By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
Like the Biblical Zacchaeus who climbed the sycamore tree to see Jesus Christ, some supporters of President Muhammadu Buhari, on January 21, climbed the podium rooftop at the Ramat Square, Maiduguri, Borno State during the All Progressives Congress, APC, presidential campaign.
It was a hectic day for security agencies to control the mammoth crowd that trooped out to welcome the President in continuation of the presidential rally ahead of the February 16 election.
Apart from the stadium that was jam packed with people, both young and old, the streets of Maiduguri were full of heads.
The Presidential Campaign Team, which arrived the Air Force Base, Maiduguri aboard Nigerian Air Force One at about 10:35am, was received by Governor Kashim Shettima, his deputy, Usman Durkwa, the APC gubernatorial candidate for the state, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum, serving and former Ministers, Senator Ali Ndume, who is the coordinator of the APC Presidential Campaign for the North-East, other senators, ex- Governor Ali Modu Sheriff among other top dignitaries as well as party stalwarts.
The presidential team, on arrival, paid a courtesy call on the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Garbai Elkanemi, in his palace at about 11am before proceeding to Ramat Shopping Complex, venue of the rally.
The royal father thanked Mr. President for his commitment to the fight against Boko Haram in the region, and urged him to sustain the tempo following the renewed attacks recently.
Buhari earlier thanked the monarch for his support to government in the fight against insurgents, and said that government was doing everything possible to end the crisis in the North-East.
The President is generally believed to have ‘a cult-like’ followership in the North and having once been a military administrator in the North-Eastern State, it was like a home coming for him. Some of his supporters who could not see him because of the crowd resorted to climbing the roof top of a podium at the square to have a glimpse of Buhari.
Unfortunately, the podium crashed and some of the supporters reportedly died while others were injured but they cared less about the pains as long as they had seen their leader.
Buhari, in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, expressed his deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones and prayed that the injured recover quickly.
He said, “I am shocked to hear about the loss of lives following the tragic incident at the stadium this afternoon in Maiduguri. May Allah repose the souls of the deceased. I understand that the Borno State government, the Red Cross and other aid agencies are taking steps to help affected people. May Allah repose the souls of the deceased and heal the injured.”
Meanwhile, speaker after speaker at the rally showered encomium on the President and assured him of votes in the forthcoming election.
Governor Shettima, in his welcome address, called on the people of Borno to come out en masse on Election Day to massively cast their votes for Buhari.
According to him, since the President came into power on May 29, 2015, his administration has give priority to the restoration of peace in Borno and the states in the North-East.
He noted that the sustained fight and defeat of Boko Haram by the security forces had given hope to the people, especially the millions of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the region, through liberation of communities hitherto destroyed by insurgents.
The Presidential Team also received PDP stalwarts who defected to the APC. They include a former governor of Borno, Alhaji Mohammed Goni, a former PDP Chairman in the state, Baba Basharu, and a former senatorial candidate for Borno North on the platform of the PDP, Kaka Bolori.
Buhari, while addressing the mammoth crowd in Hausa language, said, in 2015, he promised Nigerians economic transformation, fight against corruption and insecurity.
He boasted that in the last three and a half years, the APC government had delivered on the three cardinal promises through agricultural revolution, constant investigation and apprehension of corrupt government officials without fear or favour and the sustained fight and defeat of Boko Haram insurgents and other criminals in the country.
“As your President, I want to assure you that our government will reciprocate all the support you have been rendering to our great party”, he said.
“The security situation is glaring that government has done wonderfully well, we will not relent, but strive to ensure total restoration of peace, as all of you have attested that this government is committed towards ending Boko Haram and other criminal activities in the country”.
He therefore called on the people of Borno to give their votes to all APC candidates so that they would all enjoy the dividends of democracy.
On his part, the National Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, used the rally to respond to criticisms from former President Olusegun Obasanjo regarding the current administration as he said that Obasanjo belonged to the crop of expired politicians and should confine himself to his farming business in Ota, Ogun State.
He said that Obasanjo disappointed the Yoruba people when he failed to recognize June 12 as Democracy Day, despite pressures mounted on him to do so and noted that for the fact that Buhari had the courage to recognize June 12 as Democracy Day, it was a point to show that he (Buhari) is a democrat.
He accused Obasanjo of championing rigging in Nigeria’s electoral process and therefore was incompetent to criticise Buhari over impunity.
“You can hear the other expired leaders like Obasanjo ranting and lying, don’t believe him, don’t trust him he is expired. We are sweeping all the cobwebs, dirt and corruption away to give Nigerians a new lease of life and hope, that is what Muhammadu Buhari is doing and we are with him one hundred percent”, Tinubu stated.
“The insecurity experienced under Obasanjo I think Ota should be enough retirement place to keep quiet. Who can recall the year 2003 election, who among Nigerians would not recall Obasanjo rigging excesses of 2007? I won’t spend my precious time doing that today, I will do that in the future, Buhari has been upright, firm, steady and focused with a great vision for the betterment of our country.
“No other President has upheld democratic principles as Muhammadu Buhari, we the Yoruba cannot forget in a hurry Obasanjo’s shenanigan, what he did in 1999 we gave it to him but he cannot remember for once and actualize MKOs mandate for June 12. He ruled 1999, 2003, 2007 we asked him for the recognition and actualization of that mandate, he failed, and who declared June 12 as democracy day, Muhammadu Buhari who then is a better democrat?”
The National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, also lambasted Obasanjo who had taken to the media, alleging that the Buhari administration was perfecting plans to rig the 2019 elections through the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and that impunity and insecurity were getting worse under the government.
But Oshiomhole said under Obasanjo the norm was that people drew subsidy claims when they had done little or no job and that Borno suffered unprecedented pains in the hands of terrorists even though funds were appropriated to fight the menace.
His words, “For too long, the challenge of our country is that there is no relationship between effort and reward. Yhose who make money are those who do not work. All you needed to be a wealthy man is to know somebody in the NNPC and you have your fake subsidy claims.
“From all the revelations that have been made, while Borno was under siege and the governor cried for help, the money appropriated for security was diverted to private pockets.”
While speaking on the podium collapse, a political group sympathetic to Buhari’s re-election, ‘We Believe’, condoled with the families of those who lost their lives in the incident.
Spokesperson for the group, Mr. Ifeanyi Godstime, expressed shock over the death of two persons suspected to be Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Dikwa Local Government Area of the state in the incident and prayed God to grant their souls eternal rest, and quick recovery for those who sustained injuries.