Lobbyists hired by Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), played a huge role in making him visit the US after a ban which lasted over a decade.
In a report, Reuters quoted several US government officials as saying the travel ban was waived temporarily by the US state department after lobbyists mounted a campaign among congressional lawmakers arguing that the administration should not snub the leading challenger to President Muhammadu Buhari in the February 16 election.
“One person familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Atiku was allowed to enter because the United States saw little benefit to creating bad blood with the man who might be the next leader of Africa’s most populous nation and the continent’s biggest oil producer,” Reuters said in the report.
The agency said during his visit, Atiku met with top US diplomats and lawmakers to thank them for the temporary suspension of a travel ban linked to bribery scandals.
Atiku’s critics had said he went to the US as an aide of Senate President Bukola Saraki, who was among those with the presidential candidate during the trip but the Reuters report has laid that aside.
Atiku’s whirlwind visit to Washington last month was put together with the help of two U.S. lobbying firms.
Holland & Knight was hired by Atiku personally in December to help him secure a visa, in part by enlisting members of Congress to request one on his behalf, according to a lobbyist for the firm. It has been paid $80,000 so far.
Ballard Partners was hired by Atiku’s political party at a rate of $90,000 per month in September, before Atiku emerged as the party’s candidate, according to U.S. disclosure filings.
The firm’s lobbyists worked to set up a meeting with Nagy, arguing it would show that the United States wanted to encourage free and fair elections in a country where graft is endemic.