Thursday, February 19, 2015 10:08 am
An siege on the Lagos home of former Governor Bola Tinubu has continued to draw reactions
The news suddenly broke out last Tuesday and began to spread like wild fire. Soldiers had reportedly taken over Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s Bourdillon Road, Ikoyi, Lagos State home. Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State, western Nigeria, had championed the course of the All Progressives Congress, APC, the country’s main opposition party to a metamorphosis that now rings in the heart of every Nigerian, the world and, at least, those opposed to his soaring political profile.
Residents of the state started raising the alarm that heavily armed soldiers were entering Lagos and stationing at some strategic positions the previous Saturday just hours after the almost midnight announcement by by Jega that the 2015 general elections had been postponed. The elections, earlier fixed for 14 and 28 February got shifted to 28 March for the presidential and National Assembly elections and 11 April for the governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections. Many, who took to the various social interaction sites on the internet thought the presence of the soldiers could be the result of fear of a possible uprising. If nothing, the 2012 massive protest that resulted from President Goodluck Jonathan’s attempt to remove subsidy on premium motor spirit or petrol, is a case that would never be forgotten.
Tinubu’s media office which released the information that soldiers had laid siege to the home of the former governor said it was not possible to decipher their mission other than that they could have been stationed close to the entrance of the house to target the leader of the opposition and probably politicians and visitors who daily throng his home for appointments and meetings.
Interestingly, however, while Tinubu’s party, supporters and Nigerians were trying to digest the news, soldiers again, reportedly stormed the Owerri, Imo State office of Governor Rochas Okorocha, allegedly on the orders of Professor Viola Onwuliri, Nigeria’s Minister of State for Education. Onwuliri, whose party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, forms the government at the centre, had been at loggerheads with Governor Okorocha, a member of the opposition APC.
The PDP is currently campaigning to take power from Okorocha in the 2015 governorship election in which the governor is seeking a second term in office. Though it was not clear for what purpose, Onwuliri gathered women, most of them widows, and led a protest to the Government House. As early as 6.30am, the protesters marched through the streets, after gathering at Okigwe Road. They were chanting anti-Okorocha slogans as they marched along with a mock coffin.
Okorocha was not at the Government House at that time, but as the protesters approached, they were dispersed by a a team of security men attached to the Government House. Some of them left. When they returned a few minutes later, it was with soldiers. These soldiers, a detachment from the 34 Artillery Brigade, immediately brought down their might on any government official identified by the protesting women. Many of these officials as well as those the governor called innocent citizens, received the beating of their lives.
Through with their supposed mission, the soldiers stationed their Armoured Personnel Carrier at the entrance of the Government House, further heightening the tension that had been generated by the recent political activities in many parts of the country.
Governor Okorocha, who saw this as a perplexing situation, arrived the scene later, followed by thousands of supporters made of women and youths. To him, the PDP in his state, led by Professor Onwuliri, had taken laws into her hands and with the support of President Jonathan, had decided to set the Government House ablaze. He said to effectively carry out their act, Onwuliri and her people hired thugs dressed in women attires from neighbouring Abia State. “Onwuliri claimed to have the support of President Goodluck Jonathan to seal off the Government House, so she invited soldiers to beat up innocent people and this will not be accepted. Her mission was to set the Government House ablaze, using soldiers to perpetrate the crime,” Okorocha disclosed amid denial from Brigadier-General L.M. Bello, Commander of the 34 Brigade. “The Army should not allow itself to be used to truncate the nation’s democracy. If they try this again, they will see the wrath of Imo people,” Okorocha declared further.
In his denial, Bello said the soldiers were invited to disperse the crowd and restore peace adding that he was present at the scene and that his men did not assault anybody as alleged by witnesses.
Tinubu’s case is different from the Owerri saga. In the case of Tinubu, his media office and the former governor think it is a ploy to silence him. At least, 30 soldiers in three patrol vans and army truck were said to have laid siege to the area where he lives for the past three days beginning from 11pm on Sunday, hours after the postponement of the election. More frightening, as deduced from the statement was that nobody knew their mission
“They stationed about 500 meters away from Tinubu’s gate. Later they moved close to his gate as if they wanted to enter the premises. The stern looking soldiers were around for hours on Sunday and returned on Monday to continue their surveillance. On Monday night about 10.45pm, they returned to the residence in two army vans and were there throughout the night. Some of the soldiers discharged from the van and walked back and forth in front of the house and around the house,” the statement explained, noting that on Tuesday morning, two vans from the army were stationed on both sides of the house with their mission shrouded in secrecy.
The media office said in spite of this attempt to muzzle the opposition for which Tinubu, “an unrelenting critic of the maladministration of the Jonathan-led PDP government,” represents, the former governor remained emphatically resolute and committed to the path of change in Nigeria and the liberating manifesto of his party. “The exact mission of the soldiers is not known but it fits clearly into a new pattern of intimidation of leaders of the APC and the opposition. The recent massing of soldiers for three days now at Tinubu’s gate might be part of a broader plan by the Jonathan presidency to intimidate Tinubu and his political associates and scare him from making provocative statements or building a broad coalition against the present government as he did during the NADECO days,” the statement explained urging Nigerians to realise that the military has abandoned its statutory role and have now been dragged into partisan politics just as he alerted Nigerians to hold Jonathan responsible for any harm or danger that comes to him from the unknown soldiers.
While the information spread, Governor Babatunde Fashola also announced to a crowd at a campaign rally in the Ejigbo area of Lagos State that the PDP and presidency were so scared that they have resorted to using soldiers on opponents. Fashola announced that in the last three days, they (the Presidency and the PDP) deployed soldiers to the home of Asiwaju. “Every night, they send a truck load of soldiers to his home. But I have news for them, we will not be intimidated by their actions. Our votes will speak for us. Let me remind them that if Yar’Adua was alive, the owner of this mandate, he will be preparing to leave the office now. When President Goodluck Jonathan was seeking for our votes in 2011, he didn’t deploy soldiers to our homes, rather he was begging us. He said that he had no shoes. And after he assumed office, he has since inflicted pains on us. After giving him 1.2 million votes, we have no minister and that shows that he doesn’t care about Lagos. But we need to let him know that Lagos is unique,” he said.
The Lagos chapter of the APC, which also condemned the siege on Tinubu’s house, said it was a clear and present danger that the ambition of President Goodluck Jonathan to hang onto power is prodding Nigeria into disaster. Joe Igbokwe, the party’s Publicity Secretary in the state, described the act as a brazen show of despotism and an intimidation against Tinubu’s rising influence and popularity while warning that Jonathan would plunge Nigeria into intractable crisis.
Igbokwe noted that for the PDP to think that after fighting the military to a standstill, Tinubu should be intimidated by “the impotent show of force by a dying, failed regime and its scared enablers,” then the party must have its head examined.
“Ever since PDP felt that Tinubu is the single most dreaded force against its crave for more irresponsible power, it had spared nothing in trying to contain the political force our National Leader has become. Its gamut of smear propaganda, procured with the trillions of Naira that have been audaciously stolen from the country’s treasury by the PDP and officials of the Jonathan regime, have failed woefully as Tinubu continues to rise in the political orbit of the country,” Igbokwe’s statement said, noting that the use of soldiers is an attempt to intimidate and harass Tinubu as one of the desperate efforts by a dying regime to arrest the forces of history.
The APC described the siege as a brazen display of brute force in the series of the criminal misuse of the army which should be fighting the rampaging Boko Haram insurgents but have been turned into the enforcement wing of PDP’s inordinate selfish ambition. As expected, Igbokwe said it was a pity that while poor countries like Niger and Chad are sending troops to fight insurgents in Nigeria, the country’s troops are being deployed to fight the opposition and intimidate the nation for the sole purpose of forcing through the ambition for continuation by the Jonathan government.
But Major-General Tamubomiebi Dibi, the General Officer Commanding, GOC, 81 Division, Lagos, described the alleged siege on Tinubu’s residence as mischievous allegation by his media office. Dibi called the allegation a ruse stating that no politician in Lagos, including Tinubu was under military watch list.
He said though soldiers in the Lagos State Security initiative, the Operation Mesa and Quick Response Group had always been on patrol in the Ikoyi and Victoria Island areas, no soldier was specifically deployed to keep surveillance on the APC leader. “Why should we deploy soldiers to monitor Bola Tinubu? There is no need for it as he has not done anything wrong,” he stressed and added that his men, through their involvement in QRG and OP Mesa organised by Lagos state, had contributed to the peace being enjoyed in Lagos and would therefore not lay siege to Tinubu’s home.
If the alleged siege on Tinubu and the deployment of soldiers in Okorocha’s office was irritating to the APC, then it was yet to see enough of the harassment. Last Thursday morning, police officers stormed the NNPC Quarters, Area 11, Abuja home of Garba Shehu, the Director of Media and Publicity of the APC Presidential Campaign Organisation, in what the APC called a continued harassment and intimidation of the party’s leadership by security agencies. While Tinubu and Okorocha were not prevented from moving about their normal duties, Lai Mohammed, the party’s National Publicity Secretary, said the armed policemen who stormed who surrounded the building as early as 3am on Thursday, made it impossible for the campaign organisation’s spokesman to even go to the mosque for prayers.
The party, which urged people to take note of the happenings, said going after the spokesman of its party’s Presidential Campaign Organisation was aimed at muffling the organisation’s voice and abridging the constitutionally-guaranteed rights of the spokesman himself describing it more as antithetic to democracy and totally unacceptable. The party then called on those who sent the armed security personnel to Garba’s residence to immediately order their withdrawal and tell Nigerians his offence to warrant such harassment because coming after the siege by armed troops on the residence of the Tinubu, in Lagos and the Imo State Government House in Owerri, “it is now clear that the Jonathan administration has finally launched its much-anticipated clampdown on the opposition ahead of the general elections. The PDP and the Jonathan administration are bent on badgering the opposition through the harassment, intimidation and arrest…These actions are all aimed at fomenting a crisis and scuttling the forthcoming elections.”
The police was yet to comment at the time of this report, but analysts are not finding this new strategy funny. President Goodluck Jonathan had on Wednesday evening spent a time during the eighth edition of his periodic Media Chat to lament the heavy criticisms he had been forced to bear from both Nigerians and the opposition. He confessed that he got a little aggressive at the flag-off of his campaign for re-election in Lagos because of the way the opposition had attacked him and his government.