© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
DOCUMENT: PDP strikes $1 million deal with American lobbyist to help with 2019 election
THE opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP, in Nigeria is paying an American lobbyist, Brian D. Ballard, over a million dollars to advocate for the party’s interest in the United States.
Documents obtained by The ICIR show that the party signed a one-year contract with Ballard, President of Ballard Partners, a popular lobbying firm in the US, on September 21, 2018, ostensibly to lobby the American government in advancing its interests.
Ballard, acclaimed to be the most powerful lobbyist in the Donald Trump administration, is compelled under the US Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 to disclose the details of such contracts. The contract was signed by former Aviation Minister Osita Chidoka, in his capacity as special advisor to the PDP, and it states that the party will be provided “advocacy services relative to US-Nigeria bilateral relations”.
It is explained that the services will further include “advising, counseling, and assisting the foreign principal in communication with U.S. government officials, U.S. business entities, and non-governmental audiences.”
Providing greater detail, the agreement’s recitals states that “it shall be the Firm’s duty to consult with the Client and advocate on its behalf those issues the Client deems necessary and appropriate before the US federal government.”
“Issues and objectives may include, but not be limited to, enhancement of US-Nigerian relations, strengthening and advancing democratic values and the rule of law in Nigeria, with a special focus in the coming months on maintaining political and security conditions free of intimidation and interference in order to ensure the success and fairness of Nigeria’s national election for president in 2019,” it adds.
“It shall further be the Firm’s duty to inform the Client of developments in legislation and policy relevant to the Client’s issues and objectives.”
For this string of services, the PDP has agreed to pay $90,000 every month. The first and second quarterly instalments summing up to $540,000, going by the contract’s terms, have already been paid, and the last two will be due on March 21 and June 21, 2019, respectively. Altogether, the contract price is $1,080,000 (N331 million), but this does not include the costs for certain expenses such as registration fees, travel and lodging expenses, and so on.
How powerful is Ballard?
Ballard, one of the top fundraisers for the Trump presidential and reelection campaigns, in 2016 shaped the US president’s campaign operation “in his biggest must-win state”: Florida. He has since gained renown as one of the closest lobbyists to the Trump, his administration, as well as other key figures in the Republican party.
His relationship with Trump however predates the last presidential campaign period and election. Both of them have known each other for nearly thirty years. According to Theodoric Meyer, who covers lobbying and the influence industry for Politico Magazine, Ballard met Trump after reading a copy of The Art of the Deal, in the 1980s, and writing to Trump to express his delight.
“Ballard won’t talk about what he does for his clients, for the most part,” Meyer wrote in April, 2018.
“He made an exception for his work on behalf of Katumbi, the exiled Congolese opposition leader. Katumbi, who fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2016 to avoid being thrown in prison by President Joseph Kabila, hired Ballard to help persuade the Trump administration to pressure Kabila to allow him to return.
“Ballard, Lukis and Katumbi met with a deputy to Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, in October before Haley traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Haley forcefully called for the country to hold elections this year on her trip.”
Among Ballard’s other foreign clients include the governments of Turkey, Maldives, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominican Republic, and the Republic of Kosovo. He has also signed a long list of high-profile corporate clients, including Amazon, Uber, and the University of Florida.
Did Ballard assist Atiku in his US trip?
Between Thursday and Saturday, January 20, 2019, PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, was in the United States, where he lodged at the Trump International Hotel, had a meeting with Nigerians, met with Congressman Chris Smith, and spoke at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Atiku had not stepped foot into the US in the twelve years preceding this visit, following corruption allegations detailed in a 2010 bipartisan report of the U.S. Senate. Based on this backdrop, it has been alleged, especially by members of the ruling All Progressives Congress, that the PDP candidate lobbied and paid his way through the restriction.
An American journalist and publisher of Popular Information, a political newsletter, Judd Legum, has also alleged that the PDP and its presidential candidate paid lobbyists who got the American government to allow Atiku travel to the country, waiving the criminal allegations against him.
Documents obtained from the United States Department of justice do not, however, establish that Atiku paid to pave the way for his recent visit. The contract with Ballard Partners had PDP, not Atiku, as the client, and it was signed over two weeks before his victory at the party’s primaries.
During his stay in the US, Atiku in an interview granted to VOA Hausa Service described reports about his ban as “misinformation”. But Legum disagrees. He writes in his newsletter that “a former government official who has seen the documentation confirmed to Popular Information that Abubakar, until very recently, was banned from obtaining a U.S. visa under Proclamation 7750”. The Proclamation was signed in 2004 by then President George W. Bush. It is also Legum’s view that Atiku was a party to the Ballard contract through his political party.
The ICIR has not been able to verify whether persons banned from entering into the US may, given certain circumstances, be offered temporary “diplomatic waivers”. Sarah Breen, the communications director at the Office of the Inspector General, replied to say she is not available “because of the furlough resulting from the lapse in U.S. Government appropriations”.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) forwarded our enquiry to A similar enquiry to the USCIS office in Accra, Ghana, which has jurisdiction over Nigeria, but no response has been received from the office. Similar enquiries sent to the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State have yet to be replied.
A call placed to Kola Ologbondiyan, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, for his party’s position on the allegations, was not answered. Texts sent to his phone have also not been responded to at the time of filing this report.
A growing romance between Nigerian politicians and foreign lobbyists
It is not the first time Nigerian politicians have been caught in bed with foreign lobbyists and political consultants. This latest revelation only adds to a growing list.
Months to the general elections of 2015, the PDP government paid $1.2 million to a Washington DC-based firm, run by Richard Levick, to help improve its image, tarnished by growing insecurity. The All Progressives Congress also hired AKPD, a political media firm based in Chicago and founded by David Axelrod, former presidential adviser to Barack Obama, in preparation for the 2015 elections.
Then again, last year, the clandestine activities of Cambridge Analytica towards influencing votes in 2015 were revealed by The Guardian. The company was paid an estimated £2 million ($2.8 million) by an undisclosed Nigerian oil billionaire “to orchestrate a ferocious campaign” against Muhammadu Buhari, who was at the time the leading opposition candidate. According to the report, it attempted to secretly deploy hacked personal emails of Buhari, through the help of Israeli hackers.