ANGRY mob on Thursday hurled water sachets and stones at a tent under which the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and some other dignitaries sat, at the Eid-el-Kabir prayer ground in Ilorin, Kwara State capital.
Amid shouts of “ole” “ole” (thief! thief!), the mob, made up mainly of youths and workers in the state, reportedly defied security operatives at the Eid-el-Kabir prayer and threw objects at the tent.
Saraki was reportedly smuggled out of the area by security operatives.
The Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Sulu Gambari, who arrived at the venue at 10 am, five minutes after Saraki, reportedly met the mob hurling sachets of pure water and stones at dignitaries including the Senate President.
The tent also accommodated the Emir; the Chief Imam, Alhaji Muhammad Bashir; the state House of Assembly speaker, Ali Ahmad; and a former Acting national Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, and now a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, Alhaji Kawu Baraje, among others.
One of our correspondents reports that the state-owned radio station, Radio Kwara, which had been transmitting the event live at a point, discontinued its broadcast.
Hundreds of faithful, who could not get to the prayer ground because of gridlock, but who had been following the proceedings on the radio, were unable to observe the congregational prayer because of the transmission stoppage.
It was learnt that a coaster bus conveying the Vice Chancellor, University of Ilorin, Prof. Abdulganiyu Ambali, and others, was also vandalised in the mayhem with eight persons in the bus sustaining injuries.
The Senate president has however said that he was not attacked.
Saraki, in a statement by his media office, said any report that indicated that he was attacked was false.
The statement partly read “Before the Senate President left the prayer ground, he spoke to reporters who had asked him about his message for Nigerians to mark the Eid-el-Kabir.
“We want to say that nothing can be further from the truth as the Senate President was never attacked nor was there any attempt made on his life to warrant him being ‘whisked away’ as reported by a section of the media.
“We however observe that there was a protest allegedly staged by local government employees over purported non-payment of salaries, which hoodlums attempted to hijack but this development was immediately curtailed by security agents.”
He said no missile was hurled at him.
But eyewitnesses told our correspondent in Ilorin that the mob had targeted Saraki in respect of allegations of false asset declaration levelled against him by the Code of Conduct Bureau and trial by the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
One of the eyewitnesses, Rasaq Yahaya, said, “The mob was directly facing the prayer ground shouting ‘ole, ole’ (Thief! Thief) at Bukola (Saraki). They were throwing stones and sachets of pure water at him, his entourage, the Emir and others. If not for the tent that shielded them, they would have been injured by the stones. He (Saraki) was their target. Some Kwarans are angry with Bukola concerning what they have been hearing in the news lately as regards his case with the EFCC.”
Another eyewitness, Kazeem Agboji, however condemned the attack, and said the attackers were mainly workers, who were being owed salaries by the state government.
Agboji said, “I learnt they (the attackers) were workers who have not received their salaries. Yesterday (Wednesday), some workers were paid a month salary while some got two months’ salaries. They assembled opposite the prayer ground. As Bukola (Saraki) arrived, they started mumbling. Five minutes after when the Emir came, they began shouting ‘thief, thief’ and the whole place was messed up with stones.
“The Imam could not even say khutba after the prayer. His ram was quickly slaughtered and everybody fled. It was unfortunate that this incident happened on a day like this. It is a total embarrassment and nemesis would catch up with those who caused the confusion.”
Another eyewitness, who identified himself only as Kadiri, said the fact that the state governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed, was not present at the prayer ground suggested that the attackers were not state workers.
“If they were to be aggrieved civil servants as some people are saying, the governor would be their target and he did not come. I think Bukola (Saraki) is their focus,” he said.
A worker at the University of Ilorin, Mr. Garba Apo, who spoke with one of our correspondents on the telephone, said he was one the workers that accompanied the VC to the prayer ground. He said the windows of the bus were shattered and that he sustained injuries in the legs.
“It was terrible. I had to jump through the window of the bus. The windows were damaged. The stones caught up with us and about eight persons were injured in the head. The VC did not sustain any physical injury,” Apo said.
The Kwara State Police Public Relations, Mr. Ajayi Okasanmi, told journalists in Ilorin that the mob were made up of hoodlums who had come to beg for money but were disappointed as they could not get to where some prominent people were seated.
He said that the police had got information that some hoodlums, who normally beg for money at the prayer ground, were planning to cause trouble if they did not get enough money.
He said the police had arrested eight of the attackers and that the prayers later went on without hitches.
But a policeman, who was on duty at the prayer ground, told one of our correspondents that about eight vehicles that escorted Saraki to the venue were vandalised.
“They aimed the stones at Bukola. It was very difficult for us to control the mob. We only shot at the air to disperse them. They vandalised about eight cars that conveyed Bukola’s entourage to the prayer ground and cut the the wire being used for transmission by Radio Kwara,” the source said.
Okasanmi said, “Today is the celebration of the Eid-Kabir and as usual we deployed enough policemen, in conjunction with other security agencies, to make sure that the celebration was free and peaceful.
“It was free but in the course of prayers, there was the resurgence of criminals, who we had put into consideration in planning our security strategies. They always come there to beg for money from well to do members of the public. So, they, as usual, came and when we started noticing that they were becoming unruly, we came out to stop them from gaining entrance or going near where the Very Important Persons were.
“They did not want to be held back as they felt they could get money from their leaders since the VIPs were far away from where they were. They actually became unruly and we had to chase them out and succeeded in arresting some of them. About eight of the miscreants were arrested and they are in our custody now and we have started investigation.
“We learnt that one or two people were injured but there was no official report to that. For us now, there was no casualty but when we are through with the investigation, we would be able to know if there was any casualty.
“We have not got any official report of any vehicle that was damaged but we heard that one or two vehicles were damaged. But we have not seen any injured person or damaged vehicles. As far as we are concerned, they are miscreants and they were there begging for money.”
The Kwara State government condemned the attack on dignitaries at the prayer ground, saying it was absurd, barbaric and unIslamic.
According to a statement by Governor Abdulfattah Ahmed’s Chief Press Secretary, Abdulwahaab Oba, the government said it heard of plans by some aggrieved politicians, in collaboration with some of the local government employees and teachers, to protest arrears of salaries owed them by their various local government authorities.
He said that the government had gone out of its way to negotiate and secure bank loans to offset the arrears, pending the time when the Federal Government bailout would be released and that workers had received their salaries.