Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President of Nigeria and current Presidential hopeful in the 2019 elections, has been dogged by corruption allegations since the advent of the fourth Republic in Nigeria. Though he has not been convicted of corruption by any court of law both in Nigeria and abroad, he is largely perceived by many Nigerians to be a corrupt politician. Why is this so? More so, in a society where perception seems to be greater and more powerful than reality. Atiku has challenged his traducers severally to bring any proof of his alleged corruption while in office but no one seems to have taken up the challenge yet. Could it be that he has perfectly covered his tracks if indeed it is true that he is corrupt? What about the claim by his critics that he has been banned from travelling to the US because of his corrupt activities? Why has Atiku failed to travel to the US since leaving office as Vice President even when he has a multi-million dollar house in Washington and an American citizen domiciled in the US as one of his wives? Why has he not being prosecuted and charged to court due to the numerous corruption allegations against him since leaving office and losing his immunity from prosecution in 2007?
Atiku Abubakar was the subject of a probe by the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations chaired by Senator Carl Levin about 14 years ago. Atiku as Vice President of Nigeria allegedly used some offshore companies-Guernsey Trust Company Nigeria Ltd, LetgoLtd and Sima Holding Ltd- to transfer about $40 million dollars to more than 30 US bank accounts opened by Mrs Jennifer Douglas, his fourth wife who is also an American citizen. Also, in a 2008 civil complaint, the US Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that Mrs Douglas received over $2 million dollars in bribe payments in 2001 and 2002 from Siemens AG, a major German Corporation. Siemens pleaded guilty to the charges and settled civil charges relating to bribery. Mrs Douglas, however denied any wrongdoing. In addition, two of the offshore corporations mentioned earlier wire transferred about $14 million dollars over 5 years to American University in Washington to pay for consulting services for American University of Nigeria (AUN), a private University in Nigeria wholly owned by Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
Closely related to this case was the Jefferson Bribery Scandal. Congressman William Jefferson, who was recently released from prison after spending more than 10 years in jail due to his indictment for fraudulent activities, allegedly paid $500,000 dollars as bribe to then Vice President Atiku Abubakar in order to secure a multi-million dollar contract for his company iGate Incorporated in Nigeria in the year 2003. It was the search for the bribe money that prompted the FBI’s raid on Atiku’s Washington mansion in 2005. The FBI raid yielded no fruit as no money was found in the house.
All these allegations of corruption, suspicious money transfers and fraternity with corrupt elements in the American society prompted the then US President George W. Bush to issue in 2004 the Presidential Proclamation 7750 denying US visas to foreign officials involved with corruption and Congress later enacted supporting legislation. Those affected by this visa ban include Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, Vice President and son of Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mbasogo, President of Equitorial Guinea and the late Omar Bongo Ondimba, the then President of Gabon among many other foreign leaders.
Here in Nigeria, Mr Atiku was the subject of investigations by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over the misappropriation of $25 million dollars belonging to the Petroleum Technology Development Fund in 2007.
There have also been great speculations by members of the public as to the source of Atiku’s great wealth. Before joining politics, Atiku was a Customs officer who rose to the rank of Deputy-Controller General before retiring in 1988. How much is the annual salary of a Customs officer? Yet in just 3 years after his retirement from Customs, Atiku emerged as a multi-billionaire businessman-owning over 150 houses in Yola (his hometown), several farmlands, and unsuccessfully ran for governor in the old Gongola State (Now Taraba and Adamawa) in 1991. In the book “Atiku:the story of Atiku Abubakar”, a biography written by his late friend and who was also his Special Adviser on Media and a veteran journalist, Dr Adinoyi Onukaba Ojo, we were told the tale of “Atiku and the miracle of N31,000”. That Alhaji Atiku secured a loan of N31,000 from a bank in 1971 which he used to build a house in Yola and let it out for rent. The proceeds from the rent on the house was used to build another house which was also let out for rent and so it continued until he became the biggest landlord in Yola and diversified into agriculture. I do not want to dwell on the veracity or plausibility of this tale but every right thinking adult reading this piece is free to make his/her own deductions and inferences and come to their own conclusions. What baffles me however is the sudden volte face by Atiku last week at a gathering of entrepreneurs in Lagos when he said that he started his business life as a Transporter in 1974 through his ownership of 4 vehicles which he used to transport passengers from Badagry in Nigeria to Porto Novo in Benin Republic while serving as a Customs officer at Idi-roko border in Ogun State. This was a story his best friend Dr Ojo either chose to ignore in his biography or someone decided to invent another tale since the earlier one had been pooh-poohed by critics.
Several prominent Nigerians including former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and former Minister of Defence, General Theophilous Yakubu Danjuma have at one time or the other accused Atiku of corruption. Atiku’s spin doctors have a lot of work on their hands as they need to convince Nigerians that all the corruption allegations against their paymasters are untrue, if they desire to see him realize his life-long ambition of ruling Nigeria as President. The last thing that Nigeria desires now is a President who will assume office office with corruption allegations hanging over his head like the proverbial Sword of Damocles. It will only lead to a repeat of the Zuma conundrum currently playing out in South Africa. A word is enough for the wise.