Atiku has declined an invitation to speak at the United States. Is he running away from the law?
The event, a trade and investment gathering in Washington D.C. has been scheduled for June 24-26, 2018.
Atiku’s name fell under ‘confirmed plenary speakers’ alongside Nigeria’s minister for Trade and Industry Okechukwu Enelamah; Chairman of the Board of Directors, Banco Sol Angola, Mr Coutinho Nobre Miguel; Deputy Director General of Trade and Investment in South Africa Ms Lerato Mataboge; Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu; former US Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell; former Finance Minister Kalu Idika Kalu; Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha, Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike and a host of other major players in the private and public sectors across Africa.
But Atiku won’t be attending.
“There is no such invitation to the former vice president. We are not aware of such invitation and we do not know how they managed to put his name on their list,” Atiku’s spokesperson, Paul Ibe, told Premium Times.
There are those who say Atiku will be arrested if he sets foot on US soil and that honouring this latest invitation will be akin to committing suicide for the former vice president.
Atiku has been accused of money laundering and fraud in the United States, reports say.
For context, Atiku has visited so many nations and cities on earth since he left power in 2007. But he’s never visited the United States or a city in the United States. Why so?
The name Atiku Abubakar came up in a Siemens broadband contract scandal involving Nigerian and American officials in the mid-2000s.
According to sundry reports, 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 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.
The Nation reports that: “of the $40 million in suspect funds, $25 million was wire transferred by offshore corporations into more than 30 U.S. bank accounts opened by Ms. Douglas, primarily by Guernsey Trust Company Nigeria Ltd., LetsGo Ltd. Inc., and Sima Holding Ltd.
"Two of the offshore corporations wire transferred about $14 million over five years to American University in Washington, D.C., to pay for consulting services related to the development of a Nigerian university founded by Mr. Abubakar.
"American University accepted the wire transfers without asking about the identity of the offshore corporations or the source of their funds, because under current law, the University had no legal obligation to inquire".
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 lawamker 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.
The case against Jefferson was premised on bribery, influence-peddling and contract inflation.
Jefferson was found guilty and served jail time in the United States for his part in the transaction, but Atiku has never been prosecuted in Nigeria.
There are insinuations that should Atiku visit the United States, he’ll be promptly arrested and prosecuted for his part in the transaction.
Asked in 2017 if he’s running away from the US, Atiku said he’s applied for visa to visit the US, but has been denied one each time. Is there a visa restriction on Atiku then?
“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.
Atiku who is running for the office of President of Nigeria in 2019, has also challenged anyone with iron cast evidence of corruption against him, to step forward. The former Vice President has been assailed with more allegations of corruption than perhaps any other politician of his era.
“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.
Atiku also says the Nigerian constitution doesn’t say he has to visit America before running for president.
“I can be president without going to America,” Atiku told the BBC in April of 2018.
There were also reports that Atiku owns luxury homes in the US, which have been seized and auctioned off by the US government.
He denies that one of those houses belongs to him. “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.”
In any case, the questions on the lips of many remain: are we going to see Atiku in the US any time soon? Will Atiku be arrested if he sets foot on US soil?
An official of the US Embassy in Nigeria declined comments for this story. The United States government has also refused to say if Atiku has been slapped with criminal charges in the country.