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Atiku US travel: Saraki knocks critics

SENATE President Bukola Saraki has described the reports that former Vice President Abubakar Atiku traveled to the United States of America as part of his (Saraki’s) entourage as ridiculous.

Speaking on Kakaaki, a breakfast programme of the Africa Independent Television (AIT) on Wednesday, Saraki said such claims show the desperation of the opposition party to tarnish Atiku’s image.

Atiku, who was Olusegun Obasanjo’s deputy for eight years (1999 to 2007), is currently the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He had not been able to travel to the US since he left office.

Reports have it that Atiku’s inability to travel to the US was due to a law in the country which prohibits perceived corrupt foreign leaders from being issued visas.

But following Atiku’s recent trip to the US, alongside Saraki and other PDP members, many claimed that he (Atiku) was only able to do so because he was in the Senate President’s entourage.

“These are desperate claims. When you are campaigning and you see that you have suffered a setback, just move on and don’t make a fool of yourself. To say the candidate travelled on my merit is not true,” Saraki said on Wednesday.

“He applied for his visa, was given the visa and he was invited to attend functions. How do you do that? How do you travel as an aide? That is ridiculous! They know it. It is very difficult for them to respond because they have sold a lot of propaganda and lies to Nigerians.

“…it was important for us to address the problem and put it behind us and because the other party (APC) was using it as propaganda, we decided to go to America and instead of them to keep quiet and move on, they say he went as my aide.”

Atiku has since returned to the country to resume his campaigns ahead of the February 16 presidential election.

Meanwhile, there are reports that Atiku may have lobbied his way into getting a US visa regardless of the Presidential Proclamation 7750 which bars corrupt foreign officials from entering the country.

A US journalist, Judd Legum, reported that Atiku, through the PDP, had hired a lobbyist, Brian Ballard, who has “deep connections to the Trump administration” and had “chaired the Trump Victory organization”, to do the job for him.

The contract was agreed in September 2018 and Ballard, according to the report, billed Atiku (and the PDP) a total of $1.1 million, to be paid in tranches. The first tranche of $270,000 was paid upfront, while another $270,000 was due to be paid in late December 2018.

According to Legum, it was thanks to Ballard’s influence that Atiku was able not only to get a US visa but also “score a meeting with Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) and spoke at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce”.

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