The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, yesterday alleged that the search on his plane was a premeditated action directly ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari as commander-in-chief.
Atiku's assertion was immediately rebuffed by Buhari who accused his PDP challenger of lacking ideas to campaign on and wanting to sustain the culture of impunity by privileged Nigerians.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Aviation yesterday reiterated that the search on the plane that conveyed Atiku was normal aviation regulation across the world.
Controversy enveloped the impending presidential campaign on Sunday when Atiku in a tweet alleged that he was violently searched on return from Dubai.
Buhari ordered plane search -- Atiku Campaign
Responding to the development yesterday, the Atiku Campaign in a statement alleged that the deployment of security men was directly ordered by the President in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief, being the only one so authorised to do so.
The campaign also observed that the search of the aircraft had been canvassed in a statement issued by the All Progressives Congress, APC a week ago, yesterday.
The Atiku Campaign said: "On November 5, 2018, exactly a week ago today, the All Progressives Congress released an official statement accusing former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of having strategy meetings for the purpose of moving "illicit cash" into Nigeria and they asked the security services to investigate HE Atiku Abubakar and his plane.
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"To quote from the APC's statement, the ruling party said "Our intelligence, anti-graft and security agencies must be awake to their responsibility of investigating the Dubai meeting. Cash-and-carry politicians must be prevented from moving illicit cash around to induce voters and sponsor election violence and rigging. Again, relevant agencies must check suspicious movement of cash both locally and internationally by politically exposed persons under the guise of a "Dubai meeting" or any clandestine meeting".
"They thereafter asked the security services to search aircraft belonging to members of Peoples Democratic Party.
"That statement evinced an obvious premeditated intention by the APC and its Federal Government to deliberately embarrass the former Vice President by invading his plane with security personnel and possibly to set him up for the crimes they had already officially accused him of in their statement.
"The official denial by the All Progressives Congress and the Presidency of any hand in the ordeal of the former Vice President is put to lie when you examine their statement of last week which was clearly what was implemented against the former Vice President. It also shows that both parties have no credibility and will do or say anything to further their interests.
"The statement by the aviation ministry that the search of Atiku Abubakar's plane is "routine" is an afterthought that does not hold water for the simple reason that the PDP Presidential candidate has been flying in and out of Nigeria without ever receiving such a treatment until the APC released its statement.
"This event raises grave concerns about using government services for purely political purposes and what this portends for the conduct of free and fair elections in February 2019, and shows as hollow President Buhari's promise to superintendent over credible polls.
"The Atiku Presidential Campaign Organisation wishes to remind Nigerians and the international community that by Nigeria's constitution, only the President can order the deployment of military and paramilitary personnel as Commander-in-Chief. That, combined with the statement released last week, is proof beyond reasonable doubt that what happened to Atiku Abubakar was not a routine exercise, but a deliberate attempt to intimidate him by those who have seen the political handwriting on the wall."
Atiku bereft of ideas --Buhari Campaign
Responding to the assertions yesterday, the Buhari Campaign accused Atiku of whipping up public sentiments in the face of what it alleged as the imminent defeat of the PDP presidential candidate.
"Atiku is bereft of ideas, bereft of issues he wants to campaign on. After spending one month in Dubai to come back with this poorly-crafted strategy to whip up public sentiment is a great tragedy for their campaign.
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"It signals the beginning of the end of that campaign. It signals the beginning of the end of his bid for the Presidency. He realises that he has reached the end of the road and all he wants to do now is to go out of the race in February in a blaze of public sympathy and that is what he wants to do.
"We wish him well, let him continue in this shadow-chasing and we shall continue to address issues.
"As a final word, let him realise that Al Gore, former vice-president of the United States, was subjected to rigorous checks at the airport sometime ago in the United States and nobody made noise about it. He did not complain, rather he was proud of the fact that the American system was working.
"The kind of system that does not work is what Atiku wants to reintroduce into Nigeria, a system where big men are big men and small men are small men. That is what he wants to reintroduce into Nigeria and Nigerians have seen through his hollowness and that he wants to ride through the wave of public sympathy. I am sorry he has been brutally exposed."
No politics, it's ICAO rules -- Aviation Minister
Meanwhile, the Minister of State for Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, yesterday said the check conducted on the aircraft belonging to the former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja was not politically motivated.
"Sirika in a statement by the Deputy Director, Press, Mr James Odaudu, said the check at the airport, was not driven by any political consideration, as being wrongly interpreted by a section of Nigerians, but by professional and industry practice as regulated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
"The Minister noted that such checks as carried out on the former Vice President's aircraft were mandatory and routine, and that no one was exempted, except the President, Vice President and visiting Presidents.
"Exemption from the primary inspection and screening process at the airport central screening points are extended to the following persons when travelling on official business: (a.) Visiting Head of State and entourage (b.) the President and entourage, and (c.) the Vice President and entourage.
"The ICAO security programme also requires that ministers and senior government officials are screened in the same manner as other passengers as they are expected to set examples for the travelling public and to the aviation security officials responsible for screening passengers.
"It is a routine practice that all incoming aircraft and passengers on international flights must go through customs, immigration, health, security and money laundering checks."
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Sirika appealed to the public that the Ministry and its agencies would always accord the desired respect to the nation's leaders, just as they were committed to ensuring the entrenchment of safety and security at the nation's airports without political considerations."