Nigeria 2023: Reporter’s Diary, 48 hours on Atiku’s campaign trail 

By Eniola Akinkuotu

Posted on Tuesday, 7 February 2023 13:19, updated on Friday, 10 February 2023 08:42
PDP candidate Atiku Abubakar's rally in Benue State on 6 February 2023. (photo: @atiku)

Chief Nigeria Correspondent, Eniola Akinkuotu, spent 48 hours on the campaign trail of frontline Presidential hopeful, Atiku Abubakar, in Bayelsa and Delta and reveals what is happening behind the curtains. Part 1.

I’m at the private wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja. It’s my first time in this terminal and it’s rather different from the overcrowded public wing which is used by the general public.

I had been told by Atiku Abubakar’s aides that a chartered flight would be available and would take off around 8:30 AM. Unfortunately, I forgot that Nigerians only adhere to African time.

However, I’m served tea and a meat pie by a waitress at the airport while I wait. This would be my first time being served by an airport official for free. I guess this is how passengers of chartered flights and private jets are treated.

Ironically, at the general terminal, things are not that pleasant at the moment as airport officials under the aegis of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) are on strike over their meagre salaries.

While sipping my tea, I see on social media stranded passengers lying down on the floor of the general terminal as the strike bites. This presents a sharp contrast between Nigeria’s middle class and the wealthy.


By 9:30 AM, several people wearing the regalia of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and its umbrella symbol arrive at the airport. They all begin discussing politics and exchanging pleasantries. After a few minutes, a list is brought out and names are announced.

Two chartered planes are set to take us to Yenagoa. One aeroplane is for members of the PDP’s National Working Committee (NWC) while the other is meant for everyone else.

Those whose names are not on the list are not allowed to join the flight. I hop on one of the planes along with about six journalists as well as members of Atiku’s campaign. We’re asked to switch off telephones as the plane takes off.

To kill time, I read a book titled, The Promise of a New Era that has photographs of Labour Party Presidential candidate, Peter Obi, and his running mate, Yusuf Baba Ahmed. This catches the attention of a burly PDP chieftain seated next to me. “I see you’re a young man. Are you Obidient?” he asks.

Obidients are young supporters of Obi who is running as an anti-establishment candidate. I responded by saying “no, I am just a journalist reading a book.”

The PDP chieftain tells me about how Obi is a hypocrite and is not as clean as he portrays himself to be.

“In June 2009, an aide of Peter Obi was arrested with N250m in cash ($1.6m at the time) in Lagos by the police. Obi, who was governor at the time, did not even deny it. His government only claimed the money was for a contractor. Isn’t this illegal? This incident was reported by the media. It’s on Google. I don’t know why you guys are suppressing this information today,” he says.

His bitterness towards Obi is not surprising given the fact that Obi was Atiku’s running mate in the 2019 election but defected last year.

He tells me that Obi will lose the election but concedes that Obi will win parts of the southeast where he is from.

We’re quickly interrupted by an air hostess who serves us bread, scrambled eggs and juice.

In Yenagoa

We land in Yenagoa about 11:30 AM and disembark swiftly. My luggage and those of other journalists are moved into a bus that has been provided for the media by the Bayelsa State Government. On the tarmac, it’s a reunion of sorts as governors of the PDP welcome everyone.

Minutes later, Atiku’s private jet touches down. First to disembark from the plane is Dino Melaye, a controversial former senator who doubles as Atiku’s campaign spokesman. Dino, who enjoys a huge social media following, is clad in a white pair of ripped jeans, yellow sneakers, and a yellow shirt with a face cap.

Atiku then disembarks and is welcomed by Bayelsa State Governor, Douye Diri. Other governors present including Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, who happens to be his running mate, also welcome the former Vice-President.

I am supporting Peter Obi, I only came here to socialise with friends and get some free food.

The members of the PDP NWC and former governors make their way into a big white bus while others get into their black SUVs. Journalists and government aides all scramble into small white buses while all vehicles are sandwiched between police vans in front and at the back.

With sirens blaring, the convoy which comprises at least 20 vehicles makes its way through Tombia-Amassome Road and Mbiama-Yenagoa Road. The journey is about 33km, but there is very little traffic on the way. At strategic spots, supporters wave PDP flags as politicians stretch out their hands to acknowledge cheers.

For a state that was ravaged by a flood just three months ago wherein 100 people died and 1.3 million people were affected, the jubilation on the streets presents a sharp contrast from what I was expecting.

Bayelsa is traditionally a PDP state and has been voting for the party in all Presidential elections since 1999. Bayelsa was where oil in commercial quantity was first discovered in the 1950s. Administratively, it is the smallest state as it has just eight local governments but the oil funds it receives from the Nigerian government on a monthly basis is far more than the revenue of larger states.

Paying homage

We make our way to the Government House where Governor Douye Diri, his predecessor, Senator Seriake Dickson; and Deputy Governor, Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, again welcome Atiku and his entourage. They all pose for photographs and then make their way into an inner room.

Apparently, they have all gone inside to change into the Etibo and bowler hat with walking sticks, the traditional attire of the Ijaw people. In Nigeria, it has become customary for Presidential candidates to wear the native attire of the community hosting a rally.

After 35 minutes, the convoy is on the move again, this time to the Bayelsa State Traditional Rulers Council secretariat where we are received by the Ibenanaowei of Ekpetiama Kingdom, King Bubaraye Dakolo.

King Dakolo is no stranger to visits by politicians, especially during election season. A month ago he received the Presidential candidate of the ruling party, Bola Tinubu; and Peter Obi of the Labour Party.

The monarch reads out a speech titled, ‘The champion has come’ where he also praises Atiku for his donation to the state during the flood crisis.

“Bayelsa has been a PDP state since 1999 so I don’t expect things to change this time,” he says.

King Dakolo, who is surrounded by at least six other kings, prays for Atiku’s success at the polls but also has a wish list. He wants Atiku to promise that certain projects would be implemented in the state. He also asks the PDP candidate to ensure states have a bigger control of their resources.

“In the 1970s, the Head of State of Nigeria did the groundbreaking for the Okaki Nembe-Brass Road. It is sad to say that there is still no road to Brass after over 50 donkey years,” he says, adding that the state has continued to witness oil pollution perpetrated by IOCs.

Responding, Atiku agrees that the people of the Niger Delta have not enjoyed the dividends of democracy.

“I pledge to you that if I am elected President, we will sit down and look at these items. I want to be very frank with you. Not all these items can be fulfilled by the Federal Government but we will bring in the private sector to invest,” he says, adding that he will give the state a higher control of its resources.

The rally

After the one-hour visit, the convoy finally heads for the Oxbow Lake Pavilion, the venue of the rally. It is very difficult getting into the venue as thousands of supporters obstruct the movement of the convoy. I alight from the vehicle and make my way into the campaign ground.

Inside is like a carnival as several groups are seen dancing, singing and waving the PDP flag. At the lake overlooking the pavilion, men in boats are also displaying acrobatics. The Bayelsa people are naturally fishermen so water is their natural habitat.

Conspicuously absent from the rally is former President Goodluck Jonathan who is also from Bayelsa State and was the last President that the PDP produced. Jonathan has in the last three years refused to take part in partisan politics.

However, his absence is downplayed as several PDP leaders take to the podium to dance, sing and arouse the crowd. They promise to fix Nigeria from the rot caused by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). But most of the crowds are too busy having fun to actually hear what is being said.

I take out time to penetrate the crowd and feel the pulse of the people.

“I am supporting Peter Obi, I only came here to socialise with friends and get some free food,” a crippled man in a wheelchair tells me.

But a student, Sunday James, says he is a PDP supporter to the core and they will deliver the votes for Atiku on election day.

After two hours at the rally, Atiku delivers a four-minute speech where he promises to unite the country and give the people a larger share of their oil resources.

Before Atiku finishes delivering his speech, PDP leaders are seen exiting the venue and jumping into a white bus in preparation for his exit. I also should have jumped into the bus but I was still busy covering the event.

Immediately Atiku ends his speech, the national anthem is played and he hops into one of his SUVs on standby. Overzealous security officials are seen pushing the crowd in order to make way for his long convoy.

I struggle to withstand the crowd pressing against me so as not to be trampled upon in the stampede that could ensue but I can’t find the bus that brought me to the venue. After five minutes of searching, I spot the bus and hop on while it’s in motion.

“You have to be vigilant or you will be left behind,” says Aminu, a member of Atiku’s media team.

We are expected to make our way to the airport but Atiku is convinced by the governor to meet with the Ijaw National Council, the most influential socio-cultural group in the state and so we head for the Ijaw House for another round of consultations which lasts for about an hour after which we depart for the airport.

Left behind

At the airport, I spend 15 minutes trying to find my luggage which had been transferred from the bus to the airport terminal by some government officials. After finding my luggage, I proceed to the tarmac to board the plane back to Abuja but there is a problem. The plane is full.

Apparently, some PDP chieftains who did not accompany us on the trip to Bayelsa had found their way into the plane.

An unidentified party official orders all journalists and media officials of the campaign off the plane in order to verify our identities. But while this verification process is ongoing, the doors are shut and the plane takes off, leaving us behind. The plane is headed for Asaba, Delta State, where Atiku will be campaigning the next day.

“Some of these politicians have smuggled their girlfriends on the plane and that is why things are no longer adding up,” a distraught journalist tells me.

The time is past 7 PM and we are left with two options.

The first option is to travel to Asaba through the Awah-Obikwele Road, a journey of over 237km which will take nearly four hours, meaning we may arrive at midnight. While Atiku’s media team is willing to take the risk of a dangerous night journey, the journalists are not as enthusiastic.

So, we opt for the second option: to stay in a hotel in Bayelsa State and leave for Asaba early the next morning. After searching for a decent hotel, we finally find one around 8:30 PM and retire to our rooms.

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