Hundreds of Nigerians have petitioned the United States authorities to urgently grant one of the presidential candidates a visa to enable him clear a slew of corruption allegations pending against him.
Over 1,000 Nigerians have signed the petition to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other American authorities, demanding a thorough probe and conclusion of pending corruption allegations against Atiku Abubakar, the candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The petitioners said they are on a mission to ensure the country's 2019 presidential election field is devoid of persons of questionable backgrounds.
The petitioners said Mr Abubakar, who recently emerged the main challenger to President Muhammadu Buhari, has gruesome corruption claims against him, and it would be unfortunate if the U.S. deprived Nigerians of a crucial chance to better assess him ahead of the presidential poll next February.
Mr Abubakar, Nigeria's vice-president from 1999 to 2007, has fiercely defended allegations of corruption against him in the U.S., saying he was not being prevented from entering the country because of corruption.
Yet, Mr Abubakar has continued to sidestep a demand by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) that he write letter authorising the agency's release of his immigration status into that country.
The CPB first made the demand in an enquiry by PREMIUM TIMES nearly two years ago, but both Mr Abubakar and his surrogates have refused to specifically say whether or not they would be willing to authorise release of his visa status to the Nigerian public.
The CPB said only Mr Abubakar or his legal representatives could demand his visa status in writing, according to U.S. laws
"U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is prohibited by law from releasing such information without the written legal consent of the individual about whom you are asking these questions," the agency told PREMIUM TIMES in a story published January 2017. A spokesperson for Mr Abubakar was evasive when reached for comments at the time.
In the nearly two years that Mr Abubakar has failed to answer PREMIUM TIMES' questions or authorise the U.S. Customs to publish why he was being prevented from entering that country, the politician has granted several media interviews in which he repeated that he has no case to answer in the U.S.
The candidate also publicly said he applied for a U.S. visa on at least two occasions, but was turned down each time by the U.S. Embassy officials who allegedly failed to cite clear grounds for their decisions.
His supporters have also repeated Mr Abubakar's talking points, with his top political adviser and campaign director, Gbenga Daniel, saying recently that the candidate was on the verge of procuring a visa.
Mr Abubakar's political stature has soared since his emergence as the presidential candidate of PDP, Nigeria's main opposition platform, at the party's national convention five weeks ago. He is widely expected to pose an ardent challenge to Mr Buhari, who is accused by many Nigerians of poor performance.
Mr Abubakar said he would concentrate on restructuring the country towards an unprecedented economic growth should he be elected, a message that voters are finding increasingly resonating than the anti-corruption mantra with which Mr Buhari is predicating his re-election bid.
But while echoes of anti-corruption may not be as audible during the wave that swept Mr Buhari into office and for several months hence, many Nigerians are worried that Mr Abubakar's past could prove problematic for the country should it be left unaddressed.
The petitioners, who described themselves as largely concentrated in the diaspora, said Mr Abubakar's past is so steep in corruption that he was made a crucial example in a worldwide investigation into illicit dealings carried out by the United States Senate.
The report, titled: Keeping Corruption out of the United States, found Mr Abubakar "culpable of bringing in tens of millions of dollars in 'suspect funds' into the United States," the petition said.
"He is one of four 'case studies' profiled in the report, alongside such other notorious figures as the late Omar Bongo, President of Gabon for 41 years; international arms dealer Pierre Falcone, since convicted and imprisoned in France; and Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, son of the President of Equatorial Guinea, and currently Vice President of Equatorial Guinea, from whom Brazilian authorities recently seized $16 million in cash and luxury watches," it added.
At least 1,010 persons have signed the online petition, which opened this week, with less than 500 to meet its 1,500 signatures target.
The United States Department of Justice and all the members of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations were copied in the petition.
The petitioners listed some of the longstanding corruption charges against Mr Abubakar, including especially the Thomas Jefferson trial which infamously linked the former vice-president to the now-convicted former U.S. federal lawmaker.
Mr Abubakar was accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars in bribes to enable an American firm linked to Mr Jefferson secure a broadband contract in Nigeria between early and mid-2000s.
The Siemens bribery scandal, in which the German multinational conglomerate reportedly admitted paying over $2 million in bribes to Mr Abubakar through one of his wives, was also cited in the petition to the F.B.I.
"We are now aware that he is working hard to lobby the United States Government to reverse its decision regarding his eligibility for a visa," the petitioners said in an apparent alarm over Mr Daniel's comments. "His goal is to make a statement by paying a visit to the United States and then using that to advance the narrative that the corruption allegations are unfounded and baseless."
"We are asking that the United States Government expedite action to grant him this visa to enable him face the justice he has evaded for so long," it said.
Even though Mr Abubakar has said he was looking forward to being granted access into the U.S., the politician has equally downplayed the significance of such trips.
He has insisted rightly that the Nigerian Constitution does not require a candidate's ability to enter the U.S. to be eligible for elected office in the country.
He also suggested that any restrictions on his entry into the U.S. would be lifted by that country's authorities if he becomes president, saying even Mr Buhari was also banned for several years from entering the country over his controversial views on religion.
Mr Buhari strongly denied Mr Abubakar's claims that he was banned from U.S. at any point.
Coming days before campaign formally opens for the 2019 elections on November 18, questions over a possible political undertone are being raised by pro-PDP supporters online. PREMIUM TIMES could not immediately obtain the contacts of Zainab Isa, who appears to be one of the petitioners on change.org.
Segun Showunmi, a spokesperson for Mr Abubakar's campaign, did not return PREMIUM TIMES' requests for comments about the petition Wednesday evening.