By Dirisu Yakubu
The visit last week to the United States of America of former Vice President and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Presidential candidate in the 2019 election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has been described as a masterstroke by his media handlers, given its timing (A handful of weeks away to the election).
Ordinarily, a trip to any country in the world ought not to elicit undue publicity for a man of Atiku’s stature. Given his political profile as a two-time elected Vice President, the Wazirin Adamawa can choose to travel to any part of the world with ease. But as it were, this wasn’t the case, particularly with the United States of America.
The ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, had taken advantage of the fact that the former number two citizen had not visited the US for more than a decade, to hype some media reports linking the Adamawa-born politician with graft-related conduct and as a major threat to the sitting President who is seeking a second term in office; Atiku had literally turned their punching bag in the past few months. It was more of a case of go to America if you are not corrupt.
Earlier sign that he could after all prove that he had nothing to hide by going to God’s own country manifested a few months ago when he was sighted within the vicinity of the American Embassy in the nation’s capital. And while details of the import of the visit were sketchy, a group rooting for the continuation of the ruling party in office beyond 2019 staged a peaceful rally to the embassy, warning against any plan to issue Atiku a visa to visit the USA.
Updated: Embassy in the dark as Atiku confirms arrival in US
The National Working Committee of the APC would latter issue a statement to buttress the fear earlier raised by the protesters. This time, the party maintained that issuing Atiku a visa could translate easily to an endorsement of his Presidential ambition in the 2019 elections by America.
Last week, the PDP flag bearer jetted out to the country he’s been severally dared to visit alongside some members of his Campaign team where he held interactive sessions with the country’s congressmen as well as members of the Nigerian business community on his plan for the nation and her citizens if given the mantle of leadership. For the party and its army of supporters, the visit has fetched a political cum electoral mileage almost impossible to capture in words.
So much was the excitement of the party’s leadership that its national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus described it as “the most important thing that has happened to us.” So, how has a mere visit to the United States boosted the chances of Atiku, who millions of Nigerians consider as the biggest threat to President Buhari’s second bid for the exalted office?
Speaking exclusively to Saturday Vanguard, National Publicity Secretary of the party, Kola Ologbondiyan said more than ever before, Nigerians have seen “the emptiness in the claims being daily churned out by the APC concerning our candidate and our party.” According to him, Atiku’s US trip has unsettled the camp of President Buhari “which had erroneously thought that such would lead to the arrest of our candidate but we have always challenged them to come up with their evidence of wrongdoing against the Wazirin Adamawa.”
While the circumstances surrounding the issuance of visa to Atiku remain still in the realm of speculations; there is no doubt that the international community has today turned its attention on the elections, with a commitment to do everything possible to ensure its success. Barely a week after his return to Nigeria, the governments of the United States of America, USA, and the United Kingdom, UK issued two separate but supportive statements, pledging their support for the nation’s electioneering process but not without issuing threats of sanctions to anyone found to have been involved in vote theft, electoral manipulation or any act capable of bringing the polls to disrepute.
Although both countries noted that their support was for the deepening of democracy in Nigeria and not individual contestants; the import of their intervention is not lost on those capable of reading beyond the headlines.
“The United States government does not support any specific candidate or party in Nigeria’s upcoming elections. The United States supports the Nigerian democratic process itself. We support a genuinely free, fair, transparent, and peaceful electoral process.
“We, and other democratic nations, will be paying close attention to actions of individuals who interfere in the democratic process or instigate violence against the civilian population before, during, or after the elections.
“We will not hesitate to consider consequences – including visa restrictions – for those found to be responsible for election-related violence or undermining the democratic process.
“Under U.S. immigration law, certain violations may also lead to restrictions on family members,” wrote the government of President Donald Trump.
Similarly, the UK in its statement said “23 days to the Presidential and National Assembly elections and 37 days to the gubernatorial and State Assembly elections, the British High Commission in Abuja would like to reaffirm our strong support for free, fair and peaceful elections in Nigeria.
“We and our international partners remain committed supporters of Nigeria’s democracy. We do not support any party or individual and believe that the Nigerian people should be able to choose their leaders in an environment free from hate speech and insecurity.
“We continue to provide significant support to Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission and to Nigerian civil society to help them deliver credible elections.
“We also regularly engage with actors across the political spectrum to encourage them to respect electoral rules and maintain an atmosphere of peace and calm.
“We will be deploying an extensive observation mission for the forthcoming elections, including coordinating with the EU’s Election Observation Mission.
“Our monitors will in particular be looking out for any attempts to encourage or use violence to influence the elections, including on social media.
“We would like to remind all Nigerians that where the UK is aware of such attempts, this may have consequences for individuals. These could include their eligibility to travel to the UK, their ability to access UK based funds or lead to prosecution under international law.
“The UK is a friend and partner of Nigeria. We hope our continued support will play a role in helping Nigeria take a further step towards consolidating the progress made since democracy returned in 1999.”
Like Ologbondiyan, Senate President and Director General of the PDP Presidential Campaign Council, Dr. Bukola Saraki has been mocking the Buhari’s camp, daring them to come up with their next move now that America has received Atiku warmly without raising any issue against him.
“They told us for three years that Atiku could not go to America. They said if he goes to America, they will arrest him. But Atiku has travelled to America and he was not arrested,” he told party supporters on Thursday while urging them never to listen to APC anytime its officials make promises for in his words, the pledges of 2015 are yet to be kept.
Is it fair therefore to suggest that America and United Kingdom’s interest in the nation’s electioneering process is informed by the recent visit by Atiku to a country many thought he could not visit again? That may not exactly sum up the countries’ motive but again; why were they satisfied in 2015 being nothing more than passive observers? Atiku and the PDP have both taken INEC to task on the imperative of ensuring that the card readers and associated technologies are improved upon and the two leading global democracies are inclined to render help in this regard.
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