The intense lobby by the federal government to get the United States to deny the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, visa eventually collapsed Thursday as the main opposition party’s torch bearer landed at Washington Dulles International Airport last night.
He was received by his associates and the Diaspora supporters.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had at the hint of the US granting Atiku visa last year, cautioned the Americans not to contemplate the gesture as it might give the impression that the foreign power is supportive of the opposition party’s candidate.
For the federal government, he said that might mean interference in the internal affairs of Nigeria as the general election was a few months away then.
Atiku’s visit to the US, an apparent diplomatic and political blow to the All Progressive Congress’ President Muhammadu Buhari, would appear to have undermined a major campaign plank of the ruling party that had made a heavy weather of the inability of the former vice president to secure visa since leaving office in 2007.
Rain began to beat the federal government and the APC when Atiku’s former boss and president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, mended fences with him towards the end of last year and promised to help Atiku regain power.
Atiku’s eventual receipt of the visa, diplomatic sources told THISDAY last night, had not only the imprint of Obasanjo but also indicated loss of confidence in the Buhari administration by the US.
Confirming the visit Thursday, Atiku’s media aide, Mr. Paul Ibe, said in a statement that his boss arrived the US at 22.20 hours (14.20 hours Washington DC time).
According to him, the former vice president was accompanied by the Director General of his campaign and Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and former governor of Ogun State, Chief Gbenga Daniel, and would meet with US government officials.
Ibe said Atiku on Wednesday met with the business community in Lagos at an interactive session to unveil his plans to get Nigeria working again.
According to him, “Thursday morning, he left Abuja accompanied by the DG of PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation and Senate President, Sen. Bukola Saraki for the United States.
“Atiku will in the course of his trip hold meetings with US government officials, the business community and the Nigerian community. He will return to the country on Saturday.”
Sources close to the visit told THISDAY last night that Atiku had informal meetings with business groups and some state officials, shortly after arrival and would be meeting with Congress and State Department officials Friday.
Among others, Atiku is slated to meet later today with Chairman, Senate Committee on Africa, Senator Jeff Flake, and the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Ambassador Tibor Nagy.