The campaign rally of the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, in Maduguri, the Borno State capital, was disrupted by a rowdy, uncontrollable crowd, resulting in a stampede and gunshots, as security agents tried to control the multitude of people who had come out to see Buhari, THIS DAY reported.
The state government had declared yesterday a public holiday in Borno, to allow the people give a rousing welcome to the presidential candidate who was at a time the governor of the defunct Northeastern State with Maiduguri as its capital.
Apparently obeying the government’s directive, thousands of people thronged the streets making it difficult for vehicular movement, while gaining access to the Ramat Square, venue of the rally, was almost impossible for hundreds of people who thronged out to see Buhari.
Even Buhari’s motorcade, which took off from the airport at 10 am, could not get to the palace of the Shehu of Borno, a distance of about five kilometres till 11.10 am, as it was difficult to pass through the major roads filled with supporters who had come out in droves to welcome the former military head of state.
At the Shehu’s palace, Buhari said: “I was here in 1975 as governor of the defunct Northeastern State and I am happy that I have received befitting welcome. If elected, I will focus on tackling the persistent insecurity affecting the North-east. But it will not be easy, as considerable damage has been done.
“Your Royal Highness, God willing, if an APC government is elected, all towns under Boko Haram control will be liberated and rebuilt. It was unfortunate that commercial activities were paralysed following the insecurity in the past, hundreds of trailers loaded with goods took off from Maiduguri to various neighbouring countries, but presently the reverse is the situation.”
He stated that the Boko Haram ideology contradicted Islamic principles, “as it does not allow the senseless killings of innocent souls”.
“It is unfortunate that innocent persons are being killed in mosques, churches and their houses. God willing, if an APC government is elected, we will restore the confidence in governance,” he said.
In his remarks, the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Ibn Garbai El-Kanemi, told the presidential candidate that if elected, he should focus on the restoration of peace, massive investment, reconstruction of federal roads, revamping of Lake Chad, and ensure the success of oil exploration in the Lake Chad region.
After the visit to the palace, the journey to the venue of the rally, a distance of about a kilometre, was equally hectic as it took about 20 minutes to navigate through the sea of human beings.
The speeches at the rally, which were silenced by continuous shouts of “Sai Buhari, Sai Baba” by the rowdy crowd, then took a dangerous twist when the presidential candidate mounted the podium to address the people.
At this point, the crowd defied all attempts to keep them in check, as they moved towards the podium to touch Buhari and in the process dismantled the steel barrier.
They equally vandalised everything in sight including the television cameras brought in to beam the campaign live, thus disrupting transmission.
At this point, the presidential candidate had to be whisked away by security men who shot into the air to keep the unruly crowd at bay.
Those in attendance at the rally included APC National Chairman, Chief John Oyegun; Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Amaechi, former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) National Chairman, Chief Audu Ogbe; Senator Lawal Sha’aibu; Umar Farouk Aliyu; Senator Hadi Sirika; APC Secretary, Mai Mala Bunu; and former Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Lawan Dambazau (rtd).
In another incident, the campaign office of the senatorial candidate of PDP Borno Central, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, was torched by an irate crowd believed to have been APC sypathisers.
Some youths were seen at the campaign rally carrying coffins branded with the flag of the PDP.
However, it wasn’t just Sheriff’s campaign office that was a victim of Buhari’s visit, as members of the youth vigilante group (known as Civilian JTF) also engaged Nigerian Army soldiers in a face-off, resulting in the death of five youths.
THISDAY gathered that the five youths were killed during a confrontation with soldiers on a major road in Maiduguri that the Civilian JTF had barricaded to prevent attacks in the city during Buhari’s visit.
Crisis ensued when the members of the youth group stopped a convoy of the 7th Division of the Nigerian Army headquartered in Maiduguri, which was escorting ammunition ferried from the Maiduguri International Airport in a private commercial trailer.
It was learnt that the youths had barricaded most of the roads in the town as a security measure against any attack during Buhari’s visit.
However, in what the soldiers deemed disrespectful, the youths asked to check the trailer. But when the soldiers refused they forcibly climbed the vehicle and even lit a bonfire and barricaded the road to make it difficult for the soldiers to move the trailer.
It was at this juncture, according to eyewitnesses, that the soldiers started shooting at the youths.
It was gathered that five youth died in the confrontation, which left many others injured.
An impeccable security source told THISDAY that it was an affront on the military for some armed youths, under any guise, to have accosted the soldiers on the road.
He confirmed that the trailer had been leased to convey the ammunition for the military after the initial army truck meant for the same purpose had broken down.
He said that despite the fact that the commercial truck was escorted by heavily armed soldiers in uniform, the youths had insisted on not only checking the vehicle but also demanded that the ammunition should be offloaded.
“They even went a step further to set up a bonfire which could have caused a massive explosion, as the trailer was filled with thousands of explosives,” he explained.
He said the youths left the soldiers with no other choice than to shoot at them.
THISDAY learnt that it took the intervention of well meaning people of the state to calm the nerves of other irate members of the Civilian JTF and ensure that the incident did not degenerate into a major conflagration, as they had already started assembling and chanting, “Soldiers are Boko Haram.”