The Federal Government yesterday reopened the Maiduguri International Airport which was closed on June 27, for former governor Ali Modu Sheriff of Borno State to land in Maiduguri in his personal aircraft.
The move was to allow Sheriff dump the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), while State Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno was on Sunday Prevented from using same Maiduguri International Airport.
The airport was abruptly closed when 276 pilgrims had been screened by relevant agencies at the departure terminal and were awaiting a Max Air chartered aircraft to convey them to Saudi Arabia for the lesser hajj.
As a result of the closure, the pilgrims had to travel to Kano by road, even as on the same day, a chartered flight that brought wife of the Borno State governor, Hajiya Nana Shettima, was forced to take off to Abuja empty even though Senator Ali Ndume was waiting to board it.
Top military authorities announced that the airport was closed for security reasons. It was however reopened yesterday and Sheriff’s private jet with registration number 5NBMH landed at about 1:32 PM. He was accompanied by three members of the House of Representatives, Abdurrahman Terab, Isa Kangar and Peter Biye. Kangar had in an interview published last week in some newspapers said Sheriff had made up his mind to defect to the PDP.
Others in the entourage included two time gubernatorial candidate of the PDP, Alhaji Kashim Imam and the former state chairman of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) Alhaji Mohammed Imam.
Dozens of soldiers led by the Garrison commander of the 7 Division of the Nigerian Army in Maiduguri, Colonel D.R. Hassan, gave cover to the former governor, whose motorcade drove through the Airport road, Bulumkutu, Damboa road and arrived at his private residence along Barracks road.
Sheriff had been severally blamed for empowering the Boko Haram group that has metamorphosed into a terrorist group in the country. Many Nigerians, including the sect had earlier called for his prosecution, but this had not been done.
Sheriff, who turned his visit to Maiduguri into a rally of sort, explained that he decided to move over to the PDP because the APC had no solid foundation adding that the party was built around one man.
Hundreds of PDP officials and supporters as well as members of the APC that are in his camp in Borno State converged at the airport to receive him.
A campaign office belonging to Sheriff was also painted in white while it is expected to wear PDP colours in coming days after Ramadan which he promised to make a bigger declaration.
Speaking to journalists in his house, described the APC as a dead party which had lost direction. He is the third former governor to decamp from the party after the merger of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the ANPP.
“My visit to Maiduguri is a private one but as you can see, it has been hijacked by my teaming supporters who mobilised the crowd that welcomed me. The real game will be after Ramadan because even though there is nothing to hide. We are still consulting with the national officers of the PDP on how to go about it, because the pull-out is going to be big, and we hope to organise it after fasting. Presently, as you can see, majority of our people are fasting and praying for peace to return to our dear state. But after the Ramadan we will come back and pull our people out of the APC”.
Sheriff, a founding member of the APC, started having trouble after the national convention of the party in Abuja which allegedly sidelined him.
On his rumoured cold war with Shettima, he said, “I have no grudge against the governor, rather I am coming to only pull out my supporters from the party that would not help them in any way”.
Governor Shettima, through his Special Adviser on Media, Umar Gusau, accused the presidency of witch-hunting him, closing the airport against him and his family and opening it to a former governor.
Also, while Sheriff was protected by soldiers all through his stay and rally, Shettima was not accorded such protection, no soldier guarding him while he journeyed to and from Kano State where he had gone to visit his elder brother who was involved in an auto crash while travelling by road as a result of the closure of the airport by the federal government.