Posted by By Olayinka Oyebode on
A foretaste of what to expect in the build up to the 2007 general election was experienced in Lagos on Wednesday as the newly formed Action Congress staged its maiden outing in the former federal capital city.
A foretaste of what to expect in the build up to the 2007 general election was experienced in Lagos on Wednesday as the newly formed Action Congress staged its maiden outing in the former federal capital city. What was dubbed as the mother of all rallies actually lived up to the initial boasting of the AC leaders as thousands of party supporters defied the heavy down that day to be present at the Onikan Stadium, Lagos, venue of the launch. The city practically stood still to receive the AC, which is a product of alliances and mergers of some political parties.
Most aspirants at various levels who hitherto had been timid in identifying with a particular political party platform while the alliance talks lasted, used the occasion of the launch to append a party identity to their campaigns. Thus an army of aspirants for the councillorship, chairmanship, state House of Assembly, National Assembly, to governorship seats stormed the venue of the launch with legions of their supporters. Therefore, for several hours, the major routes to Lagos Island were blocked, leaving other road users at the mercy of the party men and women.
The situation inside the main bowl of the stadium was not different as the handful of policemen on duty had a hectic time handling the charged crowd that defied every form of control both from the law enforcement officers and the party leaders. Hooligans also had a free day as they used dangerous weapons against one another. They also dispossessed unsuspecting onlookers of their phones and other valuables. The ambulances stationed at the stadium had to ferry casualties to the hospital at interval.
Attempts by groups to outdo one another in getting the attention of the crowd made the entire place very rowdy as various riotous rhythm enveloped the entire arena.
In the midst of the rowdiness, the Chief of Staff to Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Mr. Tunde Fashola, fainted. Fashola was trying to meander through the crowd. Fashola, who last week joined the growing list of Lagos State top officials eyeing the governorship seat on the platform of the AC, had to be moved quickly to a section of the arena where he was later resuscitated by an army of sympathisers and medical personnel.
Yet in the midst of the hoopla came some moment of sanity, which allowed for some agenda setting. This was as leaders of the party took turns to address the large crowd. The leaders included the Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; the former Osun State Governor, Chief Bisi Akande; the former Minister of Integration in Africa, Chief Dapo Sarunmi; and the former Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Audu Ogbeh.
Ogbeh called on Nigerians to ensure that the Peoples Democratic Party was voted out of power in the 2007 general election in order to secure the future of the country. Ogbeh, who until last year was the chairman of the ruling party, stated that the PDP had failed woefully in its promises and that it had little or nothing to show for the over seven years it had been in power. He promised that the AC, if voted into power in 2007, would carry the youths of the country along and ensure that the country returned to the path of progress again.
Commenting on the face off between President Olusegun Obasanjo and his deputy, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Ogbeh told the members of the AC not to vote for the PDP again as the quarrel between the two leaders had shown that the party was incapable of piloting the affairs of the country. He added, “If you like what is going on now, do not join hands with us in building a new country. Obasanjo and Atiku are embarrassing Nigeria before the world. You should be a good Nigerian and help change the country. Give us a chance in 2007. We have to sweep out the other parties. Do not allow the leaders to eat Nigeria’s money alone. It is our money. If we do not change the country today, the situation will change us. The ruling party has made life unbearable for us. What are we doing to change the situation.”
Also speaking, Tinubu, who traced the evolution of the AC as a political party, stated that political leaders who had conscience formed it. He added that the formation of the party was the first time progressives would come together to form a mega party. He said that the PDP had, prior to coming to power in 1999, made promises, which it was unable to fulfill, seven years after. He said that the AC would actualise the promise of a better life for Nigerians through the provision of free and qualitative education, free health and infrastructure development amongst others.
The Interim National Chairman of the party, Hamzat Zurmi, also pledged that the AC would live up to the expectations of Nigerians, adding that it was committed to providing a purposeful leadership for the country. Zurmi said, “We have a vision and we have a mission. We are committed to seeing Nigeria through to the next level of socio-economic development. We implore you to join us in this task of advancing the country.”
Sarumi, who is one of those eyeing the national chairmanship seat of the party, urged Nigerians not to allow themselves to be fooled again by the deceits of the ruling party, adding that recent events had shown that the PDP does not have the interest of the nation at heart. Also a former PDP chieftain, Sarumi urged Nigerians to ensure the success of the democratic exercise, adding that the gains of the process could only be realised through an AC-led government.
The broom, which is the dominant symbol of the AC, was the major reference point in the various speeches. Most of the speakers also canvassed the need to sweep away the PDP and all its tendencies in the coming elections. As a demonstration of their perceived superiority of the broom to umbrella, which is the PDP symbol, a good number of umbrellas that were carried by AC supporters were either torn or deliberately perforated, depicting what a party member described as “the parlous state of the ruling PDP.” Also, most of the leaders refused to use umbrellas to shield themselves from the rain, preferring rather to mount the podium only after the rain had abated. Majority of the party members also brandished brooms of various sizes and design. Ace Fuji musician, Wasiu Ayinde (K1), who was on the bandstand, also sang songs in praises of the AC leaders, wielding a bunch of brooms.
Whereas aspirants were not allowed to mount the podium to address the rally, some of them, however, stormed the Onikan Stadium venue of the event in peculiar ways that somehow added some spice to the event. The Lagos State Commissioner for Physical Development, Chief Hakeem Gbajabiamila, who is also an AC governorship aspirant, for instance, made a statement with the way he stormed the venue riding on a horse with his supporters trailing him. As he entered the stadium, the shout of “Gba be!” enveloped the entire arena. For sometime, attention shifted from the proceedings to the horse-riding aspirant and his crowd of supporters. Gbajabiamila later settled for a seat at the state box alongside other dignitaries.
A bigwig of the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation and a gubernatorial aspirant, Mr. Jimi Agbaje, however, opted for an aerial bombardment of the arena to register his presence. Although Agbaje was seated among the dignitaries at the state box, his supporters stormed the venue in a helicopter, which intermittently doled out bundles of his campaign handbills that detailed his electoral promises. Initially, the papers that were flying down from the helicopter were mistaken for bundles of naira notes, a development that led to a major scrambling for the papers. The move, which was reminiscence of the campaign days of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was well applauded.
The state Deputy Governor, Mr. Femi Pedro, who had declared his governorship ambition only 24 hours earlier to the launch, also stole part of the show, howbeit in his characteristic unassuming manner. Pedro’s three billboards, strategically placed at different locations within the stadium, were simply eye catching. His ability to strategically place his billboards, especially at the back of the main stage, was seen as well calculated. Pedro’s presence was quite noticeable throughout the event.
The representative of the Lagos West Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi, also had a good showing at the launch. Afikuyomi’s supporters projected their principal in good light as his posters and the leaflets containing his programmes were distributed with fanfare. Orange, his campaign colour, was visible at the arena of the event.
A member of the House of Representatives, Ganiyu Solomon, who also wants to be governor, was well represented at the event. His supporters were quite visible. He also personally added colour to the event by dancing round the arena with a large crown behind him.
Another dimension to the event was the presence of those campaigning for the release of detained leader of the Oodua Peoples Congress, Chief Gani Adams. Bearing different posters and placards, Adams’s supporters said that it was time the Federal Government released him since he was a political detainee.
But the pains of the unruly nature of the event far outweighed effect of the moment of sanity. And this continues to raise the question about the ability of the leadership of the AC at both state and national levels to manage the growing profile of the party and the expected political advantage.
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