“The sad operating assumption is that the presidential election, like the primary contests, will go to the highest bidder. For a struggling country with so much potential — where the median age is 18, and which started the continental rallying cry ‘#NotTooYoungToRun’ — it’s a punch in the collective gut.” – K. Riva Levinson.
For starters, Riva Levinson is a registered Washington lobbyist who honed her skills working for Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. A few days ago, on July 16, Ms. Levinson penned an introspective piece on Nigeria’s 2023 presidential election titled “Opportunity in crisis: The case of Nigeria“, which was published in “The Hill” and from where the above quote originated.
One normally would not pay any mind to the sermon of a paid Washington lobbyist in the mould of Ms. Levison. She belongs to the ignoble club of Western enablers of African kleptocrats. But then, every once in a while, the worst amongst us may say things that make sense and one might even learn a thing or two if we are accommodating enough to keep an open mind.
Just so we know, Riva Levinson is not your run-of-the-mill American with a passing interest in Nigeria’s politics. She is much more than that. In fact, together with Ballard Partners, a firm founded by Florida-based lobbyist Brian Ballard, her firm, KRL International, was part of the American lobby team hired by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ahead of the 2019 presidential election. The goal was to help Nigeria’s former Vice President Atiku Abubakar navigate his path through the U.S. corridors of power, after a decade-old travel ban, when his name featured prominently in two corruption cases.
In the aforesaid article, she “lamented” that like the primary contests, the Nigerian presidential election will go to “two wealthy septuagenarians who mobilized dynastic, patriarchal political machines built over 30 years, to claim their party’s top spot and are both dogged by charges of graft.” I am so afraid that she is right on that score and mortified that her prediction may come to pass.
Prior to the 2019 presidential election, the candidate of Nigeria’s main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), took a trip to the United States in what one opinion writer dubbed, Atiku’s homecoming. After facing so many years of travel restrictions by the American authorities, Washington lobbyists and Trump loyalists with very little or no morals, made the former Vice President doll out a big chunk of cash in exchange for helping to convince the U.S. State Department to grant him a visa.
Going by the writer’s account, however, Mr Atiku went there not for anything that has to do with Nigeria’s election at the time, but rather to fellowship with his friends from the International School of Corruption (ISOC), an institution he said was for the very powerful elites in the U.S., Nigeria and many other poor countries of Africa, who had sold their souls to the god of primitive acquisition.
In February 4, 2010, the United States’ Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation, following many years of meticulous inquiry, released a report titled, “Keeping Foreign Corruption out of the United States: Four Case Histories”. It was a damning report in which four powerful individuals from four different countries, all with links to the continent of Africa were indicted. The persons of interest included two Presidents, Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea and Omar Bongo of Gabon. Others were Pierre Falcone, a Frenchman and a notorious arms dealer, known for his close ties with former Angolan President, Jose Eduardo dos Santos and lastly, Nigeria’s former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar.
By December 2008, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had filed a formal complaint against Siemens AG, alleging that the German company, in 2001 and 2002, made a wire transfer to the tune of $2.8 million in bribe to a U.S. bank account in exchange for securing a lucrative telecommunications contract.
That account was traced to Jennifer Douglas Abubakar, Atiku’s fourth wife. That was how the former Vice President became the subject of corruption investigation in the United States.
In all, Nigeria’s Atiku, through his wife, a U.S. citizen, funneled slush funds in excess of $40 million into the United States, between 2000 to 2008. That included bribe payments from Siemens AG and over $38 million from some little-known offshore corporations listed as LetsGo Ltd. Inc., Guernsey Trust Company Nigeria Ltd., and Sima Holding Ltd.
Over that time period, Ms Abubakar opened over 30 accounts in U.S. banks, most of which were unaware of her status as a Politically Exposed Person (PEP). PEP is a U.S. banking lingo for someone who, through their prominent position or influence, is more susceptible to being involved in bribery or corruption. Atiku, of course, denied any wrongdoing but Siemens admitted to the bribe, pled guilty to criminal violations and paid over $1.6 billion in civil and criminal fines to the American government.
Atiku has often been quoted in the media as stating that he became stupendously wealthy “through wise investments, hard work and sheer luck of being at the right place at the right time.” For about twenty years, until 1989, Atiku Abubakar worked in the Nigerian Customs Service, rising to the rank of Deputy Director. Following this, he then joined the private sector for ten years, before serving as Vice President of Nigeria under Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007.
In February 2007, a Nigerian Senate Ad hoc Committee examined a report issued by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which found that Atiku had used his influence over Nigeria’s Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) to fraudulently convert state funds in the amount of $145 million to promote business ventures for himself and his friends. The Committee subsequently called for him to be sanctioned for abuse of office, but as it is always the case in Nigeria, it was all useless noise followed by zero action. We continued with business as usual
But how about the bullion King of Bourdillon?
Well, much has been talked about the mystery surrounding the identity and person of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the flag bearer of Nigeria’s ruling party, who his admirers treat like a president in waiting. From his name, place of birth, his birth parents, the whole gamut is shrouded in utter mystery. Not that it should matter if the man was born rich or poor. It also makes little or no difference if he was originally from Iragbiji, Osun State or if Alhaja Abibatu Mogaji was his surrogate mother. None of those factors should disqualify him from seeking the highest political office in the land. What is most troubling is the reason why a presidential candidate would not answer the most basic question about who he is, in order to set the records straight. Instead, his handlers would move mountains and deploy every tool in their vast media arsenal, just to discredit anyone who dared ask those questions. Luckily, not everyone is intimidated by the Jagaban and his henchmen.
David Hundeyin, a journalist in Nigeria today, decided to dig in and what he unearthed and published a few days ago, is to say the least disturbing. Vintage David, he didn’t just conclude his findings with only the help he could get from Google, he breathed life into it with specific documents, supported by clear and convincing pictures. His account was not just detailed and compelling but he presented it in such a way that screams, “I dare you to sue me if you believe my story is inaccurate”. But trust the media savvy folks at the Jagaban-linked The Nation newspaper, Television Continental (TVC) and all. They have an iron dome that could neutralise any missile aimed at their principal. They had auditioned for this role and be rest assured that what would happen next is so predictable.
In January 1992, a certain Bola Ahmed Tinubu would find himself the subject of a United States federal investigation. He was identified as a bagman for a drug trafficking ring run by two Nigerian, Adegboyega Mueez Akande and his nephew, Abiodun Agbele. The pair ran a drug cartel that distributed white heroin imported from Southeast Asia out of Chicago, Illinois and Hammond, Indiana, all in the United States.
At the time, Tinubu was just starting out as a young Chicago State University-educated accountant, working as a treasurer for Mobil Oil Nigeria Ltd, with a monthly take home pay of $2,400. Yet, he was able to deposit $661,000 into his individual money market account in Chicago’s First Heritage bank, back in 1990 and then another $1,216,500 a year later.
Tinubu had claimed that he got his big financial break following a consultancy work he did for Deloitte & Touche, the American-based audit, consulting and advisory firm, where he supposedly was paid a $850,000 bonus from a single onsite engagement with the Saudi state-owned oil firm, Aramco.
Mobil Oil Nigeria had told Kevin Moss, the U.S. Special Agent in charge of the case, that Tinubu’s role in the company never involved transferring large sums of money between banks and that it didn’t keep deposits in any institution in the south suburbs of Chicago, where First Heritage was based. But another report showed that the said Tinubu controlled a business entity called Compass Finance and Investments Company Ltd., of which the drug barons Akande and Agbele were both directors.
Although there was no evidence that Tinubu was ever indicted for any crime, he had to forfeit $460,000 to the U.S. Treasury Department after being named as an accomplice in a white heroin-trafficking and money-laundering ring that stretched from West Africa to the U.S. Midwest.
Michael Weiss, a contributing editor to the US-based tabloid, Daily Beast first published a similar report on April 14, 2014. David Hundeyin’s investigation, however, was more extensive and his report much more detailed. He provided all the supporting documents.
The above account is only but a snippet of what we know about the private and public dealings of two high contenders to our nation’s top job. Even an incurable optimist will have cause to worry that 2023 for sure is not looking any better than what we have been through in these past few years. Each time we try to convince ourselves that it can’t get worse, it does actually get worse.
At this point, I am unsure of any human being who can salvage Nigeria or if the mess after Buhari’s disastrous eight years is even salvageable. But if our choice is between an alleged international drug lord and also an alleged unrepentant kleptomaniac, we could as well sing Nunc Dimittis to this republic.
Osmund Agbo, a public affairs analyst is the coordinator of African Center for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project. Email: Eagleosmund@yahoo.com
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