A week before Rabiu Kwankwaso was denied the use of the Eagle Square in Abuja for his presidential declaration, the same venue had been approved for him, PREMIUM TIMES learnt.
Mr Kwankwaso, who recently defected from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had announced Wednesday as the day for of his formal declaration.
The senator's presidential declaration had been widely expected. He was Kano Governor when President Muhammadu Buhari secured his largest votes in Kano State in the 2015 presidential election. Mr Kwankwaso also came second to Mr Buhari in the APC presidential primaries then before declaring support for the latter who won the general election to become president.
The ex-Kano governor has boasted that he, of all PDP presidential aspirants, has the best chance to defeat Mr Buhari in 2019.
So when on Sunday, his campaign committee announced he would declare his presidential ambition formally in Abuja at the Eagle Square, not a few Nigerians paid attention to it. His aide also told PREMIUM TIMES that Abuja was chosen, rather than Kano where he enjoys massive support, for easy access to attendees from across the country.
On August 20, three days after he applied to use the Eagle Square for his declaration, the management of the venue approved his request.
The Integrated Facility Management Services Limited, the firm saddled by the Abuja administration to manage the Eagle Square wrote to Rasy International and Properties Limited, the private firm through which Mr Kwankwaso applied for use of the venue.
Letter of approval allowing Kwankwaso to use the Eagles Square for his presidential declaration.
The approval letter, titled "RE APPLICATION FOR THE USE OF EAGLE SQUARE" was signed by Usman Mukhtar Raji, for the management. It informed the applicants that their application to use the facility on August 29 had been approved.
"Further to your letter on the above subject matter, we hereby write to inform you of the management approval for the use of the Eagle Square halls... " Mr Raji said in the letter.
The applicants were asked to pay a total sum of N2.2 million (N2,217,000) for the use of the venue.
However, three days before the formal notification of the approval, the organisers had been advised to quickly make the payment in order to have an edge over others who may want to use the facility.
The payment was thus made on August 17 and a receipt issued by the facility managers.
Receipt of payment made by Kwankwaso for the use of the Eagles Square in Abuja.
Receipt of payment made by Kwankwaso for the use of the Eagles Square in Abuja.
The applicants were further directed to make a bank draft payment of N393,000, a refundable caution fee in case of damages to the venue during the event. That was made on August 18, two days before the formal approval.
Upon receiving the formal approval, therefore, the organisers felt satisfied all requirements had been met.
They were happy to announce to the public on Sunday, in a statement, that Mr Kwankwaso's formal declaration would hold at the Eagle Square today (Wednesday).
"He is declaring in Abuja because it is the nation's capital, and this is a national event," the former governor's spokesperson, Binta Sipikin, told PREMIUM TIMES on Monday morning.
"We are considering people from various parts of the country who may want to come, but could find a meeting in Abuja easier than in Kano."
A day after the public announcement, however, the management of Eagle Square made a U-turn.
Exactly a week after he wrote granting approval for the use of the venue, the same person who signed the approval letter, signed the new rejection letter.
Letter of rejection preventing Kwankwaso from using the Eagle Square for his presidential declaration.
"We are sorry to inform you that the event can no longer hold on the said date because it is a political event and the 29th of August, 2018 happens to be a work day, as it would disrupt the usual work flow of the Federal Secretariat," Mr Raji wrote.
"We apologise for the oversight on our part to note the date in relation to the nature of the event. We regret every inconvenience caused by this."
Aides of Mr Kwankwaso and many other politicians in Abuja believe the move was made to stifle the senator's presidential declaration.
The Kwankwaso Campaign Organisation said it "sees the development as a handiwork of the government in power who will not see anything good in growing our fledgling democracy as no level playing field has been created to allow for viable opposition in the country."
When contacted, the Abuja minister, Mohammed Bello, who has oversight over the management of the venue, did not deny any political undertone to the action. Through his spokesperson, Abubakar Sani, Mr Bello simply referred all enquiries to Integrated Facility Management Services Ltd, the firm which manages the Eagle Square and which made the controversial U-turn.
Investigations by this newspaper reveal that the excuse of August 29 being a "work day" provided by the Eagle Square management is baseless. The same venue has in the past been released for other political activities on weekdays.
The most recent event was the rally to support President Buhari in the 2019 general election under the aegis of Buhari Youth Organization. That rally, attended by hundreds of people, held on Tuesday, July 10, at the Eagles Square, a work day.
Also similar to Mr. Kwankwaso, then candidate Muhammadu Buhari on October 14, 2018 (a Wednesday, work day) officially declared his intention to contest the 2015 presidential election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at the same venue.
President Muhammadu Buhari at Eagle Square in Abuja, FCT. [PHOTO CREDIT: Pulse.ng]
On another working day, December 10, 2014, a Wednesday, the same facility managers released the Eagle Square to the then ruling party, PDP, for a convention that ratified the endorsement of Goodluck Jonathan and former chairman of the party, Adamu Muazu.
WE REMAIN UNDETTERED
Despite the refusal for them to use their preferred venue, Mr Kwankwaso's campaign team say they remain undeterred.
"The above development will in no way dampen our morale to go ahead with the declaration or chicken-out as it will only embolden us to legally pursue our fundamental right to freedom of movement and association."
A member of the planning committee, Ikenga Ugochinyere, told PREMIUM TIMES that despite the setback, the event will still hold as scheduled but at a different venue.
"We'll go ahead as earlier planned but will communicate a new venue," he said.
Ms Sipikin later told this newspaper that Cheda hotel, a private hotel in Abuja, would be the new venue of the declaration.
THE STRUGGLE FOR PDP TICKET
Despite deciding to proceed with his declaration, Mr Kwankwaso faces a major hurdle in securing the ticket of the PDP for next year's presidential election.
Other major PDP aspirants are Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Governors Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto and Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe, and ex-governors Sule Lamido and Attahiru Bafarawa.
Mr Kwankwaso's experience as a former governor of the most populous state in Northern Nigeria is expected to be his major selling point.
He often claims credit for helping Mr Buhari secure 1.9 million votes in the state in 2015. Although the president had always been popular in Kano where he enjoys massive support, he never got that much votes in the state until 2015.
Mr Kwankwaso also helped Umar Ganduje, then his deputy while he was governor, to power in the 2015 elections. Both men have since fallen out with Mr Ganduje vowing to ensure President Buhari wins Kano overwhelmingly in 2019.
Mr Kwankwaso served as defence minister and elected Kano governor on the platform of the PDP, but joined then-newly-formed APC in 2013 as part of the renegade 'newPDP' bloc.
He is one of the most influential politicians to defect from the APC since Atiku Abubakar left the party last November. Perhaps in recognition of his popularity, President Buhari held a meeting with Mr Kwankwaso a day before senator defected to the PDP, in a last minute attempt to persuade him to remain in the ruling party. Should Mr Kwankwaso secure the PDP ticket, that meeting with the president could turn the last both men would hold as political allies.