Every now and then, private citizens get on flights and embark on trips abroad, without any fuss or media frenzy. People are usually able to travel when they want, as long as they have the means and are legally permitted too. There isn't usually any huge tabloid story attached to boarding a plane at the Murtala Mohammed or Nnamdi Azikiwe International airports.
Well, unless you are a man who has expressed his wish to be president of one of the most populated nations of the world, and you are going against an incumbent who is only just about to conclude his first term in office.
Atiku Abubakar, politician, business tycoon and presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), visited the United States on Thursday 17th January, 2019, checking into the Trump Hotel in Washington D.C on his arrival.
On his visit to the United States, Atiku met a number of high profile individuals. He met with Congressman Michael McCaul, Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. No guessing what was discussed, combating insecurity and terrorism must have been priority. The present government has attempted to convince the populace that the terrorist group Boko Haram has been ‘technically’ defeated. Unfortunately, as daily news reports have shown, this is not the case.
Atiku Abubakar also met with Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey. Congressman Smith is Chairman of the US House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health. Atiku probably scheduled that particular meeting in order to gain an ally in the United States and solicit for international support. Lastly, Atiku Abubakar met with members of Albright Stonebridge Group. The Albright Stonebridge Group is a global strategy firm with expertise on emerging markets and is chaired by Madeline Albright, the 64th Secretary of State of the U.S.
There are a few facts that need to be explored before drawing any inferences. Atiku has not visited the United States in the past twelve years. According to reports, the U.S Senate Permanent Sub-committee on investigations, chaired by Senator Carl Levin, subjected him to a probe 10 years ago. It has also been widely speculated that Atiku is part of a list of foreign Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) alongside Nguema Obiang Mangue (son of Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mbasogo, President of Equatorial Guinea) and the late President of Gabon, Omar Bongo.
The committee submitted a report on the 4th day of July, 2010, three years after Atiku left office as Vice President. The said report unveiled violations of U.S. laws by Atiku Abubakar and his fourth wife, Jennifer Douglas Abubakar. The corruption allegations against Atiku Abubakar are detailed in a 2010 bipartisan report by the U.S. Senate, “KEEPING FOREIGN CORRUPTION OUT OF THE UNITED STATES: FOUR CASE HISTORIES.” The report states that Atiku, through his wife, Jennifer Douglas Abubakar, funneled $40 million in “suspect funds” to the United States, including millions in “bribe payments”.
Unsurprisingly, conspiracy theories and opinions as to why he visited have sprung up and it’s important to draw out words from the horse’s mouth. Speaking in the Chamber of Commerce on Friday, Atiku stated that his reason for making the trip was to “create the right economic atmosphere for American investments to return to Nigeria”. Representatives of the People's Democratic Party (PDP) have opined that "Atiku's visit to America exposes the APC as a party of propaganda and lies". A group known as the “Atiku Nationwide Project” is of the view that the former Vice President is not a thief as claimed by the All Progressives Congress (APC), the political party whose members occupy most of the country’s elective offices. It was alleged that the United States Embassy weren't aware of his intended and eventual visit. As explained by the U.S Embassy Representative, however, Mr. Peter Obi, his running mate, was expected to make the trip, which presents us with something to chew on.
On the side of the opposition though, things haven’t been as warm and cuddly in terms of reactions. In the words of the APC as communicated through its secretary, Alhaji Abdulmanaf Mohammed-Daura,"Atiku's visit to the United States was an exercise in futility". There were also strong words from the Campaign Organisation of President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, opining that “the visit has all the trappings of a fugitive sneaking into America under a special diplomatic waiver".
Judd Legum, American journalist and political staffer, waded into the "Atiku visit to the U.S" conundrum with a thread posted on his verified Twitter account on January 21st, 2019. He shed light on the fact the fact that prior to this visit, it had been twelve years since Atiku last stepped feet on U.S territory, stressing that Atiku's inability to visit the United States was used by his opponents to score points as proof of his corruption and unsuitability for public office. He alleged that Atiku hired a key member of Trump’s operation, a certain Brain Ballard on a $1.1 million per year lobbying contract in November. The visit, he claimed was altogether ignored by the U.S media, and he also took aim at President Trump as well as the modus operandi of the White House.
Be that as it may, the visit has clearly raised more questions than provided answers. The Nigerian people will certainly feel hard done by on account of his decision to not partake in the presidential debate, even though it was confirmed that he was at the venue prior to the beginning of proceedings.
Elections are looming. Come February, (eligible) citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will be charged with the responsibility of voting into office a leader who has their best interests at heart. Some may argue that electing one of either Buhari or Atiku would mean settling for the lesser of the two ‘evils’. Others have argued for a third force, that is, one of the other aspirants that actually showed up to the presidential debate. We say get your Permanent Voters’ Card, turn out in droves on D-day and vote your heart. Change begins with you!