Pulse Opinion: Atiku’s visit to the United States is big deal, but it won’t change anything in this election

Atiku’s visit to the United States is good news for his band of supporters, but it won't have a dent on the election outcome.

Atiku Abubakar and Senate President Bukola Saraki at the lounge upon arrival in the United States (Atiku media)

We have also been blessed with loads of pictures from the visit. Perhaps more pictures than we envisaged.

However, from where I sit, Atiku’s last ditch trip to the United States won’t swing the upcoming presidential contest one way or the other. Chances are that a chunk of voters have already made their choices at this point. This visit is unlikely to move the needle on the elections in any significant way, shape or form. 

I’ll provide a brief background to this whole drama below.

Until this week, Atiku had not set foot on US soil in 13 years and for obvious reasons as well--from 2000 to 2008, Jennifer Douglas, a U.S. citizen and fourth wife of Atiku, allegedly helped her husband transfer over $40 million in suspicious funds into the United States. The act is called money laundering.

The money was sent by offshore corporations to U.S. bank accounts. A chunk of the money was used by the Atikus to pay consultants for the setting up of the American University in Nigeria, investigators say.

The FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) ransacked Atiku’s apartment in highbrow Potomac, Maryland, but found no money or anything incriminating. 

“All my wives own houses and that particular house is not mine. It belonged to one of my wives. She sold the house and was never auctioned as it was reported”, Atiku said in his defense. 

Atiku was also accused of demanding bribe money of $500,000 to facilitate the award of contracts to two American telecommunication firms who wanted to do business in Nigeria. 

U.S. authorities probed the Siemens broadband contract because it was awarded to iGate, an American company in which Williams Jefferson, then U.S. federal lawmaker representing Louisiana, retained considerable interest.

Jefferson and Atiku were best of friends at the time and it is believed in intelligence circles that the contract went on without glitches in Nigeria because Jefferson had agreed to pay bribe money to top political figures in Nigeria, including Atiku.

In a secretly recorded conversation with the FBI, Jefferson disclosed that Atiku was promised $500,000 if he influenced the broadband deal from the Nigerian end of things.

The case against Jefferson was premised on bribery, influence-peddling and contract inflation.

While Senator Jefferson served jail time in the United States for his part in the scandal, Atiku continued to walk the Nigerian land a free man. 

Atiku’s inability to visit the U.S has been deployed by his political opponents as a rod for his back, time and again. 

Adams Oshiomhole, APC Chairman, recently boasted on the stomp that while Buhari can travel the world, Atiku can only venture as far as Dubai.

“We have a president whose integrity cannot be faulted anywhere in the world, but the PDP has a presidential candidate who can only travel to Dubai”, Oshiomhole had scoffed. 

In 2017, Atiku was asked if he’s avoiding visiting the U.S because of the corruption cases cited above. In his response, the former vice president said he’s applied for visa to visit the US, but had been denied one every time. 

“I applied, but wasn’t issued a visa. However, they did not decline me categorically either. They’ve only said my application is going through administrative process,” Atiku said.

“It is the sole prerogative of America to determine who they want in their country or not. I’m not running away from America,” he added.

In April of 2018, Atiku rightly told the BBC that travelling to the United States was no criteria for seeking the position of President of Nigeria.

“I can be president without going to America,” Atiku lashed out. “On the issue of corruption, I have challenged anyone, anywhere, who has any evidence of corruption against me to come forward. I’m sure they would have combed everywhere trying to find anything incriminating against me, but they have not found it, or they are still searching,” he added.

Atiku’s eventual visit to the U.S this week should come as a relief to his supporters and rightly so. This should be one talking point off their strategy list, at least for the moment. 

It is possible that Atiku was granted special waiver (something called waiver of inadmissibility) to step on U.S soil in his capacity as presidential candidate of one of the two major Nigerian political parties, especially since Nigerians living in the United States deserve to hear him share his plans for their country like everyone else, before the election. 

Applying for a waiver of inadmissibility can be a lengthy process that can take a year to complete and it costs the applicant some decent money. 

The PDP presidential candidate’s U.S visit should therefore be situated within the context that he can actually visit anywhere in the world at the moment because he’s running for the highest office in Africa’s largest economy. His visit to the U.S does not in any way suggest that U.S investigative authorities have cleared him of corruption charges or that the Jefferson and money laundering cases involving his wife have suddenly been binned. 

Granting someone a visa is one thing, investigating their alleged corrupt activities is quite another. The U.S is yet to categorically say it has cleared Atiku of these corruption charges. One successful lobbying job to get you on U.S terrain doesn’t miraculously wipe your ‘sins’ away. 

On the flipside, however, the APC, PDP and everyone else can now focus on the real issues that concern voters in this election and cease all these smear campaigns that have become a complete waste of everyone’s time. It’s time to hear what Atiku, Buhari and everyone else has to say about the real issues of security, the economy, creating jobs and providing infrastructure.

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