Atiku: Did Saraki’s ‘Aide’ escape America’s anti-corruption sword?

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Senate President Bukola Saraki

FORMER Vice-President of the Federal Republic and the candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, in the forthcoming  presidential election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, may not have thought that while it may have been necessary for him to desperately award himself a clean bill of health to repel allegations that he is arguably the most corrupt living Nigerian politician, he also owed himself a duty of caution against perils lurking all around him. But he did not care. He risked everything – his freedom, ambition, and wealth just to give credence to his political ego.

Before 2007, Atiku’s wanderlust trips to the United States of America were just like taking a walk, unencumbered, into one’s bedroom. For him, America was just that sea side serenity he deserved to savour after the hurly-burley of Nigeria. Ironically, twelve years down the line, America has become a near no-go zone for Atiku. Not many Nigerians knew there was this clog in his itinerant life, until politics, for what it is, exhumed some buried skeletons around him. From those he suddenly made his political opponents, came the shocking revelations that the PDP top candidate has not stepped into the US for twelve years and would not venture to do so unless the US government cleans off Atiku’s name from its big black book. A name very boldly written in black.

And so, since the run-up to the 2019 elections from last year, Abubakar Atiku has been in the eye of the political storm. After his defection from the All Progressives Congress, APC, last year, his emergence as the presidential flag bearer of the PDP has earned him more trouble than peace. The APC has unflinchingly tainted him as one of the most corrupt Nigerian politicians of our time. Much as some people have to question why the cloak of corruption was worn on Atiku immediately he stepped out of the APC, the drums of corruption still drum after him like those of the wandering minstrels.

And to make the atmosphere gloomier for Atiku and his teeming supporters, his former boss, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, had already painted him in a very dim light in his book, ‘My Watch’, in which he describes the man (Atiku) as a wolf in sheep clothing. The bad blood that had existed between Obasanjo and Atiku since the days of the Third Term Agenda in 2006 till when My Watch was written, could have been enough to conclude upon by anyone that the book is only a product of axe-grinding which emanated from ruffled feathers in the past. This just could be one of the reasons, according to popular opinions, why Atiku had to make a swift incursion into the influential, but now fortified political whims of his former boss, Obasanjo, immediately he won the PDP presidential primaries in Port Harcourt. He was seriously advised to mend broken fences the Ota landlord who prides himself for ‘do or die’ politics and a no-it-all mentality at the borderline of megalomania.

But there is one fence Atiku has not been able to mend, it is the albatross titled, ‘KEEPING FOREIGN CORRUPTION OUT OF THE US’, an investigation report in 2010, made by the United States Senate Permanent Sub Committee On Investigations Committee On Homeland Security and Government Affairs. The Sub Committee which was chaired by Carl Levin in the Senate, indicted Abubakar Atiku over a money laundering and bribery case in the United States. The report did not only indict one Ms. Jennifer Douglas Abubakar, an American lady who was identified as the fourth wife of Atiku from Potomac, Maryland, USA, but also Congressman William Jefferson, and Siemens AG, a German corporation, all of whom were clearly linked to Atiku over the charges of financial impropriety levelled against him in the US.

In the report, Atiku was described as “a high-ranking official in Nigerian executive branch of government“. The eventual conviction of Congressman Jefferson and Siemens AG, the German Corporation that was hired to help in the facilitation of the monies question, was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Jefferson was convicted for accepting a bribe from an investor, Lori Mody, who was to give Atiku $500,000 as “a motivating factor” to help Mody’s company in Nigeria.  Jefferson finally went to prison and served 13 years in jail before regaining his freedom. Yet, Atiku, the alleged kingpin in the whole matter, has been moving everywhere freely, propagating his longtime ambition of becoming the president of Nigeria.

Congressman William Jefferson – jailed for crimes relating to Atiku and his wife

But the United States has been waiting patiently with the hangman’s noose, believing that one day Atiku would stick out his neck in the streets of America in the hope that all has been buried in the debris of time. Ironically, America is not one of those countries like Atiku’s Nigeria, where crimes of financial misconduct are easily lost in time. This consciousness, many believe, was what had shut Atiku’s mind away from the USA since 2010 when the report first came out. It is obvious that America will not forgive Atiku on any ground whatsoever, not when she has already convicted and jailed her own congressman, Jefferson, over a crime Atiku was fingered as a top player. The US is one of those few societies on planet earth where the supremacy of the law and the tenets of the Rule of Law are held inviolate. Atiku cannot eat his cake and still have it, as he ventured too far in contravening the financial laws of America. The US Senate report that indicted him labelled him as one of four ‘Politically Exposed Persons’ to watch out for. Atiku has since then been somewhat a wanted person in the US.

Also, the Us Senate report revealed that Jennifer Douglas Abubakar, a US citizen and fourth wife of Atiku, helped her husband to bring over $40 million in suspect funds into the United States, including at least $1.7 million in bribe payments from Siemens AG, and over $38 million from small known offshore corporations, primarily LetsGo Ltd. Inc., Guernsey Trust Company Nigeria Ltd., and Sima Holding Ltd.

Specifically, the Senate report reads in part:

 “Over half of the Suspect Funds, nearly $25 million, were wire transferred by the offshore corporations into US bank accounts opened by Ms. Douglas,” the committee report read.

“For most of the time period examined, the US banks with those accounts were unaware of Ms. Douglas’ PEP status and allowed multiple large wire transfers into her accounts from the offshore corporations.

“As, over time, each of the banks began to question the wire transfers into her accounts, Ms. Douglas indicated that all of the funds came from her husband and professed little familiarity with the offshore corporations actually sending her money.

“Bank records indicate that Ms. Douglas used most of the funds placed into her accounts to support a lavish lifestyle in the United States, paying credit card bills and household expenses in the range of $10,000 to $90,000 per month, including substantial legal and accounting bills.

“She also transferred funds to accounts she opened for the Gede Foundation, a nonprofit corporation she established in 2002, and the American University of Nigeria (AUN), a university that Mr. Abubakar founded in 2003, and whose name reflects its association with American University in the United States.

“An additional $14 million of the Suspect Funds were wire transferred by two of the offshore corporations, LetsGo and the Guernsey Trust Company, to American University to pay for consulting fees related to AUN.

“American University officials told the Subcommittee that they understood the funds came from Mr. Abubakar and never inquired why the wire transfers were sent by unfamiliar offshore corporations.

“At least another $2.1 million was wire transferred by the Guernsey Trust Corporation to accounts controlled by Edward Weidenfeld, a US lawyer who provided legal services to Ms. Douglas, Mr. Abubakar, and AUN.

“Mr. Weidenfeld explained that the funds paid for the Abubakars’ legal expenses and an account set up for AUN, and that he had assumed the funds came from Mr. Abubakar”.

Atiku and his wife Jennifer

Without question, for the US legal system, these financial offenses are too grievous a crime for America to gloss over. But unfortunately, as the presidential flag bearer of the PDP, the immediate past ruling party in Nigeria, Abubakar Atiku has a name to redeem and a party to prove its sanctity before the world. The questions of probity, rectitude, and integrity from many Nigerians, and especially the APC, since he emerged the presidential candidate of the PDP, have heckling him to a point of discomfort that he had to embark on an adventure he had shied away from for 12 years. All Atiku needed was to hush the mouths of his many critics, and if possible, render as seditious, those ugly pages of Obasanjo’s My Watch to prove a political point that he is more sinned against than sinning.

Atiku’s first attempt to prove this in early December was aborted when he was earnestly advised in London to either drop the idea of entering the US or put his freedom on the line. It was reported that in trying to break through the US prosecution siege, he contrived to secure a US visa through the help of his old political foe, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, whom he reconciled with immediately he emerged as PDP’s candidate. Atiku allegedly jetted into London to get assurances from high diplomatic authorities if travelling to the United States would be safe for him or not.

It was said that Atiku was advised that his freedom in the United States could not be guaranteed. Fear, they say, is the best way to safety. Atiku had a rethink and had to beat a retreat by returning to Nigeria. And when inquisitive Nigerians, who were already expecting to see pictures and video clips of Atiku sitting in company of his country’s diplomatic envoy and discussing with President Donald Trump were jerked to reality that the PDP presidential candidate could not travel to the US, they became more suspicious. And when the PDP presidential campaign organization was putting up a propagandist defence that Atiku only aborted the US trip because of his Campaign launch in Sokoto, too many questions were already in the air demanding for answers.

Alhaji Atiku Abubakar with Senator Saraki and others on their arrival in the US

And then, with the burgeoning criticisms from Nigerians, home and abroad, on why a man of Atiku’s status could not travel to the United States, a second plan was hatched. Atiku just had to convince the world, especially Nigerians, that he is an impeccable political element for a new Nigeria in 2019. And so, he allegedly went into connivance with the Nigerian Senate President, Bukola Saraki, to arrange a deal of being listed as a supposed ‘Aide’ Saraki under the pretext of going to discuss some diplomatic issues with the US. The plan seemed to pay off and Atiku eventually secured a US visa to travel to the United States. But the rousing question came, ‘Why did Atiku travel with Bukola Saraki, the Nigerian Senate President, twelve years after he had not been able to visit that country?

The United States Bureau of African Affairs seems to have demystified this puzzle when it reported three days ago that Atiku traveled unhindered to America only because he was booked as an ‘Aide’ to Senator Saraki who is the Director General of Atiku’s presidential campaign. The Bureau of African Affairs, a part of the US Department of State, is charged with advising the US Secretary of State on matters concerning Sub-Saharan Africa.

The revelation that Atiku was so desperate to be in the US that he, a former Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, willingly submitted to be deceptively packaged as an aide or employee of Saraki was escalated by Ms Lauretta Onochie, a social media aide to President Buhari, in a tweet that drew strength from what the Bureau had allegedly said, “We cannot apprehend Atiku because of our diplomatic ties with Nigeria, he has been booked as an ‘aide’ to Nigeria’s Senate President“. If this is anything to go by, then it stands to reason that for Atiku’s freedom in the United States, it is not yet uhuru.

It is just plainly embarrassing that against all diplomatic protocols, Abubakar Atiku, Nigeria’s former No. 2 citizen and current presidential candidate of Nigeria’s main opposition party, could not be rendered requisite diplomatic appurtenances that were due him as a visitor to a modern society like America.  His surreptitious entry into the US was reportedly bemoaned by the Nigerian Embassy in the US. It is the position of the Embassy it was not officially pre-informed of Atiku’s stowaway-like visit. A source in the Nigerian Embassy said last Thursday (the day Atiku allegedly travelled), “As a former Vice President, the Embassy is supposed to organise to receive him at the airport, but then we have not received anything in that regards“.

Instead, Atiku was lodged at the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC as an aide to Senator Saraki where he was expected to attend several meetings with Nigerians in Diaspora. What then is Atiku trying to achieve from these gimmicks? Why disguising as an aide to Saraki? After all, a Nigerian former Vice President ought to wear a robe that is finer and bigger than Saraki as Senate President. Obviously, the answer must be his struggle to prove a point that his opponents and detractors have been saying ‘nonsense’ about him. But ironically, while he was trying to save his face from the political ignominy at home, he may have unwittingly helped to further strengthen the ‘fugitive narrative’ on him in that so many now believe that Atiku only corruptly escaped the US sword of corruption by a hair’s breadth. Even Atiku should know he is still not a free man as far as the US justice system is concerned. Without question, Atiku will have his day someday in a US court. Let him pray against what happened to his special friend, Congressman Jefferson. For Nigerians, our prayer should be that like former President Manuel Noriega of Panama who was arrested by the US for crimes as a sitting president, taken to the US and jailed, may it not happen that Atiku would bring such a shame upon Nigeria. For this not to be a remote possibility, Nigerians should be vigilant to ensure Atiku is not elected as a President. He has all the trappings of an unfit leader, as well documented by Olusegun Obasanjo in My Watch. After all, he is just an ‘aide’ to Saraki!


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