The Peoples Democratic Party has accused the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) of using government machinery to harass the opposition in Borno State.
This allegation came shortly after the state governor, Kashim Shettima, ordered the demolition of the old Premier Cinema, a famous edifice and one of the most strategically-located buildings in Maiduguri, the state capital.
The building located along the road to the palace of the Shehu of Borno, served as the secretariat of the defunct All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) between 1999 and 2015.
But after the pre-2015 election merger of political parties, the building ceased to be under the control of any party.
The supporters of the Buhari Campaign organisation had briefly rented and used it as their secretariat.
After election campaign period, Premier Cinema used to be a den of drug addicts where illicit drugs and substances were sold almost in the open.
It used to be a prime target for operatives of the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), each time they go on raids of hideout of drugs pushers.
Tongues began to wag Sunday afternoon when the Borno State Urban Development Agency moved in heavy duty machines to Premier Cinema and began its demolition.
The officials of the agency who were besieged by residents of the neighbourhood for explanation said the state government had acquired the property and that it was being demolished to make way for a structure that would serve public interest.
Shortly after the demolition was completed, the opposition PDP accused the state governor of forcefully taking over the property which it claimed to have rented as its new state secretariat.
One of the PDP chieftains in Maiduguri, Baba Isa, told journalists that the state government had been mounting pressure on the owners of the building to reverse the leasing agreement, after it was realised that the PDP wanted to use it as its new secretariat.
“Initially, we thought the threats was part of the usual persecutions we have been facing all these years but when the governor revoked the building’s certificate of occupancy, we knew his desperation to take us out has taken a new dimension”, Mr. Isa said.
He said using government machinery in crushing the opposition means that the ruling party had “squandered” its goodwill from the people who are yearning for a change of government come 2019.
“We are not oblivious of the fact that the PDP is a threat to the maladministration of the APC in Borno State and this sudden strategy to silence us won’t work.
“Look around you, the people resent this government, they have vowed to do away with anything associated with APC and this show of shame and dictatorial approach won’t change their stand,” he said.
But Mr. Isa’s claim was faulted by some PDP members in the state who argued that the party had not changed the address of its state secretariat from the Wulari area where it has been since 1999. This point of view, however, seemed to expose the division in the main opposition party.
Umar Sanda, the administrative secretary and former youth leader of the PDP told PREMIUM TIMES on phone that “our secretariat remains intact where it used to be. We are not aware of any party secretariat that has been demolished in the name of the PDP.
“But we know that the new chairman of the PDP, Zannah Gaddama, whose emergence we are still contesting in court wanted to move our party secretariat to Dandal Way – precisely the Premier Cinema building. But that has not been done because I learnt they have not finished paying the owners of the property who are children of late Umar Ali.
“Perhaps the state government got the hint of that move and they probably felt they would be embarrassed by an opposition party coming to take over the building that used to carry the logo of the ruling party, so they decided to buy it over and demolish it”.
Mr. Sanda said the building that the PDP is currently using belongs to one of the founding members of the party, Gambo Lawan, who donated it for the temporary use of the party in 1999.
Mr. Lawan was the PDP governorship candidate who contested against the incumbent governor, Mr. Shettima, in the last 2015 election. He did not contest his landslide defeat in court.
Mr Lawan, as it is generally believed, is not on the factional side of the incumbent PDP chairman, Mr. Gaddama, and might not likely allow the party under the latter’s leadership to use his personal property as its secretariat.
“Perhaps that was what necessitated them to go shopping for another location to be used as the party’s new secretariat”, said the former PDP youth leader.
The spokesman of the ruling APC in Borno State, Makinta Zarami, however, disputed all the claims made by the PDP officials when he spoke with PREMIUM TIMES.
“As far as the APC is concerned, the demolition of Premier Cinema which used to be the local government secretariat of the defunct ANPP, the party from which APC was formed, has nothing to do with politics,” Mr. Zarami said.
“The fact is that due to the illegal activities that have been going on in the property by some unscrupulous elements, the Borno State government felt such a place that is strategically located along the road that leads to the Shehu’s palace, which is the seat of our revered tradition as well as the central mosque of Borno State, should be used for a noble purpose like either establishing a befitting shopping mall or an Islamiya school.
“And since the building belonged to the children of late Umar Ali, the state government started bidding for the property for over a year ago. It took that long because the inheritors of the property are three women, and dealing with women in such transaction is a bit difficult. But at the end of the day, the sale of Premier Cinema was perfected and it became the property of the state government.
“But unfortunately, one of the sons of the women inheritors who is very close to the PDP officials in the state, did not know this transaction took place; hence he went and said his family would give out the building to PDP for rent. That was why the state government decided to demolish the place to start the new project that is public interest there.
Credit: Premium Times