A statement claimed the special security squad that carried out the search confessed they were directed by the Presidency to embarrass the former vice president.
Romanus Ugwu, Molly Kilete, Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
Former vice president Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has described the search on his plane by special security squad at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, as an attempt to intimidate him.
READ ALSO: Why Atiku’s plane was searched – Sirika
Writing via his twitter handle @atiku, the presidential standard bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who returned to Nigeria from Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, yesterday, said: “I arrived to Abuja
this morning 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.”
Atiku who returned from Dubai in a private jet at about 1:30 am condemned the search by state agents.
Atiku relocated to Dubai, alongside top PDP chieftains, to “strategise” for the February 16, 2019 presidential election, away from the prying eyes of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC.)
Although Atiku did not mention the specific security operatives that conducted the search on him, the Federal Government, the PDP and the police have disagreed on the operation.
According to the Federal Government, the search was a routine exercise that applied to all international arrivals.
Minister of State, Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said while it was 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.
He claimed that the public outcry that followed the routine exercise was a mischievous attempt to grab headlines.
He described the checks as mandatory, conventional, internationally applied and routine, adding that no one is excused from them under the nation’s laws.
While urging law-abiding citizens to respect the laws of the country, Sirika advised prominent Nigerians not to seek to be treated over and above the citizens they wish to serve.
“This is a mischievous attempt to grab the headlines. 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.
“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.”
The Police Force Headquarters in Abuja also defended the action as it said there was nothing unconstitutional about the search.
Force Public Relations Officer, Jimoh Moshood, who made this known in an interview with Daily Sun, however, denied involvement of the police in the search.
He said security agents have the right to search anybody irrespective of their status in the society except those who have immunity.
“I want you to know that it is part of police responsibility to search everybody.
“There is nobody that has immunity except those people that are stipulated in the law to have immunity.
“The police have the right to search when there is suspicion. They have the right to search on reasonable suspicions. Anybody can be searched, nobody is above the law.
It is only in Nigeria that somebody will say because he is this or that he shouldn’t be subject to police proceedings.
“Across the world everybody is a citizen and the police has the authority to carry out the search
Notwithstanding the explanations, thePDPand Senator Ben Bruce-Murray condemned the search.
The PDP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, yesterday, said it was shocked by the “harassment” of its presidential candidate at the airport by a “deadly” security squad acting on “orders from above “.
The opposition party said President Muhammadu Buhari should not forget that as opposition presidential candidate in the 2015 general elections, he made several trips out of the country and was never harassed the then federal government for once.
“It was shocking when the deadly squad, in a Gestapo style attack, and acting on ‘orders from above’ rushed our candidate immediately he landed and attempted to physically manhandle him before invading his aircraft with dangerous weapons to conduct a violent search.
“While they did not find anything incriminating on our presidential candidate, this deadly squad violently tampered with certain personal documents and gadgets belonging to him, including some of his campaign documents.
“The PDP completely rejects such violence against the person of our presidential candidate by the Buhari Presidency, which we know has been jittery over Atiku Abubakar’s soaring popularity since his emergence as our 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 Buhari Presidency and the APC should bear in mind that this is an attack on our democracy and the collective sensibility of the overwhelming majority of Nigerians, across board, who have accepted the choice of Atiku Abubakar as Nigeria’s next president and they will vigorously deploy every means available in a democracy to defend him and our democratic process.
“PDP is for peace, but we will not accept this recourse to violence, which we believe is orchestrated to directly harm our 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.
“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.”
Murray-Bruce, in a tweet on his verified Twitter handle @benmurraybruce, said: “I totally condemn this reckless harassment of @atiku the candidate of the @OfficialPDPNig as he landed in Abuja. Nigeria is not a fascist state. We will not return to jackboot dictatorship. This government should face Atiku at the polls, not with force.”
Also reacting, former deputy national spokesman of APC, Timi Frank, alleged that part of the plot was to drop bags of foreign currencies and other implicating things in Atiku’s aircraft.
In a statement, Frank claimed the special squad of security that carried out the search confessed that they were directed by the Presidency to embarrass the former vice president.
The squad, he alleged, were 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.
“Due to information at our disposal, I have been saying it that the PDP presidential candidate is not safe under this administration because the Buhari’s administration is deploying all manners of devilish strategies to nail all the opposition leaders especially, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.”