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Intrigues, controversies, prospects of Atiku’s American journey

By Leo Sobechi (Assistant Politics Editor) and Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Abuja
22 January 2019   |   3:20 am
The entire narrative about Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and his entanglements with corruption allegations in the United States of America (US) seems to have received unction by the unstated belief that there is no rich saint. Furthermore, the sustained spin, which gained traction shortly after he emigrated from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and declared…

Atiku (middle), arrives in U.S accompanied by Saraki and Osita

The entire narrative about Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and his entanglements with corruption allegations in the United States of America (US) seems to have received unction by the unstated belief that there is no rich saint.

Furthermore, the sustained spin, which gained traction shortly after he emigrated from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and declared fresh appetite for the exalted position of Presidency, could easily be explained by the fact of his political exposure at the highest level in Nigeria.

As the principle of selective exposure and crowd mentality attended the former Vice President’s alleged contravention of US laws on fund transfers, the maxim that an accused is perceived innocent until proven guilty became timid. And in the partisan competition for votes, his opponents added a new dimension to the tale: Atiku’s failure to travel to the land of freedom was evidence of his guilt and felony.

Going to America

WAS Atiku Abubakar’s recent journey to US an anti-climax or a moral triumph against his traducers? It was both. But the smartness he and his allies deployed in knocking off the eventful two-day visit is deserving of mention.

If there is no rich saint, it does not seem that no international businessperson could be described as a nitwit.

On Wednesday January 16, 2019 (what a date?) the former Vice President and Presidential candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was in the midst of the Lagos business community in an interactive session.

The well-advertised programme was to afford him the opportunity to adumbrate on the famed Atiku Plan to Get Nigeria Working Again.

However, while his former allies in the ruling party deployed political mischief to keep prominent members of the business community away from the conference, unknown to them Atiku and his men had perfected plans to kill two birds with one stone.

While the rivals were thumbing their chests that the proposed meeting with the business community returned a less than proportionate result, Atiku and his entourage were ensconced in the womb of an aerial fish on their flight to Trumpland.  

Hearsay, charge

SIGNS that Abubakar’s charge was a product of hearsay emerged the year after his left office as Nigeria’s Vice President.
The claim was that a large sum of money totaling $40million was imported into the US through the Vice President’s fourth wife, Dr. Jennifer Douglas Abubakar.

In 2008 a court document that was made public gave perspective to the charge of infringement based on the allegations from a member of the US Congress, William Jefferson, who was facing corruption trial by the US government.

Jefferson had claimed that he received $100million from Siemens meant to bribe the Nigeria Vice-President to corner a contract in the country.

Based on Jefferson’s assertion that Atiku’s wife was a go-between him the Nigerian politician and Dr. Jennifer Abubakar’s depositions that the money from an offshore account was from her husband, the perception was created that Atiku had questions to answer.

A court in Alexandria, Virginia revealed US government’s position on the matter, in which the government did not oppose that the testimony of Atiku and one Suleiman Yahyah be taken in the interest of fairness.

However, the snag was that the US government refused that such testimony should be taken outside its shores, because “the prospective witnesses (unindicted co-conspirators should be cross-examined under oath before this court and a jury during the trial of the matter.”

While Jefferson wanted Dr. Jennifer Abubakar’s testimony and deposition outside US at a place of her choosing in Europe, her counsel pleaded “marital privilege” on her behalf to disallow questions about Mrs. Abubakar’s communications between her and her husband on the issues.

Although the matter depended hugely on hearsay evidence as it lingered, the Nigeria factor helped to compound the issues involved. At the tail end of their tenure, President Olusegun Obasanjo had fallen with his second in command, Vice President Abubakar.

And given the headlines the issue of corruption in the country had generated, the then President latched onto the cloudy situation in US to further his political hostilities with his estranged deputy.

Just as the US government could not establish prima facie case against Atiku, whose motive of wiring $40million into America was found to be based on his desire to found an American style university in his state of origin, former President Obasanjo understood that despite the possibility he would come out with a clean bill after interrogations, the idea of Nigeria’s second ranking official undergoing such inquest was worse than the alleged legal infractions complained against.

In the clash of politics, diplomacy and national interest, Atiku Abubakar was left to bear the burden of the perfidious allegations without evident effort to clear the fog.

And having continued to show his interest in the office of Nigeria President, coupled with his famed wealth, the bogey of corruption allegation and US government’s decision to remove itself from being used as pawn in the domestic quarrel between Obasanjo and his deputy by refusing to grant him entry visa, the issue of Atiku’s non-entry into US became a campaign topic.

Given the mental inferiority of crowds, none of those echoing the corruption allegations and the hanging allegation in US could ask why the US failed to take advantage of Interpol if really the Nigerian politician offended its laws.

As the issue of visiting US became the central issue in Nigeria’s election, the ruling APC told Nigerians to vote a President that could go anywhere and not just to Dubai, in allusion to Atiku Abubakar’s frequent trips to the Middle Eastern country.

Taking up the challenge, Atiku, who is unarguably the main challenger to the incumbent decided to visit US.

The U.S must have become helpless in the matter, especially when the Nigeria’s minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, ‘warned’ Washington not to grant a visa to the PDP presidential flag-bearer, contending that doing so would amount to endorsing his candidacy and thereby interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation.

Issues, politics of a trip

ON Thursday January 17, 2019 all the back and forth was put to rest as the Eagle landed in America.

The visit by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, to the US renewed and increased the tempo of political exchanges, particularly among the main political parties, the Federal Government, supporters and sympathizers.

The trip has however become a matter of perception for the two main opposition parties and their leaders.

That President Muhammadu Buhari had through his campaign spokesman, Festus Keyamo, challenged Atiku to prove his innocence on corruption allegations by stepping into the US, makes the trip a political milestone for the PDP Presidential candidate.

For Atiku and PDP, the trip to US is a significant tide changer because of the volume of hue and cry generated about the possibility or impossibility, feared consequences and many other dreaded negative political issues that could be thrown up.

Ordinarily, a candidate’s visit to the US should not have been an issue as that would have been considered a personal issue, but the ruling APC has made an issue out of it insinuating at every turn that the PDP candidate’s inability to visit the US was out of fear of arrest.

The debate over Atiku’s US visit became messy at a point that the government was almost interfering in the decision of the US embassy on whether or not to issue one to him. Indeed, supporters of the Buhari government had dared Atiku to visit the US as a first major step to seeking to lead Nigeria.

But the former vice-president ignored them all along and was running with other campaign plans until the time came for him to travel to the US and he did without as much making a media capital from it. That he chose to travel has lent credence to his confidence about travelling to anywhere at will and this, has not only shut his enemies up but changed the current tenor of the campaigns for the nation’s top job, whose election is due second week of next month.

Immediately he arrived in the US, Atiku had first met with Congressman Christopher Smith, the man who warned weeks ago against tampering with the electoral process, while a legion of other meetings had been set up for him, including meeting with operators of some of US critical sectors.

He has since taken ample time to explain the motives for the trip hinting that it was one about strategic moves to make Nigeria work: “I travelled to the United States of America because I had a mission and my mission is to create the right economic atmosphere for American investments to return to Nigeria at a rate and quantum that we had before the current Nigerian administration’s policies almost halted the flow of Foreign Direct Investments to Nigeria. I am in America because Atiku means jobs.

“My reason for running for the office of President of Nigeria and even for going into public service in the first place, is because I believe that Nigeria has what it takes to be the beacon of hope for the black race and a leading nation of reckoning in the international community.

“This has not materialised over the course of the last four years because, as Chinua Achebe prophetically said in his 1983 book, ‘the trouble with Nigeria is the failure of leadership’.”

Accusing the current government of lacking the knowledge on how to strengthen ties with other countries, Atiku said, “the current Nigerian administration has allowed our relationship with our long-standing friends and partners to deteriorate and this has had unfortunate consequences for our economy.

“Foreign relations that had been meticulously and delicately built for decades were allowed to deteriorate because the incumbent administration mistook their personal interests as the interest of Nigeria and allowed short-term goals to dominate their foreign policies.

“New friendships should not be made at the cost of old friendships. It is not an either-or situation. Right from independence, Nigeria has nurtured a policy of non-alignment. We borrowed from the Lincoln policy of malice toward none and charity for all. Sadly, that policy has suffered major setbacks in the last four years”

On creating avenue for revenue generation outside crude oil, he said, “as a leader in business, I am cognisant of the fact that both Western and Oriental nations will be making the transition from fossil fuels to electric powered vehicles and other green energies over the course of the next two decades. This means that Nigeria’s oil has a limited shelf life.

“To be forewarned is to be forearmed and we must, as a nation, begin to make the transition from an oil economy to a modern economy based on manufacturing and value-added agricultural chain.”

Atiku was very categorical that “The message I took to the United States business community is not a new message. In my opinion editorial in the British media (Beyond Brexit – Nigeria wants a new trade deal with Britain), I opined that Brexit is an opportunity for Nigeria and the United Kingdom to have a big ambitious free trade agreement.

“In 2014, the African continent as a whole earned $2.4 billion from coffee grown in Africa and shipped mainly to Europe. That sounds impressive. However, one nation alone, Germany, made $3.8 billion from re-exporting Africa’s coffee in 2014.

As a businessman, I see this and I cannot allow it to continue. It is unconscionable, but situations like these will not stop unless Nigeria and Africa have leadership that thinks business instead of aid and capital instead of loans”

On poverty, Atiku remarked, “Nigeria has perhaps the highest populations of youths as a segment of the total population, in the world.
Already, we have the unfortunate distinction of being the world headquarters for extreme poverty”.

According to Atiku “We cannot afford business as usual. My single-minded focus is to change this dubious record by transforming Nigeria from a consumer nation to a prosumer nation (a nation that consumes what it produces).

For this to happen, we need US firms who have divested from Nigeria, to return.

We need Procter and Gamble to reopen their $300 million Nigerian plant which they shut down last year. We need General Electric to reverse their $2.7 billion pull out of Nigeria.

“Nigeria has a lot to offer America via her creative industry. Nollywood is the world’s third largest movie industry. Kaduna State is rich with gold ore. I am also eager to find a market in the US for some of the half a million shoes manufactured in Nigeria’s cities of Kano and Aba every day.”

In a veiled reference to Buhari’s remark about the attitude of Nigerians to work, Atiku said: “Someone somewhere said Nigeria’s youth are lazy. I am one of the single largest employers of Nigeria’s youth and I know that that assertion is false. My travels in Europe and America is to sell the Nigeria that I know to the world that does not yet know her.

“A Nigeria with not just a hardworking youthful population, but a nation with some of the smartest working people on earth. A nation that is open for business and a Nigeria that is much more than oil.

“And I am certain that if I am successful in selling this Nigeria to the world, the world will come to Nigeria for business.

“That is why I am in America. Because I believe in ‘jobs opportunity’, being united and security and it is time Nigeria and all Nigerians finally have the opportunity to realize their true potential.”

However, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Federal Government were quick to dismiss Atiku’s US trip as inconsequential and of no effects.

Government’s spokesman and information minister, Lai Mohammed, was the one who voiced out the feelings of the ruling party just within 24 hours of the trip.

Muhammed disclosed that the Federal government has decided to make Atiku answer questions because of a fresh evidence that he benefitted from slush funds that led to the collapse of Bank PHB.”

“The federal government has paper trail which shows that he benefitted from N156 million,” Mohammed, disclosed this while briefing State House correspondents.

“It started from an internal memo dated 13 January 2009 asking that a draft in favour of Atiku Abubakar of N156 million should be raised,” he said.

He said the government has proof of the account mandate, cheque and account statement showing Abubakar as the signatory to the account that received the money.

“We want him to stay in the US for as long as he wants but he has to explain to Nigerians when he returns,” he said.

This however has been interpreted by the PDP and Atiku as a baseless story, boasting that with or without the US trip, he would dislodge the President in February.

A statement by Atiku’s Special Assistant on Public Communication, Mr. Phrank Shuaibu, said the Federal Government should bury its head in shame having failed to stop him from travelling to the US.

He said it was shameful that the governing APC took it upon itself to call on the authorities of another country not to grant a private citizen entry visa, which ordinarily should not be its business.

Alhaji Lai Mohammed had at the hint of the US granting Atiku visa last year, cautioned the Americans not to contemplate the gesture as it might give the impression that the foreign power is supportive of the opposition party’s candidate.
But Atiku who arrived in the US on Thursday said the APC was jittery knowing that its government has failed, stressing that Buhari’s days as president of Nigeria were numbered, which explains why members of the ruling party have been running from pillar to post.

He challenged the Federal Government to either prove his alleged corrupt activities, or forever remain quiet.

“It is disgusting to continue to spin allegations of corruption against me by people who have failed to come forward with a single shred of evidence of my misconduct while in office.

Isn’t it a shame that the ruling party whose National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole only yesterday gave official confirmation to the general belief that , even if Lawrence Anini becomes an APC member today, Buhari will forgive and consecrate him can turn around to accuse me of corruption today?

They just suddenly woke up to the reality that, their lies about Atiku being corrupt can no longer hold? I challenge the Federal Government to come up with evidence that I benefitted from N156 million slush funds through Claremont Management Services Account on 13th January, 2009 as well as the collapse of Bank PHB as they have alleged.

It is instructive to note that, the same Bank PHB is now Keystone Bank which was said to have been acquired by Buhari’s cronies through AMCON last year,” Atiku said.

According to him, Nigerians have already made up their minds to send President Buhari packing on February 16, 2019 and there is nothing the ruling party can do about it.

“Tell them that their days of deceit are numbered. Nigerians are tired of them and they can no longer lie or take the people for a ride anymore,” the statement said.

Atiku said it was a mark of the idleness of the folks in charge of the APC that they resorted to lobby the US to deny him visa, when they should be busy strategizing on how to save their party from an imminent defeat.
“I am shocked that the minders of the governing APC can be lobbying the US to deny me visa, when no other party is in a bigger mess than the APC following the confusion arising from its unprecedented record of non-performance,” the statement said.
The statement said three and a half years into the Buhari administration, no appreciable progress has been made in any sector, whether in the area of the economy, infrastructure, health, education, security or employment.

It said the prevailing situation in the country is due to the lack of initiative of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) , which has in turn robbed the party of the wisdom needed to tackle the massive unemployment level and mindless violence, including kidnapping, armed robbery, killings by herdsmen that are ravaging the country.

Atiku said Nigerians are sick and tired of hearing the same promises of job creation and employment generation without anything to show.

“There is no need to worry, as we shall unveil on Sunday, January 20, 2019 “Buhari’s Hall Of Shame”.

It’s a scorecard of failure, incompetence, nepotism and a President’s proclivity to harbouring indicted and other famed thieves of our patrimony. Date and venue shall be made public in due course.

‘’Never in the history of Nigeria have the people been subjected to the kind of unemployment level that the country is now witnessing under the All Progressives Congress (APC). It is indeed a double tragedy that a government that cannot even provide for the people is also unable to ensure their security. Having failed woefully, it is time for the Buhari-led administration and APC governments at all levels to be kicked out through the forthcoming general elections,’’ Atiku said.