“Good morning everyone, we are sorry to announce that Dana flight 9J-351 Lagos to Abuja has been cancelled,” an assistant manager of the airline who didn’t bother to look back after dropping the bombshell on our laps told us in the early hours of November 8th, 2018. It was 6:15am and that was the first flight out of Lagos.
AA (Atiku Abubakar) was billed to arrive back to Abuja from Dubai that day and this was going to be the first official meeting after the keenly contested presidential primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and while several others were later held, including the now famous Dubai strategy parley, all members of the campaign team were summoned to Abuja to attend this one.
My worry about my cancelled flight wasn’t just because the airline refused to give appropriate notice of the cancellation and only gave the disturbing news right at the boarding hour but mainly because AA always keeps to time. When he gives you an appointment for 8am, he would have arrived by 7:50am, seated, waiting for you.
I got to Abuja two hours behind schedule only to get notified that Waziri couldn’t make the trip back to Nigeria that day, as I later learnt, he was on his way back when some businessmen from the Gulf states visited him to discuss a $45 billion investment in the Nigerian agricultural sector.
The meeting was presided over by the Director General of the campaign organization and the man who led Atiku to his first ever true presidential ticket, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, the story of how that singular feat was achieved in the midst of the intrigue and suspense is a different tale best reserved for another day.
It was a strategic session and the discussions bordered around voters mobilization, information dissemination, strategic communication and public engagement using the demography provided by the electoral commission, regional voters and psychological analyses and evaluation of different sections and segment of voters.
The Atiku Plan was in formation and would be ready in two weeks time. All areas known to modern and sane politics were covered including the peculiarity of the electoral commission’s distribution of permanent voters cards in the North, where distributions were made to designated community leaders rather than the one-on-one basis in the south.
To get the votes of the North, the language had to be different. While the South places premium on infrastructural development, policy and perception, the North cares less about these things. And even though a robust system to drag the region out of its dependency state had been captured by the Atiku Plan, the mode to communicate this would be different. To get to the North, you had to create a formidable structure of Chinese whispers and local boots on ground. And because of its heavy religious bias and regional sentiment, it was more effective to talk to community, religion and tribal leaders than even the voters themselves. After all, it was these individuals who were holding the permanent voters’ cards in trust for them.
To sell Atiku in the Southwest was easy. Even though the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) controls all the states in the region, the people were to a large extent independent minded and more than often, it takes a great deal of convincing to win their votes, this we were prepared for. We realized that there were two classes of people supporting Buhari in the region: those who were members of the ruling party or benefiting one way or the other either directly or indirectly from the party and those who believed the Vice-Presidency of Professor Yemi Osinbajo would miraculously transform to having a full Presidential power in the very nearest future. How they hope to achieve this, given that an Abiku hardly dies when you expect, beats me. Southwest was to a great extent developed, with potential for more with the right policies. What the region needs is a more relaxed system that will allow it exhibit its full potential without other parts of the country dragging it back. The Atiku Plan covered that.
For the North Central, except for Niger, the unrest caused by activities of herdsmen had dented to a great extent any goodwill left of President Buhari. What we needed to do then was to ensure that we reassured the people of a better community, safety and security if Atiku became the President, including a robust agricultural revolution plan covered by the Atiku Plan. That was the message.
The problem with the Southeast and Southsouth was voting. They were already sold on the ideas and capacity of AA to bring good business and investment to Nigeria which they will benefit greatly from. A committee was set up to liaise with Governors and leaders in the region and work out a plan to ensure at least 95% voters turn-out. That committee later came up with a blueprint that was foolproof, or so we thought.
At several other meetings, various party strategies were implemented, including ensuring only members who were political capitals got the ticket of the party to aid mass mobilization and grassroots support.
I remember in one of meetings at the residence of Otunba Daniel in Maitama, Abuja, a security consultant raised an observation about the jungle tactics used in Osun Gubernatorial election but was quickly countered by another consultant on security who analysed that it was going to be statistically impossible for a combined team of the Nigerian Police Force, Department of States Security, Civil Defence and even similar paramilitary agencies to successfully implement that system of suppression and oppression across the country as they simply did not have one-third of the numbers required for that. The only cruel possibility would be to engage the service of the full force of the Nigerian Military, a strategy that would threaten our democratic system given how such ended in the then Western region and claimed lots of casualties if we as an opposition were to plan on countering that. The conclusion then was that given the President’s service record to the country and the assumed demand of patriotism on his part, he would not take such route. Again, we were wrong!
If the elections had been held on February 16, President Buhari would not have just lost, he would have been disgraced with the figure. Apart from feasibility study reports, members of the ruling APC, including notable and highly placed leaders of the party across the country, were already working against him. Many of them stood aloof refusing to give orders to their footsoldiers and made no mobilization plan even as at 7pm on February 15. Southwest was the worst hit. After the fracas that occurred in Ogun State, the region became sharply divided along the lines of the Abuja Boys and the Tiwa n Tiwa men. In fact, the numbers from Lagos were so good that it would have sent Aso Rock into shock. The President relied on his footsoldiers and party members and at that crucial time, they failed him. Suddenly, the election was postponed.
A new tactics was developed by the Presidency. That tactics was to later ruin the 20-year sanity of Nigeria’s democracy.
In the early hours of February 23, calls started coming in across the country. Most leaders and supporters of AA were either being picked up or placed under house arrest. This didn’t seem surprising as the government controlled financial crimes commission already picked Waziri’s lawyer, Uyi, a week earlier in Lagos, his only crime was that he was associated with Atiku. We were actually prepared for the onslaught against us with many of the leaders having packed a handy bag for the unceremonious vacation but not without activating the strategy under their care a night before. All seemed usual within the now Nigerian political context especially as several leaders of the campaign organization have had their Bank accounts illegally frozen, in fact, as at one week before the election eighty nine accounts belonging to various leaders of the party and campaign team were inaccessible.
It was the call from Rivers that first came in around 8am on February 23, men and officers of the Nigerian Armed forces had taken over the state. Voting areas were cordoned off and voters were being turned back. Then Delta called, followed by Abia. Before we knew what was happening, the entire Southeast and Southsouth were under siege. In some cases, the soldiers were alleged to have personally engaged in snatching the ballot boxes while in others they were alleged to have provided security for thugs who arrested non-cooperating electoral officers and forced them to either change or write results. It was a coup!
While that was ongoing, leaders from the North complained of getting to the polling units and not meeting any electoral activities. After investigation, we discovered that election materials were being diverted and massive thumb printing was going on across Yobe, Borno, Zamfara, Kano, Katsina amongst others. In most places where elections were held, result papers were missing. These papers later resurfaced after 6pm with mutilated figures which the coalition officers allowed albeit against electoral law.
Lagos was already boiling with politically motivated attacks and an entire collation centre in Osun was set ablaze. In Delta, Akwa Ibom and Edo, it was alleged that electoral officers had to write results at gunpoint while others had their family members kidnapped with the only required ransom being changing the election figures.
Only those who stood their ground, men for men, craze-man for craze-man, were able to bring out something significant from the disguised poll.
When many talk about knowledge being a sibling of power, look them in the face and spit on them. In this new country that we are in, there is no room for wisdom, knowledge or strategic thinking.
This is another Wild Wild West. Brain has no place here. If you are smart, be careful of those that are armed. This is no longer a country for intellectuals. Here, knowledge is not power, power is power!
Boladale is a member of the strategy and communication team of the Atiku Presidential Campaign Organization. He is on social media as @adekoyabee