As Police Distrupt OBI-dient Rally in Ebonyi…
Benjamin Nworie writes that despite the attempt by police to disrupt the peaceful march by the supporters of the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, the rally turned out a success
The OBI-dient movement for the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, had a sad and memorable day in Ebonyi state. It started sadly but ended gloriously. The event took place on Saturday, September 17. The one million man march was earlier scheduled to kickstart at the state township stadium in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi state capital.
The organizers reportedly approachedthe state government for them to use the facility but were charged N4 million. Worried that the charge was exorbitant, or perhaps, as a way to sabotage and scuttle the event, the organizers changed the convergence venue to pastoral centre junction. The Pastoral center is a stone-throw to the township stadium.
As the crowd converged at the Pastoral center, operatives of Police stormed the area and dispersed the crowd with gunshots and teargas. Some of the rallyists were also arrested but later released. Many people including wedding guests that came to the Pastoral Center for marriage ceremony scampered for safety
It was a show of shame. A cell phone belonging to one of the supporters was smashed by the overzealous security operatives. The operation was led by a senior police officer and when accosted by some of the leaders of the group told them that the instruction to disrupt the rally was from the “state government”.
The security operatives who came in their large numbers barricaded the ever busy Mile 50 road, causing heavy vehicular and human traffic. When it became tougher and to avoid loss of lives, the Senatorial Candidate of Labour Party for Ebonyi South, Mr Linus Abaa Okorie, advised the supporters to go home in peace.
In his Facebook post, Okorie said: “Dear #OBIdients, please be safe. This Match must eventually hold. As law abiding citizens, please go home and be safe. Power for Peter Obi and all #OBIdients is not worth the blood of any Ebonyian.
“Democracy is a state of mind and your resolve to support Mr. Peter Obi cannot be disrupted or broken by intimidation and subterfuge. To the police authorities, you are a creation of the law and should not have pandered to the whims and caprices of other subjects of the law.
“For those that think the #OBIdientMovement in Ebonyi can be intimidated out of existence, know ye that today’s disruption shall be an energizer and catalyst to its greater ascendancy.
“To all the youth who stood up to police teargas in front of the pastoral gas, know it that you are the heroes of democracy and shall be fully rewarded with a #ANewNigeria and a tolerant government in Ebonyi”.
However, after some hours, the security operatives opened up the roads following a directive from the Police Headquarters in Abuja. Before then, more supporters had thronged the venue from across the 13 local government areas of the State.
The spokesman of the Police command in the State, SP Chris Anyanwu, exonerated the police, claiming that they acted to forestall illegal gathering and security breach.
Anyanwu said: “Armed with credible intelligence, the State Police Command sensing that if not checked, the rally will become turbulent and create a state of insecurity in the State decided to nip it at the bud. So in a bid to proactively curb the impending turbulence, police men were despatched to the newly proposed take-off venue, Pastorial Center, for the purpose of maintaining law and order.
“Unfortunately, while the Police men were properly deployed to ensure that there was no breakdown of the law, the radicals and mischief-makers among the rallyists became violent and started hauling missiles on the police operatives, uttering all manners of unprintable statements on the Police and the Government. Many of them even went physical to assault and attack the police men.
“So in response, and guided by the Presidential pronouncements/order at the era of the unpopular END-SARS protests, the police personnel on duty rose to the occasion to dislodge the violent and criminally oriented attackers”.
The Police also said it had expected the group to abide by the outcome of the meeting and the requisite conditions given by the State Government which includes payment of a certain amount of money for the use of the Stadium as a take-off point as well as another refundable sum of money as a collateral in case of any damage to Government property/infrastructures.
It, however, baffled many people who asked if the police have become revenue implementation agents to Ebonyi state government and when has it become a security breach for people to change a location of their program if they can not afford certain financial conditions. As the police struggled to exonerate themselves from the “highly condemnable and dirty job”, the members of the public have called for the immediate sack of the Commissioner of Police, CP Aliyu Garba.
Like the Police, the State Governor, David Umahi also exonerated himself saying he never ordered the disruption of the rally. The Governor, in a release issued by his Special Assistant on Media and Strategy, Chooks Oko, noted that he was certainly not aware of any disruption of any gathering as he didn’t order any.
Umahi said: “For record purposes, the relevant government agencies had approved the use of Abakaliki township stadium for a rally by the Labour party subject to the payment of some specified fees. Rather than pay the fees, it was gathered, the organizers chose to empty into the streets causing some untold hardships on the hapless citizens going about their daily pursuits. The police, we are told, had to step in to restore law and order.
“The Governor of Ebonyi state is certainly not aware of any disruption of any gathering as he didn’t order any. He is a democrat who believes firmly in the rule of law. He wishes every contending politician the very best and will insist on a level playing ground for all. If it is true that the police dispersed people, the answer will surely rest with the police”.
The Governor therefore appealled to all citizens to always abide by the dictates of the law and decent living so that law and order will always reign supreme.
He further wished all political parties and their candidates well and enjoined all to play the game by the rules.
Meanwhile, upon all the disruption and hitches, the rally was a huge success. The mass movement and support for Obi’s presidential ambition is real and target driven. The people were committed, enthusiastic and determined to preach Obi’s gospel.
The atmosphere was charged. People closed their shops to join the movement without any inducement. It was beyond physical manipulation. Old women, tricycles and motorcycle operators, students, traders and artisans abandoned their means of livelihood to join the rally.
In the history of Ebonyi State, such selfless mobilization has never been recorded. Whether the state government was jittery or not, Ebonyians may not trade off their votes against Obi. It was a peaceful rally. The supporters were also ‘obidient’ to the rule of law. No breakdown of law and order was recorded throughout the rally.
Not minding the initial provocation, the supporters were very orderly. One of the leaders of the group, Mathew Eke, disclosed that they anticipated that the state government may try to scuttle the event but had to choose three different locations for convergence.
The idea was that if one location is disrupted as was the case with the Pastoral Center, the other places can still pickup.
But many questions have been boggling the minds of the people. Is Ebonyi state government jittery of Obi or afraid that Labour Party can take advantage of Obi’s popularity and make an inroad in the State? Was it all about the money which couldn’t enter the State government’s internally generated revenue? Could it be that the state government may feel that the rally may expose them that Obi’s Labour Party is evident in the State?
Where is the anger that precipitated the disruption coming from? Who actually instructed the action of the police or were they doing their professional duties?
At first, as a loyal party man, Umahi had declared that all “Ebonyi votes” will be for the APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and not Peter Obi of the Labour Party. This declaration attracted wide condemnations against Umahi. To an extent, social media critics alleged that Umahi has anti-Ndigbo agenda.
In a twist, possibly as a way to pacify the people on his earlier outburst, Umahi said though he wants his Party to win the presidential election but if that can’t be feasible, he would like Obi to win. He further admitted that Obi was making serious waves across the country and he will personally host him publicly in Ebonyi State.
As far as Ebonyi is concerned, the support for Labour Party may be limited to Obi. Other candidates in the State may like to utilize the advantage of Obi’s movement to advance the fortunes of the aspirations.