquarters, Secondus asked the INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, and the Commission’s National Commissioner in charge of Operations, Amina Zaraki, to resign.
“The country is sleeping on a keg of gun powder, you know it. If you feel that Nigerians are not aware of the activities of INEC and police, you are deceiving yourselves. You are pushing Nigerians to the wall, and when you push them to the wall, there would be resistance. We hope we will not get there, but this will serve as a notice.
“Therefore we demand that INEC chairman should resign. Amina Zakariyau should resign. She is the manipulator of all elections.
“Let me address Mr President, Muhammadu Buhari: you cannot continue to give instructions to security agents to carry out your agenda, instead of protecting Nigerians. You cannot change the will of the people by force. Take note and stop directing the security agencies and INEC to rig elections. You must come out clean. What we expect from you is to conduct a free and fair election,” he said.
On his part, Senate President Bukola Saraki told INEC not to draw Nigeria’s democratic march backwards.
“We are here representing millions of Nigerians to speak to you, INEC: you have a responsibility by law, by the constitution to do what is right to all Nigerians.
“Enough is enough of elections that are not credible. Enough is enough of impunity. Enough is enough of harassments. INEC, you met a standard, don’t take us back. Nigeria has raised the standard of electoral processes, take us forward, don’t take us backward,” he said, adding that the last two elections conducted by the electoral umpire were a sham.
He further remarked that the night before, the Senate and Congress in the United States had issued a statement demanding credible polls in Nigeria, even as he reminded INEC that it was not an arm of the APC.
“You represent the entire Nigeria, and Nigerians are saying give us free and credible election.
“Be courageous and bold to stand for the truth, because tomorrow, history will judge you. We stand here to say we don’t want favours, just give us free and fair election.
Also the chairman of the PDP governors Forum, Ayo Fayose, who doubles as Ekiti State governor, said, “We want to let INEC know a few things and remind them that the damage done to this country is enough. The damage done to our democracy and by extension the common man is enough.
“If the people cannot choose their leader anymore, then we are in trouble. We are not asking for favours, this country and this INEC belong to Nigerians and Nigerians must be respected by allowing them to make a choice.
“If Jonathan had behaved this way, we would not have a Buhari in power. We had a Buhari in power because somebody thought the rights of Nigerians must not be trampled upon by INEC.”
On his part, the Sokoto State governor and presidential aspirant, Aminu Tambuwal, said, “Chairman of INEC and members of the commission, we are addressing here directly on behalf of millions of Nigerians. Our demands is simple, we demand for free, fair and credible elections all throughout this country. I believe that chairman of INEC, before this temporary assignment, you have a history and you have a record.
“Don’t allow anybody no matter how high to use you to undermine the will of Nigerians. You cannot suppress us, you can not intimidate us. Elections in Nigeria must be held freely and fairly, and whoever wins should be given the mandate. That is what we want and we shall take nothing less.”
Other PDP leaders spoke in similar vein.
Responding, INEC Commissioner in charge of Legal Matters, May Agbamuche-Mbu, expressed the commission’s determination to deliver free, credible and fair general elections in 2019.
“I want to thank you, and inform you all that Professor Mahmud Yakubu would have received you all. The commission takes this demonstration very seriously. We are happy that the protest is peaceful and carried out in civilised manner.
“INEC is up to this job; we are all here in INEC as professionals and not politicians. We are going to do our best come 2019. I must say we are a team, and decisions are made by the commission and not by any individual. All your comments have been noted and it will be passed to the chairman and the entire commission,” she said.
In its reaction, the national leadership of PDP has described what transpired in Osun State election as dastardly, unwarranted and unprovoked.
The PDP national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, however said that no amount of attacks, aggression or acts of intimidation will deter it from confronting and dismantling what it called the rigging machinery of the ruling APC and win in 2019.
The statement said, “The whole world was shocked when the police physically assaulted, fired teargas canisters and violently dispersed our party leaders who were on a peaceful protest to the Force Headquarters, Abuja, over the use of police by the APC to rig elections, particularly the September 22, 2018 Osun State governorship election.
“Acting on “orders from above”, the police assaulted our elected leaders, including our national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, Senate President Bukola Saraki, Ekiti Governor Ayo Fayose, our presidential aspirants, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, Bar. Kabiru Tanimu, and Mallam Sule Lamido, among others.
“If the police, which ought to protect the people, the law and the democratic process, could show such violent aggression on notable leaders, then it can no longer be trusted with the welfare and safety of regular citizens.
“One can only imagine the level of violence that is being daily unleashed on our citizens by the APC- control federal police.”
The PDP added that the police action was meant to scare and intimidate its members, even as the party called on all Nigerians and the international community to rise up and condemn APC’s use of state apparatus of power against law abiding citizens and groups.
“We are now determined to face all force of intimidation until we return our nation to the path of rule of law, good governance and national cohesion,” it added
..Police Statement On PDP Protest Laughable – Saraki
Consequently, the Senate president, Bukola Saraki has deplored the statement released by the police to cover up the crude and dehumanising treatment meted out on leaders of the opposition PDP during their protest march against what he termed the ‘’infamous role’’ allegedly played by INEC in the just concluded controversial Osun State governorship election.
In a statement signed by the special adviser to the Senate president on media and publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu, Saraki described the police statement in which three senators, himself, Senators Dino Melaye and Ben Murray-Bruce, and many leaders of the PDP, including three governors, a former governor, presidential aspirants and members of the National Working Committee, were singled out and accused of involving “in the disturbance of public safety, unlawful blockade of Shehu Shagari Way…., causing innocent people to scamper for safety and violent attack on policemen posted to ensure security of Force Headquarters, pushing and hitting the policemen to forcefully enter the Force Headquarters to cause damage to police equipment and properties”, as not only laughable but crude and reflects another low point in the posture of the police against the opposition in the country.
He described the protest carried out by leaders of the opposition as an exercise of their constitutional rights of assembly, expression and movement.
“The purpose was to express the opposition of the PDP to the manner in which the electoral body and the security agencies had been colluding with the ruling APC to manipulate election results and subvert the will of the people, as evidenced by the conduct of the gubernatorial elections in Ekiti and Osun states.
“We wanted to send a clear signal that such official subversion of the will of the people in favour of the APC should not be repeated in the 2019 elections,’’ he explained.
In the statement, Saraki said he could not but wonder after registering their grievances at the INEC secretariat, where two national commissioners of INEC responded to the complaints raised in a civilised, frank and enlightened manner devoid of any rancour, why the police had to rain tear gas on the people in a display ‘’that deliberately targeted the open vans in which the Senate President and other VIPs were standing while in a peaceful procession on the other side of the road by Eagle Square leading to the police headquarters”.
He noted that as peace loving and law abiding citizens, they had to make diversion to the Area 11 Junction leading to FCDA as the best way to avoid a repeat of the 2003 event in which a similar teargassing event led to the death of a former Senate president, Dr Chuba Okadigbo.
He said that despite ‘’the hostile, brutal, needless tactless and uncivil response of the police under the present leadership of Mr. Ibrahim Kpotum Idris to the peaceful, lawful and justified procession’’ which he described as being ‘’in contrast to how the same police responded to a similar protest by the opposition in 2014, the fabrication of lies as contained in the press statement realised by the police ‘’only show the new police leadership as mere jesters trying to hone their skills in comic script-writing.’’
…Osun Poll Protesters Mentally Unstable – Aregbesola
Meanwhile, the Osun State governor, Rauf Aregbesola, has berated those who openly protested in Abuja over the recent declaration of the APC candidate, Gboyega Oyetola, as the winner of the recent governorship poll in the state, describing them as mentally unstable.
Aregbesola, who brought Oyetola to visit President Muhammadu Buhari at the Aso Rock Villa shortly after the protest, said it was irresponsible of those who participated in the protests to do so, knowing that the outcome of the election is currently being contested in court.
The governor, who was accompanied by his Kano State counterpart and chairman of the APC Osun governorship campaign council chairman, Umar Ganduje, insisted that Oyetola won the election convincingly.
He said, “I will not even respond to this because what you are referring to is a charade, an act of gross irresponsibility from people who ought to know that after an election, the only option left for every responsible citizen is to go to the tribunal.
“And again, interestingly, the other party the party was defeated in the election is already at the tribunal. I don’t now know what the protest you are talking about is meant to do. If you are already in court and you are still doing a street protest, either you are not mentally stable or you need psychiatric attention.”