Was Atiku's travel bag smashed open by airport security when he arrived Nigeria from Dubai? What is the true version of events?
So, what exactly happened on Sunday, November 11, 2018—the day Atiku Abubakar, PDP presidential candidate, touched down on Nigerian soil after a three-week sojourn in Dubai?
Atiku says he was intimidated and harassed by security operatives who were clearly carrying out political directives.
“I arrived to (sic) Abuja this morning to a search by agents of the state, aimed at intimidating me and my staff”, Atiku shares in a tweet.
He adds that: “I am committed to building a Nigeria where no citizen is intimidated by agents of state who are paid to protect them”.
'A deadly squad'
Former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Comrade Timi Frank, corroborated Atiku's version of events.
Frank described the squad that frisked Atiku on arrival as deadly.
“The deadly squad, in a Gestapo style attack, and acting on ‘orders from above’ rushed our candidate immediately he landed and attempted to physically manhandle him before invading his aircraft with dangerous weapons to conduct a violent search.
“While they did not find anything incriminating on our presidential candidate, this deadly squad violently tampered with certain personal documents and gadgets belonging to him, including some of his campaign documents”, Frank said.
Was Atiku unruly and difficult during search?
However, an airport official who spoke to Pulse on condition of anonymity, said Atiku disobeyed airport security when he arrived, became unnecessarily difficult and things went south from that point.
“When Atiku arrived the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport from Dubai, he refused to cooperate. Security officials asked him to open his bag for a routine search, but he wouldn’t.
“The former vice president then told the officials that he had lost the keys. He was fuming at this point. Security officials then broke the locks of his bag. Atiku and his entourage threw a fit. We didn't single him out for persecution. Everyone is searched at airports. It's standard procedure. That’s exactly what happened”, the airport official narrated to Pulse.
When Pulse reached out to the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), for an official version of events, Corporate Affairs Head, Susan, asked us to call back much later to speak with the General Manager (GM).
"Only the GM can speak with you on this matter. Please call back at 4pm", Susan said. When Pulse called at the time Susan said we should, we were asked to redirect our inquiries to the Department of State Security (DSS).
"They carried out the search on Atiku. You should ask them (the DSS)", Susan said nicely.
DSS spokesperson, Mr. Nnochirionye Afunanya, wasn't immediately available for comments.
Atiku insists he was embarrassed
However, in a statement sent to Pulse, the Atiku campaign organisation insisted that the candidate had been targeted for harassment by the APC led federal government.
The statement reads in parts: “On November 5, 2018, exactly a week ago today, the All Progressives Congress released an official statement accusing former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of having strategy meetings for the purpose of moving “illicit cash” into Nigeria and they asked the security services to investigate HE Atiku Abubakar and his plane.
“To quote from the APC’s statement, the ruling party said “Our intelligence, anti-graft and security agencies must be awake to its responsibility of investigating the Dubai meeting. Cash and carry politicians must be prevented from moving illicit cash around to induce voters and sponsor election violence and rigging.
"Again, relevant agencies must check suspicious movement of cash both locally and internationally by politically exposed persons under the guise of a “Dubai meeting” or any clandestine meeting”.
“They thereafter asked the security services to search aircrafts belonging to members of the Peoples Democratic Party.
"That statement evinced an obvious premeditated intention by the APC and its Federal Government to deliberately embarrass the former Vice President by invading his plane with security personnel and possibly to set him up for the crimes they had already officially accused him of in their statement.
“The official denial by the All Progressives Congress and the Presidency of any hand in the ordeal of the former Vice President is put to lie when you examine their statement of last week which was clearly what was implemented against the former Vice President. It also shows that both parties have no credibility and will do or say anything to further their interests.
“The statement by the aviation ministry that the search of Atiku Abubakar’s plane is “routine” is an afterthought that does not hold water for the simple reason that the PDP Presidential candidate has been flying in and out of Nigeria without ever receiving such a treatment until the APC released their statement.
“This event raises grave concerns about using government services for purely political purposes and what this portends for the conduct of free and fair elections in February 2019, and shows as hollow President Buhari’s promise to superintendent over credible polls".
Here's the federal government's reaction
The federal government had accused Atiku and his camp of scaremongering in the wake of the incident.
Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika said airport checks are "mandatory, conventional, internationally applied and routine" and that no one is excused from them under Nigerian laws.
“These checks are carried out on all international arrivals and President Buhari does not get involved in them”, Sirika added.