Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja
The Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, will virtually shut down on Wednesday as both the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) have scheduled their mega rallies for the day.
While the PDP rescheduled its presidential mega rally to that day after it was denied approval to use the Old Parade Ground, Abuja, on Saturday, the APC has also booked the same day for its presidential mega rally.
The PDP had called off its rally earlier billed for Saturday after it alleged that the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) denied it approval to use the Old Parade Ground (OPG) in Abuja.
The Director, Administration and Finance, Social Development Secretariat (SDS), the agency that manages the OPG, Hajia Safiya Umar, exclusively confirmed to THISDAY Saturday morning that PDP had agreed to shift its rally to Wednesday at the same venue.
On the same day, however, APC loyalists are billed to gather for the campaign rally in support of President Muhammadu Buhari’s reelection bid at the National Stadium, Abuja. The stadium has a capacity to hold 60,000 spectators.
But the PDP is yet to confirm when its rally would hold after issuing a statement on Friday announcing its suspension.
Spokesman of the party, Kola Ologbondiyan, had on Friday, described the refusal of access to the OPG by FCDA as a provocative action against the party after it had made payments to the authorities and obtained official approval.
He stated, “For us in the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, this is part of the last kicks of a dying horse, which the Buhari Presidency now represents.
“We invite the world to note that this latest assault against the people’s candidate is also borne out of direct ill-will and hatred against him by President Muhammadu Buhari as well as his handlers, who have sought all ways to drag him down, since they realised that Nigerians have reached a consensus on Atiku Abubakar, as the next President of our country.
“In any case, let it be known to President Buhari and the APC that the PDP and the people’s candidate will definitely hold our Presidential mega rally in Abuja irrespective of any further encumbrance they may attempt to foist. Nigeria belongs to all of us and nobody can stop us from exercising our constitutionally guaranteed right of holding our rally in the FCT or any other part of our country for that matter,” he added.
The PDP therefore cautioned Buhari and the APC to note that with the level of consensus its presidential candidate enjoys throughout the country, noting that any assault on him is a direct assault on the overall aspiration and sensibilities of Nigerians as a whole.
The main opposition party restated that the more the presidency attacks the people’s candidate, the more his support base among Nigerians expands.
“However, any further attack on our campaign will therefore attract very dire response from Nigerians who look up to Atiku Abubakar to salvage our dear nation from the social, economic and political despondency, which President Buhari has plunged it into,” Ologbondiyan warned.
The party’s spokesman said that from reports reaching the party, it is not also out of place for the Buhari Presidency and the APC to use this measure to test the will of Nigerians as precursor to their rigging plots.
He said, “We want to place on record, once again that any attempt to rig the February 16 election will be vehemently resisted by Nigerians, across board, who have reached a consensus to rescue their nation from the stranglehold of the Buhari Presidency.”
On federal government’s decision to replace national monument like Unity Fountain and City Gate with Broom statue, which is a symbol of the APC, Ologbondiyan stressed that all that Buhari can deliver to Nigerians apart from posters is the statue of a broom.
But Umar told THISDAY that the withdrawal of access to the OPG for the party was made to forestall bloodshed as an FCT APC faction was also due to assemble for a rally at the venue on the same day (Saturday).
She also confirmed that the PDP held a rally at the same OPG last week without any issue.
She however validated APC’s right to use the contentious venue, insisting that the ruling party was the first to book the ground before PDP.
Umar also plainly refuted the insinuation that the SDS yielded to pressure from high quarters in making the decision, insisting that SDS is a revenue generating agency.
The DAF further clarified that when the controversy over access to the venue unfolded, they offered PDP alternative venues in the city, but in spite of all entreaties, PDP stuck to its gun, insisting it must be granted access to the OPG.
“When the matter came up, we offered PDP alternative use of the field facing the Fire Service, but they declined the offer,” Umar said.
She further clarified that when FCTA intervened, PDP was presented with several options, including to move their rally to Zone 3 or to shift the campaign to either Sunday or Monday, after APC might have concluded their own rally.
“But they (PDP) categorically rejected our offers, in addition to offer for them to use the Pavilion close to the International Conference Centre. They rejected the offer on the grounds that the pavilion is too small,” she declared.
But after much persuasion, the opposition party initially agreed to hold its rally at the Area 3 Sports Centre before it later said it was suspending it indefinitely.
“We gave them that venue at Area 3, after the FCTA Permanent Secretary, Chinyeka Ohaa stepped in and ordered the athletic team that was training there in preparation for a sporting programme to suspend its training, ” Umar said.