Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for the February 16 election, enlisted the services of two U.S lobbying firms and forked out thousands of dollars just to set foot on United States soil on January 17, 2019, a report by Reuters has revealed.
The Reuters reports states that: “Atiku's whirlwind visit to Washington last month was put together with the help of two U.S. lobbying firms.
“Holland & Knight was hired by Atiku personally in December to help him secure a visa, in part by enlisting members of 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 at a rate of $90,000 per month in September, before Atiku emerged as the party's candidate, according to U.S. disclosure filings”.
The U.S overlooked Atiku's corruption cases because of democracy
The report also states that the lobbyists worked with United States lawmakers who saw no problem getting Atiku into their country as a way of deepening democracy in the world’s seventh most populous country.
Reuters quotes lobbyists hired by Atiku as saying that they sought to overcome resistance at the State Department by securing support from members of Congress for the visit.
They then told top U.S. official for African affairs, Assistant Secretary Tibor Nagy, that the United States had an obligation to encourage democracy in the seventh most populous country in the world.
Several U.S. government officials told Reuters that the travel ban placed on Atiku was waived temporarily by the U.S. State Department after lobbyists got to work, mounting a campaign among congressional lawmakers and putting forward the argument that the administration should not snub the leading challenger to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in the Feb. 16 election.
The corruption cases in which the name Atiku was mentioned
Atiku’s visit to the U.S after over a decade, was hailed by his supporters and cited as proof that he is not as corrupt as the governing party has made him out to be.
Atiku, who served as Nigeria’s Vice President from 1999 to 2007, has been prominently mentioned in two high profile corruption cases perpetrated on U.S and Nigerian soil.
According to the charge sheet, from 2000 to 2008, Jennifer Douglas, a U.S. citizen and fourth wife of Atiku, helped her husband transfer over $40 million in suspicious funds into the United States.
The name Atiku Abubakar also came up in a Siemens broadband contract scandal involving Nigerian and American officials in the mid-2000s.
Investigators say 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 from 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.
U.S senate investigators say $1.7 million of that money was shelled out by Siemens in bribe money.
Siemens pleaded guilty to bribery charges in 2008 and agreed to pay a $1.6 billion fine.
Jefferson was convicted in 2009 and sentenced to 13 years in prison. His sentence was subsequently reduced.
Atiku maintains he is not corrupt
Atiku has repeatedly denied the corruption accusations flung at him.
“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,” Atiku said in June of 2018.
In April of 2018, Atiku boasted to the BBC that “I can be president without going to America”.
Atiku and his entourage, which included Senate President Bukola Saraki and former Aviation Minister Osita Chidoka lodged at the Trump International Hotel, owned by U.S president Donald Trump, during their visit.
They met with several hundred Nigerian expatriates there, according to two people who attended the meetings, Reuters writes.
Trump’s luxury hotel is the subject of several lawsuits that allege Trump is violating an anti-corruption clause in the U.S. Constitution that limits the president's ability to accept gifts from foreign government.
Atiku's supporters told Reuters that they settled on the hotel because they were able to book rooms at a discounted rate with only a few days' notice.
"I think it was because of the availability of the space,"Uche Udemadu, an official with the U.S. chapter of the PDP, was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Atiku has been running for the office of Nigeria's President since 1992.