Nigerian presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar’s U.S visit was due to a temporary suspension of a travel ban linked to decade-old bribery scandals, Reuters reports.
Several U.S. diplomats and others familiar with the visit told Reuters the former vice president has been banned from entering the United States for the past several years after he figured prominently in two corruption cases.
Several U.S. government officials said the travel ban was waived temporarily by the U.S. State Department after lobbyists mounted a campaign among congressional lawmakers arguing that the administration should not snub the leading challenger to Nigerian President Buhari in the Feb. 16 election.
One person familiar with the matter 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.
Atiku’s visa troubles stem from when he served as Nigeria’s vice president, from 1999 to 2007.
He figured prominently in the corruption trial of former U.S. Representative, William Jefferson, who was accused of trying to bribe Atiku in an effort to expand a technology business in Nigeria.
Jefferson was convicted in 2009 and sentenced to 13 years in prison. Separately U.S. Senate investigators in 2010 alleged that one of Atiku’s four wives helped him transfer more than $40 million in “suspect funds” into the U.S from offshore shell companies.
Atiku’s 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 and has been paid $80,000 so far.
Also, Ballard Partners was hired by Atiku’s political party at a rate of $90,000 per month in September, according to U.S. disclosure filings.
The firm’s lobbyists worked to set up a meeting with top U.S. official for African affairs, Assistant Secretary Tibor Nagy, arguing it would show that the United States wanted to encourage free and fair elections in a country where graft is endemic.