The ruling All Progressives Congress has described as illegal the visa granted by the United States to Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s main opposition presidential candidate.
Mr Abubakar entered the U.S. on Thursday, his first in 12 years, on a trip billed for meetings with Nigerian business elite in Washington D.C. and a stop at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for off-record briefing on Nigeria’s economic matters. Both the politician and his supporters in the Peoples Democratic Party see the journey as a major political victory.
But Mr Abubakar’s “entry and presence in the USA is a mockery of President Bush Proclamation 7750 which affirms the denial of US visa to foreign officials involved with corruption and other supporting legislations by the Congress,” the APC U.S. chapter said in a statement Thursday night. “APC believes” that Mr Abubakar “should be held accountable for his involvement in money laundering.”
The statement, signed by Ronke Ekwensi, national secretary of APC U.S. chapter, contained many defamatory comments, including the outright description of Mr Abubakar as “a thief” wearing the “cloak of corruption,” even though Mr Abubakar has not been charged to court of any such crime.
Mr Abubakar has been taunted for years by critics over his inability to enter the U.S. since leaving office as Nigeria’s vice-president in 2007. The stalemate, which Mr Abubakar himself expressed strong concerns about, was the source of many speculations, especially claim that the politician was being denied visa because he had been found wanting in a series of corrupt deals.
But while Mr Abubakar has been investigated by the U.S. authorities, including the country’s Senate, and was a suspect in a bribery scandal that sent a former U.S. federal lawmaker to jail, the Nigerian politician was never convicted of any crime.
Before he left as vice-president in 2007, Mr Abubakar was also accused of fraud by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, but he was never arraigned in court.
In May 2018, PREMIUM TIMES found that Mr Abubakar had sold his mansion in the U.S., a move he attributed to prolonged disuse of the property rather than his inability to enter the country.
As the 2019 general elections campaign heats up, Mr Abubakar’s issues with the U.S. authorities were deployed as a critical weapon by the ruling party’s supporters.
Although Mr Abubakar argued that his ineligibility for an American visa should not preclude him from becoming Nigeria’s president, he continued to explore chances of travelling to that country, nonetheless.
He appeared to have hit a breakthrough when he settled his decade-long rift with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, with whom he had fallen out before they completed their respective tenures as president and vice-president from 1999-2007.
Mr Obasanjo was amongst those who said cast the image of Mr Abubakar as a corrupt politician. As recently as August 2018, Mr Obasanjo told PREMIUM TIMES he would never to support his then-estranged lieutenant for president in 2019.
But barely two months later, and a few days after Mr Abubakar emerged presidential candidate of the PDP, Mr Obasanjo changed his mind, forgiving the presidential candidate and endorsing him over President Muhammadu Buhari, whom he said he wants out of office for incompetence.
Mr Obasanjo said while endorsing Mr Abubakar amidst fanfare at his country home in Abeokuta that he would help the candidate mend fences where necessary.
By December, Mr Abubakar was granted a U.S. visa following Mr Obasanjo’s intervention, according to multiple sources familiar with the affair.
The ruling APC appeared to have caught wind of Mr Obasanjo’s moves to help Mr Abubakar secure a visa early, issuing a call late November that U.S. government should desist from going along with the plan.
Lai Mohammed, the cabinet information minister, said the warning was necessary to let the U.S. recognise that granting Mr Abubakar a visa could weigh heavily on the outcome of the general election.
In a statement earlier today, however, Mr Mohammed said the APC was indifferent to Mr Abubakar’s trip to the U.S. He, however, said Mr Abubakar would be grilled over newly-emerged evidence of corruption he allegedly perpetrated.
Mr Abubakar’s campaign dismissed the charges as a distraction, saying the ruling party was jittery as it faces defeat next month.