Nigeria 2023: Behind the curtains of Atiku’s campaign trail

By Eniola Akinkuotu

Posted on Tuesday, 14 February 2023 16:09
PDP's Atiku Abubakar meets with members of the Bayelsa State Council of Traditional Rulers on 23 January 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 has been happening behind the curtains. Part 2.

It’s 5 AM. I’m awoken by a knock on the door of my hotel room. “Hope you’re ready? We’re leaving in a few minutes,” says Aminu, a member of Atiku’s campaign team. I jump into the shower, brush my teeth, check out of the hotel and enter a bus provided for us by the PDP.

By 5:45 AM, about 12 journalists and members of Atiku’s media team are Asaba-bound. The journey through the Awah-Obikwele Road is over 237km and should not be more than four hours. However, the more than 10 security checkpoints along the way lengthen the duration of the journey.

We finally arrive at the Delta State Government House in Asaba around 10 AM and offload our luggage. We take the time to charge our phones, laptops and cameras in preparation for the rally. However, some journalists are plotting to report their ordeal to Atiku and tell him how we were abandoned in Bayelsa State the previous day.

“Atiku needs to know what some of these party leaders are doing. He chartered a plane for journalists and his media team but some politicians are smuggling their girlfriends into the plane and stealing our seats.

“We will not allow a few politicians to bully us. This was the same thing that happened after the rally in Ibadan. We got stranded and we were forced to sleep there,” a journalist says.

In my mind, I wonder how this journalist plans to gain direct access to Atiku who is always surrounded by heavily armed security officials.

Another royal visit

At about 1:15 AM, Atiku emerges from the Government House along with some PDP governors and members of his campaign council. They are dressed in full PDP regalia and red caps. After a brief photo session, we form a long convoy of about 25 vehicles and head for the Delta State Traditional Council Secretariat.

This visit is very similar to the homage paid to the Bayelsa kings the previous day. However, this occasion has nothing less than 30 kings in attendance while many more politicians are in attendance. Notable among them are the PDP National Chairman, Iyorchia Ayu; former Senate President Bukola Saraki; former Speaker, Yakubu Dogara; former Vice President Namadi Sambo and Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State who is also Atiku’s campaign manager.

We will deliver this state to the PDP. We have been doing so since 1999 and now that our governor is on the ballot, we will even do more.

Atiku, while addressing the monarchs, said if elected President, he would ensure kings are given a more effective role, unlike today where they are mere figureheads.

“I believe some of the security challenges we face today can be handled by the traditional institutions,” he says.

The former Vice President said Nigeria prospered the most during the PDP years between 1999 and 2015. He, therefore, argued that it was time for the people to retrace their steps and return the PDP to power after eight years of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

Before the monarchs are allowed to speak, a Spokesman for Atiku’s campaign, Senator Dino Melaye, introduces Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State who is also Atiku’s running mate.

While making a veiled reference to the vice presidential candidate of the ruling APC, Senator Kashim Shettima, he says, “Before we invite his royal majesty to speak, we want to thank the people of Delta for giving us a Vice President that is not controversial. No one has accused him of being a member of Boko Haram, no one has accused him of any destruction. In fact, there is no allegation against Governor Okowa.”

Speaking on behalf of the monarchs, the Chairman, Delta State Traditional Council, Retired Major General Felix Mujakperuo, thanks Atiku for nominating a “son of the soil” as his running mate.

Mujakperuo, who is the Orodje of Okpe Kingdom, says: “We traditional rulers want to thank you for finding our son worthy. We cannot thank you enough. It will be a great honour for one of us to be the Vice President of Nigeria.”

Show time

By 12:15 PM, we are done with the royal visit and it is time for the rally. We make our way to the Stephen Keshi Stadium which is just a few kilometres away. However, it is nearly impossible to drive into the venue due to the mammoth crowd at the stadium.

This is understandable as residents have turned up to support their homeboy. This is a homecoming. Inside the stadium, several cultural groups are seen dancing while others are performing acrobatics.

His hands are shaky, his legs tremble. The old man who is unwell is insisting that it’s his turn to rule.

Enthusiastic music bands clad in PDP shirts defy the hot weather to march around the stadium. I’m video recording some of the events but I’m also fast getting dehydrated as the weather soars to 31 degrees Celsius.

Within moments, Atiku, Okowa, governors and other chieftains of the PDP arrive in an open roof caravan that drives around the stadium for about 15 minutes, waving to supporters before alighting to take their seats in the VIP section.

On the podium, the MC excites the crowd with singing, dancing and cracking of jokes, the hallmark of political rallies in Nigeria.

While this is on, I sample the opinions of some of the attendees.

“We will deliver this state to the PDP. We have been doing so since 1999 and now that our governor is on the ballot, we will even do more,” says Obaro Edewor, an electrician who says he has been a member of the PDP for 10 years.

Others interviewed provide a similar verdict. One thing’s for sure — this crowd is more enthusiastic than the one I met at the Bayelsa rally the day before.


After the fun and dancing, we sing the national anthem to signal the official commencement of the rally. Senator Dino Melaye takes over as the MC and goes on a comical tirade against the APC. He launches broadsides at APC Presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu; his running mate, Senator Shettima; and Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege, who is contesting for governor of Delta.

He calls on the Holy Spirit to throw fire at Omo-Agege who came under investigation by the police four years ago for allegedly leading thugs into the Senate chambers to steal the mace, the symbol of legislative authority.

While singing in Pidgin English, Melaye mocks Tinubu’s health status and falls to the ground, portraying Tinubu as a sickly elderly man. “His hands are shaky, his legs tremble. The old man who is unwell is insisting that it’s his turn to rule,” Melaye sings. This elicits rapturous laughter from supporters and will go on to trend on social media for the next couple of days.

Several notable PDP chieftains and governors are given about two minutes each to address the crowd while Melaye would intermittently interrupt with a snappy wisecrack, eliciting laughter from the crowd yet again. The event had become a comedy show with Melaye as the star act.

Governor Udom Emmanuel of Delta State says the Niger Delta region will give PDP five million votes in the Presidential election. He is accompanied by other governors from the region that all promise to ensure Atiku gets a landslide victory.

In his remarks, Governor Okowa, while addressing his people, tells them not to disappoint him at the February 25 poll. He says he honoured his promises as governor and will also ensure Atiku performs excellently well.

Destroyed economy

Okowa says the APC destroyed Nigeria’s economy in the last eight years but Atiku will fix it if he wins. He adds that Atiku will ensure oil-rich states like Delta are given a larger control of their resources while states will also be allowed to have their own police force.

“Atiku knows how to handle Nigeria. You know the APC brought a lot of suffering. They crashed our economy and brought hunger. How can a bag of rice be sold for almost N50,000 ($108),” he says.

In his speech which lasts about 10 minutes, Atiku promises not to betray the trust of the people of Delta State.

He promises to put an end to the incessant strikes embarked on by university lecturers. The former Vice President provides a breakdown of the thrust of his manifesto which includes resource control, security, economic reform and restoration of the country’s unity.

“When the PDP was in power, we had no inflation and a high exchange rate. For God’s sake, why will you support a party that has brought pain and suffering in the last eight years,” he says.

Atiku knows how to handle Nigeria. You know the APC brought a lot of suffering. They crashed our economy and brought hunger. How can a bag of rice be sold for almost N50,000?

Before the national anthem is sung to signal the end of the rally, I make my way out of the venue as quickly as possible to locate my bus. After 15 minutes, I spot the vehicle which is sandwiched between the large crowds exiting the stadium. I quickly hop in and the bus zooms off along with Atiku’s convoy.

We make our way back to the Government House where colleagues try to convince me to spend one more night so we can attend the rally in Ebonyi State the next day. “No, I’ve seen enough,” I respond.

I call an Uber driver to pick me up at the Government House and take me straight to the airport.

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