PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, today Thursday 17 January pulled off a major surprise on his political opponents by landing in the United States of America for a 2-day official visit.

His travel, shrouded in secrecy, took many unawares including many Atiku’s family members, aides and even the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC which earlier in the day refuted the rumour that made the rounds that the former vice president could be on his way to the US.

His flight which took off from Lagos was scheduled to fly to London, and there are reports that Mr. Abubakar indeed was on Wednesday momentarily in London.

The PDP flagbearer secretly flew out from Lagos on Wednesday night with his campaign DG, Senator Bukola Saraki, Sen. Ben Murray-Bruce; Director of Strategy, Osita Chidoka, one of his sons, and a number of other aides. His scheduled campaign in Ogun State on Thursday morning 17 January was suddenly cancelled.

Execution of the secret trip

An online news publisher, The Boss Newspaper, gave insights into the last minute finishing touches to the execution of the top secret travel by Atiku Abubakar to the United States.

Our sources revealed that Atiku left from George Hotel, Ikoyi with his entourage and was decked in pair of chinos and T-shirt, he also dorned a sport jacket and looked very trendy. One prominent member of the entourage we gathered was Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki who is also the Director- General of the Atiku/Obi Presidential Campaign.

Dr Saraki’s presence in the US-bound team will certainly confound many because up till late last night, he was spotted at the Service of Songs for late Ide Ahaba of Asaba, Chief Sunny Odogwu in Victoria Island. Saraki, who was at the event with PDP ‘ s Vice Presidential Candidate, HE Peter Obi and Governor Liyel Imoke not only spent quite some time there, he even delivered a speech.

The Senate President said he was there as a member of the family ( Yinka, the younger brother of his wife is married to Ngozi Odogwu) and paid glowing tribute to the top businessman. He told all present that Obi and Imoke were the official representatives of Alhaji Atiku. Our sources revealed that when they left Harbour Point, the venue of the service, they headed straight to George Hotel.

On arriving George Hotel, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce was there. Dr. Saraki exchanged pleasantries with all those around including Senator Bruce and then had a brief meeting with Alhaji Atiku and left. Atiku also reportedly met with Peter Obi and left. Peter Obi was at the hotel to honour an interview appointment with CNBC Africa.

Unknown to those around, Alhaji Atiku and Senator Saraki were both heading to the airport and were going to take off to the US. The story in town was that Peter Obi was the one scheduled to visit America anytime soon. Only very few people were in the know of this trip. It was indeed a well kept secret.

The former vice-president is visiting the US for a scheduled speaking engagement at the Chamber of Commerce on Friday 18 January, from 2:30pm to 4.00pm U.S. local time in a private round-table. The event is been hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce and the US Africa Business Centre at 1615 H street, NW 20062.

However, Katharine Cooksey, senior manager, media and external communications, US Chamber of Commerce, told newsmen no reporters will be able to attend the meeting.

“Only U.S.-Africa Business Center members are invited. No reporters will be able to attend,” Cooksey said.

Atiku, on his arrival tweeted that he will also be meeting with US government officials, without giving details of who and which government departments he might be meeting with.

“Just arrived Washington D.C for meeting with US government officials, Nigerians living in D.C metropolis and the business community.”

Atiku in meeting with congressman Smith in company of Senators Bukola Saraki and Ben Murray-Bruce.

But he was sighted having a meeting with congressman Smith upon arrival. Atiku is said to have checked-in into the luxurious new Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue – only a few blocks away from the White House, owned by the U.S. president Donald Trump.

It is unclear if he is a guest of the US president and if he will be meeting with the president.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the largest lobbying group in the US, spending more money than any other lobbying organization on a yearly basis. It has specific economic and political leanings, which plays major roles in elections in the United States and the creation of jobs in the world’s largest economy.

There had been rumours in the Nigerian media in December 2018 that Atiku had been issued with a US visa for the first time in 13 years.

His row with the US authorities began after the FBI investigated a bribery scandal involving William Jefferson, former US congressman, in 2004.

Atiku was accused of demanding a bribe of $500,000 to facilitate the award of contracts to two American telecommunication firms in Nigeria when he was Nigeria’s vice president between 1999-2007.

The FBI had searched his residence in the posh neighbourhood of Potomac, Maryland, but no money was found.

The investigators had videotaped Jefferson, who was the congressman representing Louisiana, receiving $100,000 worth of $100 bills which he claimed was meant for Atiku, but the former vice-president has consistently denied the allegation.

The All Progressives Congress (APC) has had used the issue to mount a vicious campaign against the PDP candidate trying to portray him as corrupt and challenging him to disprove it by daring to visit the United States.

Adams Oshiomhole, the national chairman of the APC, had said Atiku could not travel everywhere, asking Nigerians to elect President Muhammadu Buhari whom he said could go everywhere.

“We have a president whose integrity cannot be faulted anywhere in the world, but the PDP has a presidential candidate who can only travel to Dubai,” Oshiomhole had said.

Click to enlarge pictures.

Nigerians React

Since the announcement of the visit, within the ruling party – APC has been stoic silence. Or disbelief. Thursday arrival of Mr. Abubakar put the silence of a graveyard in the camp of Atiku’s political opponent who’s only major argument against his fitness for office was the alleged link to the Jefferson bribery scandal for which they have been touting and challenging Atiku to step in to the US as a way to disprove the allegations.

The ruling party will need to work out a new strategy as the corruption construct is made has collapsed like a house of cards with yesterday’s visit and possible Friday’s meeting with United States “top government officials”.

Within the opposition PDP and Coalition of United Political Parties and the general public, the news elicited a flurry of elated reactions and comments on Nigeria’s social media space.

Reacting, Senator Shehu Sani [PRP, Kaduna Central] turned to pidgin English to express himself and tout Atiku’s critics…

Reno Omokri mocked President Buhari who in a slip of tongue same Thursday in a campaign speech at Warri, Delta State referred to governorship candidate of APC in the State, Chief Great Ogboru, as “the presidential candidate” of his party as he handed him the party’s State flag.

Some other reactions.

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