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2015: ‘Big men’ scramble families abroad



In a bid to avoid being caught up in violence that may erupt after the February 2015 general elections, politicians, many chief executive officers/ chairmen of companies, top businessmen and wealthy Nigerians have started moving their families out of Nigeria.

Over 800 persons, including 10 members of the National Youth Service Corps were reportedly killed in the North during the violence that trailed the 2011 general elections.

Investigations showed that some apprehensive politicians and top members of the business community started relocating members of their families abroad late last year.

Many, it was learnt, are still moving their families out of the country.

According to findings, medical check-ups, short vacation, among others, are being cited by wealthy Nigerians as reasons for their trips.

Aviation experts told one of our correspondents that passenger traffic in Nigeria is usually low between January and March but that is not the case this year.

The CEO of a travel agency, who identified himself as Damian and did not want further details about himself or his company in print, said many of his clients had made bookings to travel abroad for fear of being caught up in violence.

Damian said, “It is true that there is an increase in the number of transactions we receive; many people are making bookings to leave the country.

“People are afraid; they fear that there may be violence after the election. Those making travel plans are mostly businessmen. I am also running away. I will leave before the election and return after the person who emerges as the president of the country has been sworn in.”

Similarly, a popular travel agency on Lagos Island told one of our correspondents that many managing directors/chairmen of some companies in Nigeria had booked their flight tickets in anticipation of leaving the country before the general elections.

One of the senior workers with the company, who simply identified himself as Thaddeus, said aside politicians who thronged the firm to buy tickets, many companies’ MDs and businessmen had bought tickets from the firm between November 27, 2014 and January 14, 2015.

Thaddeus named the United States, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirate as the most preferred destinations of the MDs.

He said, “Some politicians made arrangement to travel out of the country after the election, while many of the MDs chose to leave the country with their families a week before the poll.

“Before the political parties’ primaries held late year, we procured tickets for the families of some politicians and we believe that they must have left the country by now. The politicians started procuring their tickets from the first week of this month.”

The development, according to some travel agents who spoke with our correspondents, boosted their businesses.

In the South-East, some prominent Igbo politicians and businessmen have also decided to go for “vacation abroad.”

An aide of one of the members of the executive committee of Ohanaeze Ndigbo – the apex Igbo socio-political organisation – said his boss was among those planning to leave the country.

The aide who pleaded anonymity said, “I am aware that some politicians have already concluded arrangements to travel abroad after the election; some of them relocated their families out of the country many months ago.”

A travel agent, Mr. Nwaoka Iwe, who told one of our correspondents that he represents an Abuja-based travel agency in Enugu, also spoke of arrangements being made by politicians and businessmen to travel out of the country.

Iwe said, “The period after elections is when most of our big clients travel out of the country just like 2011, but we expect more businesses this year because of the fear by politicians that there may be trouble next month.”

Also in Kwara State, many politicians have booked their flights in advance.

An aide of one of the governorship aspirants confirmed to Saturday PUNCH on the condition of anonymity, that his boss would not wait for one day in Nigeria if there should be violence after the election.

Aides of five prominent politicians in Kwara State, who pleaded not to be named, also said their principals have asked to book their flights.

Commenting on the development, the Chief Executive Officer, Gadeshire Travels & Tours, Mr. Gbenga Adebayo, confirmed that there had been an increase in ticket bookings in recent times.

Adebayo said, “Some wealthy Nigerians moved their families during Christmas holidays and we are not expecting them back home until after the elections.

“Their decision not to come back may be as a result of their anticipation of crisis or post-election violence, based on the experience of the last election.”

In the same vein, a worker with the travel agency in Surulere, who identified himself as Yunus, said the rush for tickets had led to slight increase in price.

Politicians, others speak

Though the National Chairman of Labour Party, Dan Nwanyanwu, said the election would be violent-free, he asked Nigerians to rise and stop whoever foments trouble from fleeing the country.

Nwanyanwu, who spoke with one of our correspondents on the telephone, said, “Nobody can cause problem for the people and run away. All politicians must remain in the country and address any challenge that may trail the election.

“Nigeria belongs to all; a few group of people should not be allowed to make the country hellish for the masses. So, we will stop whoever causes problem for Nigeria from fleeing the country.”

In his reaction, the National Publicity Secretary, Afenifere Renewal Group, a pan-Yoruba socio-political association, Mr. Mr. Kunle Famoriyo, condemned politicians for sending their families abroad and making travel plans in anticipation of post-election violence.

Famoriyo described such politicians as the corrupt ones who have stolen the country blind and are afraid of a backlash.

He said, “Such politicians will run away if they know that they have looted the country’s resources and that their hands are not clean. They know that they have skeletons in their cupboards and are afraid of the nemesis.

“It is condemnable because if they know their hands are clean, they should be with their people no matter what. It is the rich that will run away; I’m not running away. I can’t say that I will run away because there may be violence. A General stays with his soldiers at the battlefront. We should stay and build this country together. Most of our politicians don’t have any milk of humanity in them so they will run away.

“Can a poor farmer planting his cassava peacefully run away? Can a bus driver run away? Where will he run to? It is the rich and those who have milked the country that will be planning to run away.”

A human rights activist, Jiti Ogunye, said it is necessary that politicians refrain from manipulating the electorate and election results to avoid violence after the elections..

Ogunye said, “The first condition for credible election is the activation of electoral justice. Politicians should learn not just to preach peace but to do justice. If they manipulate the election results, there could be reaction of violence. So I advise that they play by the rules so that we can enjoy peace in this period. They should not rob the electorate of their decisions.”

Non-indigenes flee northern states

Besides plans by politicians, businessmen and others to seek temporary refuge outside the country, Saturday PUNCH also learnt that several non-indigenes plan to relocate from the North during the elections.

One of such people, Ebenezer Adegoke, who works with a telecommunication company in Katsina State, said he had rented an apartment in Ibadan ahead of the election.

Adegoke said, “You cannot predict what will happen after this election. I heard many stories of people getting killed in previous post-election violence. That will not happen to me.

“I will relocate my family to Ibadan a week prior to the election. We will not go back to Katsina until after the polls. At least in Ibadan, I will be closer to home.”

Also an Akure indigene, Idowu Omolagba, who resides in Kano, told Saturday PUNCH that he had relocated his family to Akure.

Omolagba, who is a commercial motorist in the Northern commercial city, said, “I won’t return to Kano until after the election.”

Similarly, Abuja-based Chinyere Uche returned to her home town in Ngor Okpala, Imo State, a few days after Christmas, but she has no intention of returning to her base.

The thirty-year-old mother of three said she would stay back in her village until after the general elections.

She said, “I did not come back home to vote; in fact I did not register in my village. I only decided to return home because of threat that violence may trail the next general elections.”

A Gombe-based businessman, Mr. Christian Utta, also brought his family from Gombe to his Mbaise home, Imo State.

Utta said, “I don’t want to be caught napping. By then, we may not even get transportation to come home. I am not praying for violence but it is better to be late than be late.”

Meanwhile, the Ohanaeze Youth Council, has called for the establishment of special polling booths for Igbos who are displaced from their places of residence in the North by Boko Haram .

OYC said since the Independent National Electoral Commission had concluded plans to set up special polling units for internally displaced persons in the North-East, “equity and justice demand that similar gesture be extended to other victims of Boko Haram forced to return to their home states in the South-East.”

National President of OYC, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, who made the call in Umuahia, said the failure of INEC to oblige the request would “convince OYC that the allegation that the electoral commission wanted to rig the forthcoming presidential poll is true.”

Isiguzoro contended that there has been mass exodus of Ndigbo residents in the North who have continued to flee the region because of escalating activities of insurgents.

The group therefore, gave the Chairman of INEC a seven- day ultimatum to correct the imbalance or resign his job.

Punch, January 17, 2015

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