The intense lobby by the federal government to get the United States to deny the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, visa eventually collapsed Thursday as the main opposition party’s torch bearer landed at Washington Dulles International Airport last night.
He was received by his associates and the Diaspora supporters.
The Minister of Information and Culture, 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.
For the federal government, he said that might mean interference in the internal affairs of Nigeria as the general election was a few months away then.
Atiku’s visit to the US, an apparent diplomatic and political blow to the All Progressive Congress’ President Muhammadu Buhari, would appear to have undermined a major campaign plank of the ruling party that had made a heavy weather of the inability of the former vice president to secure visa since leaving office in 2007.
Rain began to beat the federal government and the APC when Atiku’s former boss and president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, mended fences with him towards the end of last year and promised to help Atiku regain power.
Atiku’s eventual receipt of the visa, diplomatic sources told THISDAY last night, had not only the imprint of Obasanjo but also indicated loss of confidence in the Buhari administration by the US.
Confirming the visit Thursday, Atiku’s media aide, Mr. Paul Ibe, said in a statement that his boss arrived the US at 22.20 hours (14.20 hours Washington DC time).
According to him, the former vice president was accompanied by the Director General of his campaign and Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and former governor of Ogun State, Chief Gbenga Daniel, and would meet with US government officials.
Ibe said Atiku on Wednesday met with the business community in Lagos at an interactive session to unveil his plans to get Nigeria working again.
According to him, “Thursday morning, he left Abuja accompanied by the DG of PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation and Senate President, Sen. Bukola Saraki for the United States.
“Atiku will in the course of his trip hold meetings with US government officials, the business community and the Nigerian community. He will return to the country on Saturday.”
Sources close to the visit told THISDAY last night that Atiku had informal meetings with business groups and some state officials, shortly after arrival and would be meeting with Congress and State Department officials Friday.
Among others, Atiku is slated to meet later today with Chairman, Senate Committee on Africa, Senator Jeff Flake, and the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Ambassador Tibor Nagy.
US Senate Condemns Effort to Politicise Security and Law Enforcement Agencies
Meanwhile, the United States Senate has warned the federal government against using security agents to fight perceived political opponents during the general election.
This is even as it cautioned against vote buying, saying only credible, transparent and safe general election would further consolidate the democratic gains achieved by the country since transition from military to civilian rule.
In its new Senate resolution introduced by a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez, Thursday, it said while it was supporting democratic processes in the country, the Nigerian government must take necessary steps to facilitate elections that are credible, transparent and peaceful.
Menendez said the US Senate has also observed that successive elections in Nigeria have featured varying degrees of violence, adding that there have been deeply concerning instances of hate speech in Nigeria by members of both the ruling coalition and the opposition inciting supporters to ethnic violence to gain electoral advantage, intimidate electoral rivals or suppress voter turnout.
He said, “We also observed that during the Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections in July 2018 and September 2018 respectively, there were concerning incidents in which some elements of Nigeria’s security agencies displayed partisanship and lack of objectivity, which risks escalating tensions within the country.”
Nigeria’s presidential and National Assembly elections are scheduled for February 16, 2019, while the gubernatorial and state assembly elections are scheduled for March 2, 2019.
Menendez, who introduced the resolution, said, “I, along with a bipartisan group of senators, am introducing this resolution to let the Nigerian people know that the United States Senate is watching the conduct of all actors participating in the February elections.
“The 2015 elections were a watershed in Nigeria’s democratic evolution, resulting in the first peaceful transfer of power between political parties in Nigerian history. Nigerians rightfully expect this year’s elections to further consolidate those gains.
“I am calling on all participants – including the candidates, the security forces and political party activists -to do their utmost to ensure that the elections are peaceful, and meet Nigerian, African, and international standards for the conduct of credible democratic elections,” he added.
He added that the conduct of these elections would have a significant impact on the United States-Nigeria bilateral relationship for years to come, stressing that he stands with the people of Nigeria in their aspirations for a peaceful, democratic election process and an outcome that truly reflects the will of the people.
Among the senate resolutions on the general election in Nigeria are that it condemns in strongest terms the use of hate speech and incitement to violence, and refrain from any rhetoric or action that seeks to demonise or delegitimise opponents, sow division among Nigerians, or otherwise inflame tensions
He called on the government to refrain from deploying security forces in partisan manner and ensure that security services maintain the highest level of professionalism and impartiality in facilitating the electoral process, enable accredited observers and journalists to perform their work, and protect the rights of citizens to exercise their votes freely.