Despite fears that an unknown number of people might have been infected by the deadly Ebola virus in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, the Transformation Ambassador of Nigeria, TAN, a group campaigning for the re-election of President Goodluck Jonathan, said it would go ahead with its planned rally in Port Harcourt, the state capital on Saturday.
Both the presidency and the health ministry have failed to stop the group despite warning that such large gatherings could aid the spread of the virus that has so far killed six people in Nigeria.
The group’s Director of Media, Udenta Udenta, who disclosed this on Friday, said the arrangement for a successful rally where the people of South-South zone would urge the president to run in the February 2015 presidential election, had been concluded.
“The rally will hold,” Mr. Udenta confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES in a telephone interview Friday night. “The Ebola issue is being over-hyped. We have sanitised every location and there is no cause for alarm.”
The rally, which is billed to hold at the Liberation Stadium in Port Harcourt, is coming on the heels of the death of a medical doctor, Ikechukwu Enemuo who was infected by the virus as well as the isolation of over 100 others in the oil-rich state.
The Federal Government had said it would take measures to contain the disease in Rivers just as it did in others where the disease had been discovered.
“The Incidental Management Committee, IMC, has already deployed a very strong team to Port Harcourt to work with the health authorities of Rivers State,” the Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu had said.
“Just like the situation has been effectively been managed in Lagos and Enugu, the situation in Port Harcourt will also similarly be effectively managed and we have begun to do so.”
The minister appealed to all contacts under surveillance to abide by the advice given to them by the IMC.
TAN held similar rallies in Awka, Anambra State, in the South East zone (August 16) and Ibadan in Oyo State in the South West zone last Saturday.
At the Awka rally, TAN said it mustered 1.6 million signatures asking Mr. Jonathan to run in the February 14 presidential election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
The group said it also collected 1.8 million signatures in the South West.
After the Port Harcourt rally, TAN plans to shift the rallies to the northern part of the country with Minna in North Central zone hosting the next one on September 13, Gombe, North East September 20 and Kano, North West September 27.
The grand finale of the rally holds at the Eagles Square, Abuja on September 30.
The insistence by the group to go ahead with the rally runs contrary to the directive by Mr. Jonathan on August 8 discouraging large gatherings to check the spread of the deadly virus imported into the country about a month ago by a Liberian-America, Patrick Sawyerr.
In a move aimed at controlling and containing the Ebola virus, the president had said, “Religious and political groups, spiritual healing centres, families, associations and other bodies should, in the meantime, discourage gatherings and activities that may unwittingly promote close contact with infected persons or place others at risk.”
Also, while briefing journalists at the end of the weekly Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting, the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku directed that the Osun Osogbo billed for August 20 as well as other major events in the country should be suspended to curtail the spread of the virus.
In deference to the directives, the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, was allowed to go ahead with its conference in Owerri, Imo State only after it convinced the government that it had put in place measures to curtail the spread of the Ebola virus.
However, TAN has repeatedly ignored the directives and the President has failed to stop the group.
Some civil and political activists had criticised the conduct of the rallies.
The APC had on Thursday asked Mr. Jonathan to halt the campaign.
“Mr. President, you said your ambition is not worth the life of any Nigeria. But the TAN rallies for your re-election are endangering the lives of thousands of Nigerians in these days of Ebola. Some things must simply transcend politics. This is one of them, Please stop the rallies now,” the party said in a statement by its spokesperson, Lai Mohammed.
Also, a group, Buhari Vanguard, on Friday asked the president to instruct TAN to suspend the Port Harcourt rally.
Buhari Vanguard, which is a group of loyalists of a national leader of APC, Muhammadu Buhari, said in a statement by its chairman, Jasper Azuatalam, that as the chief custodian of the laws of the country, it is ridiculous for the President to continue to be lawless, violating regulations he helped put in place.
It said, “You will recall that the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Education has closed down all schools till September 13 because of the Ebola virus. The Federal Government through The Ministry of Health has also warned all religious and political bodies against large public gathering, even in states where the Ebola virus has not been recorded. Churches and other public institutions have also suspended public gatherings.
“However, it has come to our notice that a pro-Jonathan political organization and mobilization group for the 2015 presidential election has scheduled a mass rally in Portharcourt the Rivers state capital for Saturday, the 30th of August, 2014. The rally being organized by Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria TAN is to hold at the Liberation Stadium by 10am. The rally will bring together people from all the states in the South South comprising Bayelsa, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Edo, Cross River and Rivers state to Portharcourt.
“We urge President Goodluck Jonathan to immediately instruct the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria TAN to suspend the scheduled rally until the Ebola Virus is successfully curtailed in Rivers state and other parts of Nigeria. Mr President is the chief custodian of the law in Nigeria and it will be ridiculous for the Chief custodian of the law to break the laws he has made without recourse.”