The People’s Democratic Party presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar has been reported to have only got a temporary waiver to enter US after being linked to decade-old bribery scandal, Reuters reports.
Though the U.S. administration has not commented on Atiku’s status or his travel, however Reuters in its report claimed that several U.S. diplomats and others familiar with the visit disclosed that the former vice president was banned from entering the United States for the past several years after he figured prominently in two corruption cases.
Read the report in full;
Several U.S. government officials said the travel ban was waived temporarily by the U.S. State Department after lobbyists mounted a campaign among congressional lawmakers arguing that the administration should not snub the leading challenger to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in the Feb. 16 election.
One person familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Atiku was allowed to enter because the United States saw little benefit to creating bad blood with the man who might be the next leader of Africa’s most populous nation and the continent’s biggest oil producer.
Lobbyists hired by Atiku said they sought to overcome resistance at the State Department by securing support from members of Congress for the visit, as well as arguing that the top U.S. official for African affairs, Assistant Secretary Tibor Nagy, had an obligation to encourage democracy in the seventh most populous country in the world.
“Assistant Secretary Nagy was pleased to meet with him and share the U.S. government’s expectations that Nigeria’s elections be free, fair, transparent, and peaceful, and reflect the will of the Nigerian people,” a State Department official said, stressing the department had not requested the waiver.
Atiku’s visa troubles stem from when he served as Nigeria’s vice president, from 1999 to 2007. He figured prominently in the corruption trial of former U.S. Representative William Jefferson, who was accused of trying to bribe Atiku in an effort to expand a technology business in Nigeria. Jefferson was convicted in 2009 and sentenced to 13 years in prison. His sentence was subsequently reduced.
Separately U.S. Senate investigators in 2010 alleged that one of Atiku’s four wives, helped him transfer more than $40 million in “suspect funds” into the United States from offshore shell companies.
At least $1.7 million of that money was bribes paid by German technology company Siemens AG, according to Senate investigators. Siemens pleaded guilty to bribery charges in 2008 and agreed to pay a $1.6 billion fine. Atiku has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Neither he nor his wife faced criminal charges in the United States.
Reuters said Atiku’s visit to Washington was put together with the help of two US lobbying firms.
Holland & Knight was reportedly hired by Atiku in December to help him secure a visa by enlisting members of the Congress to request one on his behalf, according to a lobbyist for the firm. It has been paid $80,000 so far. Ballard Partners was hired by Atiku’s political party, the PDP, at a rate of $90,000 per month in September 2018, before Atiku emerged as the party’s candidate, according to the US disclosure filings.
The firm’s lobbyists worked to set up a meeting with Nagy, arguing that it would show that the US wanted to encourage free and fair elections in Nigeria.
“We are not asking the administration or anyone to take sides, but to merely demand the same level of freeness and fairness,” Ballard lobbyist, Jamie Rubin told Reuters. Efforts to get the reaction of the spokesman for the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, on the issue failed.
However, a source close to the campaign organisation told one of our correspondents that those behind the news had changed the narrative.
He said, “What they were initially saying then was that Atiku could not go to the US. They said if he travelled there, he would be arrested and jailed.
“Now, he had gone there and had returned. They are now talking about temporary relieve. Soon, they would say another thing.”