Last week, there was heightened political altercation between supporters and opponents of former Vice President and PDP’s presidential candidate in the coming 2019 election, Atiku Abubakar. The slugfest centered around Atiku’s efforts to secure an American visa and travel to that country after 13 years of travel ban over issues that border on corruption. To the supporters of Atiku, travelling to the United States will boost his presidential dream especially against the taunts and unending jeers of his opponents who say that he can only travel to the United States at the risk of being arrested for a corruption case that led to the jailing of a US congressman, William Jefferson. It was therefore natural that they put on their Christmas best, rolled out the drums and oiled their trumpets in anticipation of the trip.
To Atiku’s opponents, the strange case of a presidential candidate who was a former Vice President being a fugitive from the world’s bastion of democracy for over a decade is a serious indictment that disqualifies Atiku from even aspiring to govern a country and suggests that his candidacy is mired in corruption, which many posit, is at the very root of the developmental problems straddling third world countries. They feel that if Atiku cannot pass an integrity test in any part of the world, he reserves no right to govern a country like Nigeria, trying desperately to free itself from the clutches of institutional corruption many suggest, has decremented the country and empowered the Atikus and their cohorts. They, therefore, did not share in the gaiety of Atiku’s supporters and rather raised a frenzied demand that the United States should not suddenly break Atiku’s travel ban by issuing him with a suspicious visa and allowing him to come to the country after 13 good years.
Understandably, to Atiku’s supporters, his inability to travel to the United States has become an embarrassing glitch to his aspiration to rule the country and as such, everything humanly possible must be done to break this shameful jinx and position him as qualified to rule Nigeria. This position is shared by Atiku who has not been able to articulate a coherent reason for his inability to travel to America for a long period of 13 years. He therefore must have committed himself to doing everything to address this dark patch that poses a serious threat to his desire to replace President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019. This singular dent has formed the themes of unending cat-calls and taunts with which his opponents prove his many alleged misdemeanors and state emphatically that he does not stand a chance of being elected the president of the country. Much more damning was the position of Atiku’s principal, Olusegun Obasanjo, former president and his dedicated foe, who has suddenly turned to a supporter of his presidential dream after Atiku paid him a placatory visit. Obasanjo has both in his book, My Watch and in a widely circulated interview with a foreign journalist, said pointedly that Atiku’s name was among the names of some Nigerians the American government sent to his government for probe on cases that border on corruption and has asked the journalist to tell him the reason why Atiku had not visited the United States since the wee days of their regime. This was a clear taunt on Atiku and a mockery on him for which he and his supporters feel that a trip to the United States will deal with.
So, to clear this heavy badge of shame, Atiku, after his emergence from the PDP primary, was reported to have hired the same lobbyist that worked for President Trump during the American election and placed him on a hefty monthly salary of $90,000 to work for his presidential dream. The main brief of this lobbyist was reportedly to soften the ground and secure a travel visa for Atiku as a way of removing the huge dark spot he had been carrying for 13 years and show his opponents that he can indeed travel to America! He also got his enemy-turned-endorser, Obasanjo to lead another lobby to get him an American travel visa and that one obliged to this in the hope that his efforts will advance the grudge war he has with President Buhari and further Atiku’s chances in the presidential election.
So the frenzied activities that were reported last week centering around Atiku’s application for American visa and the heat this generated amongst his supporters and opponents were in tandem with the controversy around Atiku’s status as a fugitive from the United States for more than a decade and the desperate means to address this embarrassment especially in view of its debilitating effect on his presidential dream. We have heard that Atiku had gone to the US embassy for thumb-printing and that the Buhari government has asked the American government not to grant him a visa so as to quell the suspicion of a tacit support to a dented candidate in the coming election. Some news media have reported that the visa had been granted while some said he had been denied of the visa. Even more curious was the report of the abortion of his travel plans which revolved around securing an assurance from the American government that he won’t be arrested on the ground of the pending corruption case for which he had been banned from the country. There is a wild report that Atiku returned back to Nigeria from London from where he was reported to have planned to travel to US on the failure of the US government to guarantee he would not be arrested if he steps into the country.
But besides all these cocktail of reports, what should worry all especially Atiku and his minions who have been noticeably upbeat over this visa thing is; how much does a visa really cost? What processes does issuance of a visa take? Does the processes involve all the intrigues, melodrama and tension which Atiku’s US visa is generating? Does it involve hiring world-class lobbyist, paying huge amounts in foreign currencies and marshalling several dance troops for the issuance of a visa? Does getting a visa entail a former President being made to eat his public vomit and engaging in humiliating somersault so as to help his newfound ally procure a visa? Does visa issuance involve such giddy thumping as we are seeing in Atiku’s case? Does it involve all the political brickbats and salvos we are seeing in this case?
I don’t care whether Atiku gets an American visa or not. I don’t care if he travels to America or not. I don’t even know what political capital he can spring from such uneventful venture. But by allowing the simple issue to be played to such high octave as it had been done, Atiku and his supporters open themselves up for more embarrassing scrutiny. If Atiku gets a visa and mounts a wild orgy over it, what then are the issues that made him not to get such visa for a hefty 13 years? Granting Atiku the visa opens him to more questions as to his scruples. The visa drama will open him to deeper indictment about his suitability and moral qualification to rule a nation. The whole thing will throw more light on why he had not been to the US for 13 years even as a former Vice President. It will beam the klieg lights on why he had been avoiding the US until now when he feels he had to act to remove a badge of shame and advance his presidential ambition. But more than anything, the visa drama digs far deeper into Atiku’s huge decrepit etiquette and moral impairment. It reminds of the ethical cripple he is and the many malfeasances that have dogged his personality and conduct in public office.
So, to me, the issue is not whether Atiku gets a visa or not or whether he travels to the United States or not but more with what made him to be denied a visa for a whole 13 years in the first instance. Had those factors that made him a fugitive in America for these huge number of years not vitiated his own suitability to preside over the affairs of Nigeria? Does issuing him such a costly visa mitigate the acts of misdemeanor that procured the ban on him? Does this controversial visa address the huge question of his moral hollowness, which earned him the US ban in the first instance? Does this in anyway remove the widely held belief amongst Nigerians that Atiku is the poster boy of corruption and avarice as generously marshalled by Obasanjo?
At the end of the day, Atiku and his supporters have opened up wider holes in the integrity content of his candidacy by the desperate bid to secure an American visa and the orgy they mounted to celebrate such inane issue. From their euphoric slants last week, they must have intended it as a big plus to their waning campaign for the 2019 presidency but it is turning out a terrible blunder that will deepen their woes. The best option could have been for Atiku to continue to act unperturbed by the huge taunts of his not being able to travel to America for 13 years and pretend it doesn’t matter. Sure, by bluffing that he doesn’t need to travel to America, Atiku even when he wouldn’t be improving his chances, would have succeeded to keep the issue down. But by unintelligently swallowing a bait that will finish off what remains of their chances in 2019 by the extensive, expensive and hugely controversial bid they made to secure an American visa for Atiku, they have inflicted more deadly wounds on the issue thereby making his indictment in the United States a real issue in the coming election. By that desperate spurt of unintelligent action, they have landed on themselves the big poser of ‘why was Atiku banned from the United States in the first instance?’ It is a question they will never answer and which will inflict an unhealable gash on Atiku to secure the Nigerian presidency in 2019 even if he succeeds in going to the United States.
Peter Claver Oparah