© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Documents reveal Atiku again paid experts $180,000 to facilitate US trip, boost presidential bid
ATIKU Abubakar, presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, in the 2019 general elections, agreed to pay foreign experts up to $180,000, equivalent to N64.8 million, to facilitate his January visit to the United States and get him recognised as president by the American government, according to documents obtained by The ICIR.
This information is contained in different contracts filed with the US Department of Justice in February and April. Such documents are considered public records and their filing is required by the US Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938.
In one of the agreements with registration number 6637, Atiku agreed to pay John Barnett the sum of $150,000 to facilitate a trip to Washington DC, the US capital.
Barnett, in a letter dated November 29, 2018, and written to Atiku to accept his offer, agreed to facilitate his trip “for an event to be hosted on your behalf by the Atlantic Council on December 20, 2018 between 2-3pm.
“I, in conjunction with Bob Horn of the law firm Husch Blackwell will facilitate meetings with the Atlantic Council, US Aid, the US Chamber of Commerce and others based oh their availability during your visit to Washington, DC,” he added.
Husch Blackwell is a litigation and business law firm in the US, with expertise in international trade, government contracts, information governance, public policy and government affairs.
“The primary purpose of setting up these meetings was to obtain a visa for Mr. Abubakar to come to the United States,” revealed another part in the registration statement’s second exhibit.
“We attempted to set up a meeting with the Atlantic Council for Mr. Abubakar, but that meeting ultimately never occurred. No outreach was done with respect to USAID or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”
In attempting to obtain a visa for Atiku, according to the document, the help of the Political Counsellor at the US Embassy to Nigeria, Anton Smith, was sought multiple times. It also revealed that the aim of the contract itself is the “election of Atiku Abubakar to the Presidency of Nigeria”.
12 years since his last visit, in January, Atiku finally travelled to the US 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.
But the contents of the form obtained by this Centre appear to contradict the statement of senate president Bukola Saraki who said the US trip took place after Atiku “was invited to attend functions”, implying that the invitation was not solicited or lobbied for.
Atiku himself, in an interview with Voice of America, suggested the trip had nothing to do with the allegations of travel ban against him, which he described as “misinformation”.
He also said his visa was granted based on invitations received from “many organisations in the United States”.
Another $30,000 to get US recognition as president
Atiku’s battle for recognition as Nigeria’s duly elected president in the last general elections is not restricted to the local judicial system. He and the PDP are also spending to influence the US government to grant him this recognition.
In a second document obtained by The ICIR with registration number 6654, it was disclosed that he hired Fein & Delvalle PLLC, a Washington DC-based law firm, for the “provision of legal, consultancy and public advocacy services to encourage Congress and the Executive to forebear from a final declaration and recognition of a winner of the 2019 election” until outstanding legal challenges to the declared results have been resolved without influence or manipulation.
This was for a lump sum of $30,000, to cover office space rental, domestic travel, among other expenses, and will last for a total of 90 days.
The United States government has, however, already congratulated Muhammadu Buhari “on his re-election” shortly after the election. A week after its conduct, a statement released by Michael Pompeo, US Secretary of State, described the exercise as “a successful presidential election” and noted “the assessments of international and domestic observer missions affirming the overall credibility of the election”.
Fein & Delvalle is to consult with Congress members towards passing House and Senate resolutions to restrain from a final recognition of a winner pending a fair determination of the legal issues, draft articles and op-eds “to spotlight the issues in Nigeria post-2019 presidential election and to promote the rule of law and due process in resolving electoral disputes in Nigeria”, and finally “make television and other media appearances to engage in public advocacy discussions of these issues”.
“Fein & Delvalle PLLC will establish and operate a Situation Room located in their Capitol Hill offices at 300 New Jersey Ave., NW, Suite 900, Washington, D.C,” read a letter addressed to Atiku Abubakar by the firm and attached to the form.
“A Nigerian Barrister and trusted confidant of Your-Excellency, Dr. Lloyd Ukwu, will assist in the operations of the U.S. Situation Room, which will be a focal point for information forwarded by your Nigeria-based Command Center Situation Room and otherwise obtained to execute strategies to secure
international/and United States endorsement of your efforts to defeat the flagrant violence and illegalities orchestrated by the APC and President Buhari to corrupt and compromise the February 23, 2019, presidential election in subversion of the will of the Nigerian People.”
The firm also agreed to convince the United States that an Atiku presidency would “open a fresh arid new chapter in Nigerian politics in order to accommodate its pluralism and ethnic, religious, and tribal diversity while fostering liberty equality, freedom, and due process”.
The first $1 million deal
As far as the 2019 general elections go, the latest revelations bring the number of deals struck with US lawyers and lobbyists by Atiku Abubakar to a minimum of three.
In September, the PDP, on behalf of its presidential candidate, also signed a one-year contract with Ballard, President of Ballard Partners, a popular lobbying firm based in the US ostensibly to lobby the American government in advancing its interests.
The agreement’s recitals stated 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.”
It added: “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 is believed that what could have been a long-term travel ban affecting Atiku was waived by the US government as a result of services rendered by the lobbying firm.