Blog / Feb. 22, 2019

Meet Nigeria’s opposition leader Atiku Abubakar: Previously banned from the United States

Just one of Trump’s latest hotel visitors in Washington, D.C.

Banned from setting foot in the United States due to decades-old corruption charges, Nigeria’s main opposition leader, Atiku Abubakar was spotted last month in Washington, D.C. – only a month before Nigeria’s upcoming presidential election. 

And his first stop? The Trump International Hotel.

Just another official staying at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. – so why does this one matter?

Atiku’s relationship with the US is a tumultuous one. A 2010 report released by the Senate titled “Keeping foreign corruption out of the United States: Four case histories” alleges that Atiku and his wife, Jennifer Douglas, brought over $40 million of suspect funds into the US, including at least $1.7 million of bribe payments.

He was banned from the US in accordance with the Presidential Proclamation 7750, which bans people “engaged in or benefitting from corruption” from entering the US.

Atiku Abubakar

Photo: Atiku Abubakar

Atiku, who served as vice president of Nigeria from 1999-2007, is now challenging incumbent Muhammadu Buhari in the upcoming presidential elections. He previously attempted to run for president of Nigeria, but was deemed unfit after having been found guilty of corruption charges. 

The elections have been postponed due to unrest and protests, including several electoral commission offices being set on fire

As a country perceived to have high levels of public sector corruption, Nigerians are calling for an accountable leader who will put the interests of the public first. 

Despite efforts to clear his name since, Atiku’s shady past is impossible to overlook. 

So how was he recently able to return to the US? In November 2018, Atiku signed a contract with Ballard Partners, a Florida-based lobbying firm, for $1.1 million. Not only has Ballard Partners been tasked with helping maintain “political and security conditions free of intimidation and interference” in the election, the firm will also lobby to strengthen the relationship between Nigeria and the US. 

Unsurprisingly, Ballard Partners has deep connections and ties to US President Donald Trump. It was founded by Brian Ballard who has lobbied on behalf of the Trump Organization for over a decade and chaired the Trump Victory organization in Florida during the US elections. Thus, potentially giving Atiku easy access to Trump.

Atiku joins an already-lengthy list of foreign leaders who have stayed at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. – which poses a huge conflict of as there is a risk foreign officials will seek to curry favor with the president by staying at properties affiliated with his company.  

One glaring example is Saudi Arabia. Shortly following the 2016 presidential election, lobbyists representing the Saudi Arabian government reserved rooms at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. And not just a few rooms – over the course of three months, the lobbyists reserved 500 rooms, with one room alone costing about $768 per night.

Trump has also rented out conference spaces to and hosted events put on by the embassies of Kuwait, Bahrain, and the Philippines. 

The US President’s clientele are not limited to foreign diplomats. In 2017, Paul LePage, Maine’s then-governor, spent four nights at the hotel while visiting D.C. to lobby the Trump administration. Even T-Mobile, a telecom giant, rented out rooms for top executives in Trump’s hotel while in Washington seeking Trump’s approval and support for a new merger deal.

These continued conflicts of interest are unprecedented and unacceptable in the US.

The fact that a previously banned official is now staying at the Trump Hotel – following the hiring of a lobbying firm with ties to Trump – should yet again raise alarm bells. 

Yet another reason why the new Congress must pass a law that bans the US President from pursuing private business while in office. 

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