Atiku secures visa to visit US
There were strong indications, on Saturday, that the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, may have finally secured a visa to enable him to visit the United States.
Checks within the main opposition party and the campaign organisation of the candidate said Atiku had since left the country as a prelude to visiting the US.
Efforts to get the his spokesman, Paul Ibe, to confirm the development did not succeed last night as calls put through to his phone were not responded to, but it was learnt the he might leave for Us today.
An online news platform, TheCable even reported that a family source confirmed that the former vice-president had indeed left Nigeria for the United Kingdom, where he will spend some time before flying to the US.
Minister of Information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had last Thursday cautioned the US against granting visa to Atiku..
Asked to comment on Atiku’s visa status on Friday, Rusell Brooks, spokesman of the US consulate in Lagos, had said issuance of visa to Nigerians irrespective of their status is strictly a confidential matter.
He said the US government would not discuss such confidentiality in public.
There were speculations that former President Olusegun Obasanjo played a “critical” role in getting the American government to issue the visa to his former deputy with whom he was estranged for almost 15 years.
Atiku, who is widely travelled, has not been to the US in 13 years, fuelling speculations that he might be avoiding possible arrest or prosecution.
His political opponents had used his absence from the US not just to taunt but to discredit him.
His row with the US authorities began after the FBI investigated a bribery scandal involving William Jefferson, former US congressman, in 2004.
Atiku was accused of demanding a bribe of $500,000 to facilitate the award of contracts to two American telecommunication firms in Nigeria.
The FBI had searched his residence in the posh neighbourhood of Potomac, Maryland, but no money was found.
The investigators had videotaped Jefferson, who was the congressman representing Louisiana, receiving $100,000 worth of $100 bills which he claimed was meant for Atiku, but the former vice-president has consistently denied the allegation.
Despite Atiku’s claim to innocence, the controversy raged.
Two months before he declared interest in the 2019 presidential race, Atiku granted an interview to Dele Momodu, celebrity journalist, where he clarified his absence from the US.
“It is the sole prerogative of America to determine who they want in their country or not,” he said.
“I’m not running away from America. I applied but wasn’t issued a visa.”
He said the US did not categorically deny him visa.
“They’ve only said my application is going through administrative process,” he said.
Some All Progressives Congress (APC) members had alleged that Brian Ballard, publicist of US President, Donald Trump, was working towards relaxing the visa ban on Atiku.