The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other Nigerians have reacted to the search on Atiku Abubakar, the PDP presidential candidate, by security agents at Abuja airport on Sunday.
Mr Abubakar who arrived Nigeria on Sunday, mentioned on Twitter that he was searched by airport officials.
“I arrived to Abuja this morning to a search by agents of the state, aimed at intimidating me and my staff,” Mr Abubakar said on his Twitter handle shortly before 4:00 p.m. Sunday. “I am committed to building a Nigeria where no citizen is intimidated by agents of state who are paid to protect them.”
He did not elaborate on the search.
However, the aviation minister, Hadi Sirika described Mr Abubakar’s claim as a ”mischievous attempt to grab the headlines.”
“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,” the official said, dismissing Mr Abubakar’s outcry.
While the PDP condemned the act, some Nigerians criticised Mr Abubakar for exaggeration.
The PDP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan said the party was shocked when it heard that the “deadly squad, in a gestapo style attack, and acting on orders from the above rushed Atiku after landing the Abuja airport and attempted to physically manhandle him before invading his aircraft with dangerous weapons to conduct a violent search.”
The party said, “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 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.”
The party said an attack on Mr Abubakar is “an attack on democracy” and this “would be resisted by Nigerians”.
“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.
“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.”
Also, Ben Murray-Bruce, a PDP senator while reacting on Twitter condemned the search.
“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 a jackboot dictatorship. This government should face Atiku at the polls, not with force.”
An ex-aide to former president Goodluck Jonathan, Reno Omokri, accused President Muhammadu Buhari of being afraid of ‘losing’.
“@Atiku just returned to Nigeria and @MBujari sent a team of Army, Police, Custom & Immigration officers to surround then search his plane. What were they hoping to find? What is Buhari afraid of? Why this harassment? If Buhari performed would he be afraid of losing?
“Why did @MBuhari order such a large military force to surround and search the plane of @Atiku, the Presidential candidate of the @OfficialPDPNig? Was he hoping that they’d find his non existing @WAECNigeria certificate? Our security should face Boko Haram not Atiku,” he said.
Atiku’s running mate in next year’s presidential election, Mr Peter Obi also tweeted his displeasure about the incident.
”The sin of HE @atiku is that he is the presidential candidate of the opposition @officialPDPNg. We will continue to work and strategise to get Nigeria working again.”
However, many Nigerians knocked Mr Abubakar for crying wolf where there was none.
“@atiku does not want to be searched at Nigerian airports, he wants to walk pass security screening without being frisked. That isn’t leadership. If you aspire to lead, you must aspire to follow. @hadisirika kindly commend the Aviation Staff for complying with ICAO regulations” says Kayode Ogundamisi, a public affairs commentator.
@Ayekooto said: “Same GOVERNMENT that arrested a man who threatened to kill you recently cannot intimidate you. It is you, even in your old age, that has decided to be petty and read political meanings to official duty. Just like the man who threatened to kill you, you are not also above the law!”
Also, a Twitter user, @Ediong said: “Atiku lied to score political point. That’s the Koko. Dude has less than 6k staff. Let them prove me otherwise. Intels have 5k staff. Faro Water 197 staff. Radio 125 staff. Wetin again him get? Abi he counts his Twitter followers as staff too?”