- Ex-VP: Agents of state intimidating me, my staff
- PDP: It’s attack on democracy
- FG: No, it’s a routine check
There was outrage yesterday as security operatives searched the private jet of former Vice President and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as he and his political associates touched down at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. The incident occurred as Atiku, who had been on a strategic retreat in Dubai, United Arab Emirates since his election as the candidate of the PDP for the 2019 election, returned to the country.
The main opposition political party, the PDP, has described the incident as an attack on democracy, but the Federal Government has dismissed the incident as a routine check conducted on passengers coming into Nigeria. New Telegraph gathered that as soon as the jet landed at about 1a.m., a team of security operatives, drawn mainly from the Department of State Services (DSS), cordoned off the area while some of them went into the plane to conduct a search on it and its occupants. The swift operation lasted for about 30 minutes, but it was not clear what the motive was or whether they obtained a search warrant from any court before they embarked on the search. The former Vice President who confirmed the incident on hisTwitter handle said: “I arrived to Abuja this morning (Sunday) to a search by agents of the state, aimed at intimidating me and my staff. “I am committed to building a Nigeria where no citizen is intimidated by agents of state who are paid to protect them.”
However, DSS has denied reports that its personnel searched Atiku’s private jet. A senior official of the agency, who spoke to New Telegraph in confidence because he was not authorised to comment on the matter, said that the secret service had no hand in the alleged raid on Atiku’s private jet. In a swift reaction, the PDP said the search on the aircraft was an attack on the nation’s democracy.
The party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said it was shocked at the gestapo style attack on Atiku and said it was borne out of jittery by the All Progressives Congress (APC) over Atiku’s soaring popularity since his emergence as PDP presidential candidate. “We invite the world to note that having failed to drag down our presidential candidate with spurious allegations and smear campaign, the APC has now resorted to state-backed violence against him and must be held responsible should any harm befall him or any member of his campaign team,” the PDP warned. The party said it is for peace, but said it would not accept this recourse to violence, which it added was orchestrated to directly harm its presidential candidate, “foist a siege mentality on the system and set the stage for series of coordinated violence, ostensibly to truncate a peaceful conduct of the 2019 general election.” PDP warned that overwhelming majority of Nigerians, across board, who have accepted Atiku as Nigeria’s next President, would deploy every means available in a democracy to defend him and the nation’s democratic process.
“Today, Atiku Abubakar, as a presidential candidate, has the highest demography of supporters and volunteers across our nation and we will not hesitate to call them out in defence of democracy if another such attempt is made against our candidate. “Nigeria is not a conquered territory and anybody that wants to foist a totalitarian regime on our land will be firmly resisted,” PDP assured. It reminded President Muhammadu Buhari that as a presidential candidate, he had occasions to travel out of the country and the government in power then did not besiege or harass him in any way. “His administration should, therefore, not introduce such violence in our democratic space,” the party warned. Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika has, however, described the reports of a raid on Atiku’s jet as a “mischievous attempt to grab the headlines.” Sirika, who confirmed that a search was conducted on the private aircraft, said it was a routine check by the Task Force on Currency which is stationed at the airport for that purpose.
“For the records, all incoming passengers on international flights go through Customs, Immigration, health and security screening. Where the aircraft is using the private charter wing, as the PDP candidate did, such arrivals are met by a team of the Immigration, Customs and other security agencies. They go to the arriving aircraft as a team. “The airport authorities confirm that this is a routine process, applying to all international arrivals, including the minister, unless the passenger is the President of Nigeria. The President, the Vice President and passengers aboard planes on the Presidential Air Fleet use the Presidential Wing of the airport. “It is also important to state that even in the Presidential Wing of the airport the President of Nigeria uses, there is the presence of Immigration and other security officials who must stamp his or her passport on arrival. “By standard procedure, all aircraft on international arrivals must, first of all, park at the international wing of the aircraft. They can move to the domestic terminal only upon the completion of the arrival processes.
“While it is true that the Task Force on Currency at the airport did the routine action of checking the former Vice President’s travel bag, he was accorded full respect as a senior citizen. These checks are mandatory, conventional, internationally applied and routine. No one is excused from them under our laws. These checks are carried out on all international arrivals and President Buhari does not get involved in them. “Law-abiding citizens are encouraged to respect the laws of the country and our VIPs should not seek to be treated over and above the citizens they wish to serve. Nigerians need to know that one of the resolutions of the Atiku team at their recently-concluded, opulently-held Dubai retreat was to embark on scaremongering.
This is one of such,” Sirika said. Meanwhile, a former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Timi Frank, has berated security agencies for their action, alleging that Atiku was thoroughly searched by security men deployed by the presidency to embarrass the PDP presidential candidate. According to him, the security operatives came armed with recording gadgets in anticipation of finding incriminating items on board the aircraft, but found nothing at the end of the search. Frank alleged that the plan was to drop bags of foreign currencies and other implicating things in Atiku’s aircraft on his arrival, but this was not successful. He said the special squad of security men who carried out the search confessed that they were directed by the presidency to embarrass the former Vice President. He claimed that the squad was armed with recording gadgets in and out of Atiku’s aircraft “to see if he returned to the country with foreign currencies or any other implicating materials.”
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