I once had a taste of political violence during the 2015 presidential campaigns. In Bauchi, our convoy was stoned. In Katsina, restless youth wielding stones and long sticks threatened to attack us. It didn’t matter that it was a presidential convoy. But nothing in those two places is comparable to what I experienced in Sagamu, Ogun State on Sunday, January 13.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial candidate in Ogun State, Senator Buruji Kashamu and I, accompanied by our spouses, had gone to attend the 2019 edition of the Annual Thanksgiving church service organised by former governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel. We arrived at the church – Abraham’s Tabernacle – when the service was well under way. For a while, the service was disrupted as the people kept shouting: Buru-ji Kash-amu! Kashamu! Kashamu! The senator acknowledged the cheers, greeted the dignitaries in attendance and took his seat.
The event was more of a political get-together, and that is understandable. Otunba Gbenga Daniel, our host, is a leader of the PDP in the South-West and a director of the Atiku-Obi presidential campaign. Outside the church, from the entrance to the main street, even beyond the church: there were posters on display promoting Atiku, Buruji Kashamu, Gboyega Nasir Isiaka, and Hon. Ladi Adebutu [the House of Representatives member contesting Senator Kashamu’s candidacy along with the candidacy of all persons whose names the Adebayo Dayo-led executive committee submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)]. Every elective office-seeker at the event obviously tried to outshine the other with billboards, campaign vehicles, posters and the number of supporters in attendance. Others displayed theirs, we too displayed our own.
I had no reason to suspect that the day would further expose me to yet another dirty underbelly of Nigerian politics: in this instance, violence and the attendant threat to lives and property. I had hardly taken a seat, close to the entrance in the North Eastern part of the church, when I suddenly noticed some commotion. The whole incident didn’t take up to two minutes.
“What happened?”, I asked the guy standing close to me
“Lado has left the church in annoyance.” Lado is the nickname of Hon. Ladi Adebutu.
The gentleman who was giving me the information, started pointing over my head and said:
“It is that man.”
“He is sitting somewhere behind you.”
The man didn’t finish his story properly, when he bent down a little and told me to leave where I was seated, and go and find somewhere else within the church.
“Why?”, I asked. I really didn’t see why I should start going up and down inside the House of God, when I am not a church worker.
“Egbon, you don’t know me? I lived in your father’s house in Abeokuta. Trust me. Leave this place where you are sitting. Lado’s boys have entered the church premises. They are threatening to come inside to attack Kashamu’s people.”
You needed to see the speed with which I jumped up and went far inside the church. Meanwhile, there were sounds of heavy gunshots outside, and commotion. I wanted to go outside the church to see what was going on. Another man pulled me back and told me not to step outside because Lado’s people were looking for Kashamu and his people. He said he was going to inform Otunba Gbenga Daniel to quickly intervene and see what could be done to take control of the situation. I felt as if I had become a trapped rabbit. I called my personal assistant who was waiting outside the church with the drivers who brought my campaign vehicles and some of our supporters from Abeokuta. I could hear sounds of the mayhem in the background.
“Ki lo nse le, nita. What is going on outside? What is all that commotion all about?”
“Sir, awon boys Lado ni o. They are looking for Kashamu. They are threatening to kill him and D.G.”
“Sir, they are vandalising all our campaign vehicles.”
“Tell the drivers to go and quickly move the vehicles to somewhere safe,” I instructed.
I could hear the P.A. telling the drivers: “Oga says you people should go and move the vehicles quickly away from here.” One of them shouted back at him: “Oga says we should go and move vehicles. I can’t move any vehicle. Do you want those boys to kill me? Can’t you see the kind of guns they are carrying?”
I could hear the gunshots. I couldn’t blame the rebellious driver. A few minutes later, the PA called back frantically.
“Sir, sir, sir.”
“Yes?,” I responded
“They have vandalised our own vehicles. They have smashed the windscreens of our campaign vehicles.”
“How many vehicles did you bring?”
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“Did I not tell you to bring only two? See what you have caused?”
“One of the drivers managed to escape with his own vehicle sir. They beat him up but he managed to jump into the car and ran away with it.”
“What of the Touareg Egunje brought from Lagos?”
“That one is not branded sir.”
“Tell Egunje to move that car away right now. He must not be sluggish. Where are the boys threatening to attack us now?’”
“The police have started confronting them sir. The police have arrived. They are driving them back now but they are threatening that they will regroup and come back.”
The only thing that was ringing in my head was the disclosure that they were looking for Kashamu and D.G. I am oftentimes referred to by our party members as D.G. or Deputy. The only other person who goes by the name of D.G. is the director-general of the Kashamu/Abati Campaign Organisation, Chief Remi Bakare. I have not had any confrontation with anybody since our campaign began. I saw no reason why anyone should threaten to harm me. I thought of going out of the church to go and sit in one of the vehicles parked inside the church premises. I couldn’t summon the courage to do so – my face is emblazoned on all our branded campaign vehicles, billboards and posters all over the State. What if the enemy outside recognised me? I started calling Hon. Segun Seriki, who is an experienced politician to advise me on what precaution could be taken under the circumstances. His phone kept ringing. He didn’t pick it.
I could see that the women in our entourage were worried. I was more than worried, my heart was pumping heavily. This was the state I was in when someone came to me and said, we would leave the church immediately after the service, but we should all go out together at the same time, and stay very close and be vigilant. The man added: “if those Lado boys are able to grab just one person, we can’t predict what will happen.” I told myself that it would indeed be a good idea for anyone in that situation to be vigilant. I was no longer listening to whatever anyone was saying, not even the church choir. The only thought in my head was how to get back home in one piece.
The service soon ended. We filed out of the church, bonding together. One of our men wrapped his body around me as as if he was a human towel. He told me not to allow anybody to bump into me. You never know who is holding a knife. I had actually seen one or two persons wielding knives inside the church and they were not wearing any identifiable uniform. We were practically smuggled out of the church by security agents, shooting persistently in the air and chasing the hoodlums away. We were lucky to make it to Otunba Gbenga Daniel’s residence. As the bullets rushed out of guns, my wife’s friend, who was sitting in the same vehicle with me, tried to duck under the dashboard. She said someone had once advised her that this is the best way to avoid stray bullets. I couldn’t afford to laugh. I just grinned.
The moment I sighted Hon. Seriki, I turned on him.
“Egbon, I was calling your phone. You didn’t pick”.
“Sorry. My phones were in silent mode.”
“But where did you go?”
“Ha, my brother, in this game, self-preservation is the first law of survival. Sagamu is the headquarters of cultists in this part of the State. Those boys are deadly. It is a volatile zone.”
“They vandalised two of my campaign vehicles. They assaulted one of my drivers who tried to run away with one of the vehicles.”
“Actually, they vandalised all our campaign vehicles. Look, my brother, in politics things like this happen. It takes only a small incident, and you will have people being killed. This is the reality of politics in the Third World.”
I asked him further if the window screens of the vehicle in which we were both seated were tinted.
“My brother, I see you are new in politics. I have been in politics for years. In politics, you must always be prepared.”
“This is not politics. This is madness. We are trying to mend fences and make peace. And now people are threatening to kill us. So what will now happen to all the efforts being made to ensure reconciliation with the Hon. Adebutu group?”
Two weeks earlier, the leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party in Ogun State had initiated reconciliation talks between the supporters of both Senator Buruji Kashamu and Hon. Ladi Adebutu. Meetings had been held in Yewa North, in Ado Odo Ota, Abeokuta and across the wards in Ogun East. I attended one of the meetings. Senator Kashamu had also instructed his supporters and followers to reconcile with members of the Adebutu group to ensure the party’s victory in the coming elections in Ogun State, whatever may be the outcome of the cases in court over candidacy. In Ado Odo Ota, there was actually a unification rally by both groups. I was concerned that all of that effort had just been jeopardised.
What transpired at Abraham’s Tabernacle, Sagamu, on that day, as later reported in bits and pieces, was that when Senator Kashamu arrived, he made an effort to greet Hon. Ladi Adebutu but he was rebuffed. The director-general of our campaign then went to Hon. Adebutu, who is very well known to him, and advised him to go and greet Senator Kashamu and embrace him in the spirit of reconciliation. Only God knows how the Devil put a foot into that encounter. Hon. Adebutu left the church, we gathered, in annoyance. Only God knows how this became a matter for thugs who decided this was enough reason to attack Senator Kashamu, his supporters and campaign vehicles.
We were able to catch our breaths after being smuggled to Otunba Gbenga Daniel’s residence under heavy police protection. The remaining challenge was then how to leave Sagamu without running into the thugs who had threatened to waylay us. Instead of going through the main streets, we had to take a winding, back route. As we navigated through this route, some boys on motorcycles soon caught up with us and they moved close to the vehicle carrying Mrs. Kashamu and my wife. One of the motorcycles targeted Senator Kashamu’s vehicle (by now, he had switched vehicles). The boys on motorcycle tried to pull something out of the nylon bags they were carrying. Somehow, the drivers swerved and tried to run into them, forcing them to speed off. Senator Kashamu asked the convoy to stop. Within minutes, we were joined by more gun-wielding policemen. The moment the policemen arrived, many members of our convoy rushed down and started peeing up and down. I was pressed too, but I chose to sit inside the vehicle. What if the thugs suddenly came back?
When we finally managed to get onto the expressway, some people asked to be allowed to pee again. Eventually, Senator Kashamu re-arranged the convoy. He also took the steering wheel himself, and decided to drive in front of the convoy. I joined him. Sitting beside him in front was Senator Ben Murray Bruce who was part of our entourage. Every other vehicle was instructed to drive behind, with Senator Kashamu as the lead driver. He told everyone not to panic; he would lead us home safely.
Senator Bruce offered to drive, insisting that he is a better driver than his friend. Senator Kashamu refused and as we made our way out of danger zone, he kept receiving situation reports from members of our group who left Sagamu for other parts of the state, while keeping an eye on the convoy. When we finally reached his home three-and-a-half hours later, some people rushed quickly to the toilet, others headed for the bathroom. I did too. When we reviewed the situation, we were relieved that no life was lost. The policemen in the Sagamu Division, as well as members of the Civil Defence Corps, and the Vigilante Group in Sagamu proved to be our saving grace. I commend them for the courage that they displayed and for preventing the loss of lives. This thing called politics should not be turned into warfare. There should be life after elections.
Abati, a former presidential spokesperson, writes from Lagos.