Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has denied media reports that he will be in the United States later this month. Reports over the weekend said the former vice president would speak at a trade and investment gathering in Washington D.C. later in the month. The organisers of the event listed Abubakar’s name as number one amongst dozens of personalities they said had been invited to the event. According to the organisers others invited include: Governors Nyesom Wike and Ibrahim Dankwambo of Rivers and Gombe states, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and Trade and Investment Minister, Okechukwu Elelamah.
Speaking through his spokesman, Paul Ibe, he said that: “There is no such invitation to the former vice president. We are not aware of such invitation and we do not know how they managed to put his name on their list”. The report that the former vice president would be visiting the U.S. for the event scheduled to hold between June 24-26 has seen some people draw conclusions that the possible visa restrictions placed against him have been relaxed. Abubakar was named in a contract scandal involving Nigerian and American officials in the mid-2000s. Williams Jefferson, a serving U.S. federal lawmaker at the time, was arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to jail for his involvement in the fraud, which was largely about bribery, influence-peddling and contract inflation.
Despite claims that Abubakar was involved in the scandal, including a U.S. Senate investigative committee report, the Nigerian politician continues to maintain his innocence. The U.S. Senate report and several other exhibits that led to the successful conviction of Jefferson, who was Abubakar’s political associate, are largely seen as the reason he could not travel to that country. Abubakar, who is a strong contender for Nigerian presidency in 2019, frequently travels to the United Arab Emirates and some Western countries.
He recently acknowledged that he has difficulties visiting the U.S., but said he should not be blamed for the dilemma. He said he applied for the U.S. visa on past occasions, but was denied each time. He has rejected insinuations that his failure to enter the U.S. could damage his political ambition, saying the Nigerian Constitution does not require that a citizen must be able to enter the U.S. to be eligible for elective office. The U.S. Embassy in Abuja refused to comment on the controversy for several years.