Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, is the strongest opposition to President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term ambition in 2019. Hence, Atiku has literarily become a nightmare for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). That is evidenced in the various darts of corruption, lack of integrity, inability to visit the United States of America and similar stories that have come from the presidency, the Federal Government, the APC and sympathisers against Atiku.
But last week, the dirty politics was taken a notch higher with the Federal Government urging the United States (U.S.) to be cautious in granting visa to the PDP presidential candidate.
That, according to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, is in order “not to create the impression of endorsing him for the 2019 election.”
Speaking in Abuja, on Thursday, Mohammed said that the government was aware of the move by the former Vice President to lobby the U.S. to lift the visa ban imposed on him.
He pointed out that while the U.S. had the prerogative of who to issue visa, it should be mindful of the timing, in order not to give the impression that Atiku has been endorsed by the U.S. government.
“We understand and appreciate the fact that it is the prerogative of the U.S. to grant a visa to anyone who applies.
“However, we want the U.S. to be neutral and be wary of taking any decision that will give the impression that they are favouring or endorsing one candidate over the other,” the minister said.
He went on to cite the Congressman Jefferson’s case and concluded that while Atiku can seek visa, the U.S should be wary.
We find it bizarre that the Federal Government should be campaigning that a citizen of Nigeria should not be given visa to the U.S., when he is not a convict or a proven criminal. We believe that what Mohammed said was that the U.S. should not grant Atiku visa to the country. Is it just because Atiku is a presidential candidate of the PDP?
We recall that just some few weeks ago when he emerged the candidate of the PDP in October, he was taunted with the visiting the U.S. We have gone through the laws of Nigeria governing elections, including the Constitution and the Electoral Act but we did not see anywhere that it was stated that visiting the U.S. was part of the requirements of becoming the president of Nigeria.
Again, if Atiku was corrupt as alleged, why has the Federal Government, whose major claim of achievements in the past three years is the anti-corruption war not found evidence to prosecute him? We recall that Atiku left office with former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2007. There hasn’t been any court case or concrete fact on the vaunted corruption allegations involving him. Why has it been difficult to prosecute him, rather than resorting to cheap blackmail against him by the Federal Government?
Just last week, the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, stated that the Federal Government lacked the evidence to bring charges against Atiku. While stating that the only case known about Atiku was the Jefferson case in the U.S., he said that there was no evidence to warrant any serious allegations against the former Vice President. “The only clear case that is known is the case of Jefferson in the U.S…. In this case, there is one thing to have suspicion, and another thing to have proof. What is really delaying or suspending any action is a question of proof. I don’t think that is certain.”
Coming from Sagay, we find it hard to understand why the government is then worried about the U.S. granting Atiku visa.
We find the position of the government as embarrassing. We find the suggestion of Mohammed dubious and unbecoming of a minister. If the Federal Government cannot muster evidence of allegation of corruption against Atiku, we expect the APC and its government to then concentrate on the February 16 election, where it would face Atiku and Nigerians, not the U.S. and her citizens. The presidential election, taking place in February is between the APC, PDP, other parties and Nigerians. Visiting the U.S. by Atiku or not would not in any way affect the outcome of the elections. There is no Diaspora voting. United States citizens are equally not voting in Nigeria’s presidential election. What the government should concern itself with is its election campaign and not struggling to prevent Atiku from visiting the U.S. That is sheer blackmail that won’t sail.
We are delighted that the U.S. has declared that the issue of visa is confidential. Granting it to Atiku is just between him and the U.S. authorities. But whether granted or not would not impact on the elections. In 2015, dirtier campaigns were waged against Gen. Buhari. As devastating as some of the allegations were, it did not stop Buhari from winning the election.
We, therefore, expect the government and the PDP to face the elections based on issues, not on damaging personalities.