Poll: Stop Harassing Opposition Leaders, US Congress Warns Buhari

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Muhammadu Buhari
  • Reports of apparent crackdown extremely concerning
  • FG moves against Atiku over collapse of Bank PHB
  • Former VP demands for evidence

By Bennett Oghifo in Lagos, Omololu Ogunmade and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja

The United States Congress has warned President Muhammadu Buhari to stop the harassment of the opposition political leaders, following recent perceived crackdown on some political figures in the country.

The warning by the US Congress is coming on the heels of a N156 million fraud allegation against former Vice-President and Presidential candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) by the federal government.

The UN Congress warning is contained in a bipartisan resolution urging the government of Nigeria, along with Nigeria’s political parties, to ensure electoral accountability and transparency in the upcoming February election.

A statement made available to THISDAY by Zachary Seidl of the US Congressional office, said the resolution, which has been adopted by the US Congress, was introduced on Wednesday, by Rep. Karen Bass, a top Democrat serving on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, along with the Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Elliot L. Engel, the top Republican serving the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa Congressman Chris Smith, Nigeria Caucus Co-Chairs Representatives Steve Chabot and Shelia Jackson Lee, and Representative Gregory Meeks.

“The upcoming elections in Nigeria, Africa’s largest democracy and economy, are critical to the future of the nation. Reports of President Muhammadu Buhari’s apparent crackdown on non-violent protests and harassment of opposition leaders are extremely concerning, as well as the ongoing violence that has been perpetrated by extremists, particularly in the Middle Belt region. The violence must be stopped, along with any subversion of the electoral process. The Nigerian government must see to free and fair elections, which this resolution calls for,” said Ranking Member Smith.

They urged President Buhari to copy the smooth transition in 2015 from the ruling party to the opposition, as their commitment to the strengthening of democracy in Nigeria.

“I am proud to be an original cosponsor of this legislation, which reaffirms the United States’ long-standing commitment to strengthening democracy in Nigeria. In 2015, Nigeria became another democratic role model for countries on the continent, showing that a credible electoral process could result in the peaceful transition of power from an incumbent to the opposition. Regardless of the outcome, my hope for the upcoming presidential, gubernatorial, and National Assembly elections is that Nigerian politicians, citizens, and the electoral commission will build on the successes of 2015 to further consolidate democracy in Nigeria,” said Chairman Engel.

The Congressmen harped on the imperative of conducting free and credible elections. “It is critical that Nigeria remain a role model in its region for democratic institutions and work to ensure free and fair elections. There can be no democracy without full confidence in the results of an election, and it is vital that there is full transparency so that February leaves no doubt as to the outcome,” said Representative Meeks.

According to Representative Bass, “It is in the best interest of the United States to maintain a strong bilateral relationship with a politically stable, democratic, and economically sound Nigeria that can play a leadership role in the region and the continent more broadly.

“A credible, transparent and peaceful election this coming February would further consolidate democratic gains achieved over the last two decades. Nigerians are deeply committed to democracy and ensuring transparency in electoral preparations, which would build public confidence in the electoral process. This resolution sends the message that the people of the United States will continue to stand with the people of Nigeria in support of peace and democracy.”

Still on US-Nigeria collaboration, Representative Chabot said, “As Co-Chair of the Congressional Nigeria Caucus, I appreciate the importance of a strong bilateral relationship with Nigeria and applaud its citizens for their commitment to democracy.

“There is still work to be done, however, to ensure that Nigeria’s upcoming elections are transparent, peaceful, and credible. Our resolution lays out the necessary steps to achieve these goals, and urges Nigeria to conduct elections free of violence. Conducting high-quality elections will strengthen our bilateral relationship, help consolidate Nigerian democracy, and be an example to other countries.”

Atiku Accused of N156 Million Fraud

Meanwhile, twenty-four hours after Atiku arrived the United States, the federal government yesterday in Abuja accused him of N156 million fraud.

Atiku’s current visit to the United States, obviously did not go down well with the government of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Briefing journalists in the State House, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the former Vice- President had questions to answer on issues leading to the collapse of Bank PHB.

According to Mohammed, the PDP presidential candidate benefited from N156 million ‘slush funds’ through what he described as Claremont Management Services Account on January 13, 2009.

The minister who claimed that the federal government was not bothered by Atiku’s visit to the United States, said “If he likes, he can stay there and obtain the American Green Card.”

Tasking Atiku to explain his involvement in both the alleged ‘slush funds’ as well as the collapse of Bank PHB, Mohammed said the PDP presidential hopeful should return to the country and explain his roles in the bankruptcy of Bank PHB now Key Stone Bank.

He said: “Let me say right away that we are not perturbed one bit that Alhaji Atiku Abukakar was able to secure visa to the US. As a matter of fact, he can go ahead and get the US Green card that will not save him from imminent defeat in the forthcoming election.

“I want to remind Abubakar that the elections will be right here in Nigeria and not in the US. In any event, any time Abubakar returns home, he has questions to answer following the fresh evidence that we have that he benefitted from slush funds that led to the collapse of the former Bank PHB.

“The document we have showed that he benefitted to the tune of N156 million from that slush fund. The paper which we have here started from an internal memo on the January 13, 2009, which reads: ‘please refer for discussion your requested overdraft in favour of Atiku Abubakar for N156 million and deliver same to me. Please note that it must be delivered today (January 13) on the same date”

Furthermore, Mohammed stated that another memo was raised to confirm the receipt of the alleged ‘slush fund,’ saying the government does not only have evidence of the account statement and mandate but also a copy of the cheque issued to Atiku.

The tone of Mohammed’s address created the impression that Atiku would be arrested immediately he returns, emphasising that he can enjoy himself thoroughly in America but he should be reminded that he has an explanation to make the moment he returns to Nigeria.

He said, “We have evidence here of the account mandate — the name of Atiku Abubakar. We also have a copy of the cheque in which the sum of N156 million was issued to Atiku Abubakar dated Jan. 13, 2009. And of course, we also have statement of account within that period that confirms that this sum was actually paid into his account.

“These are fresh evidences as to his involvement in the collapse of Bank PHB. So, we want him to stay as long he wants in the US but as soon he comes back, he has to explain to the electorate and to Nigerians what was his role in the collapse in the former Bank PHB.”

Atiku: FG Should Provide Evidence

Atiku has challenged the Federal Government to show evidence that he benefitted from the N156m slush fund that allegedly led to the collapse of the defunct Platinum Habib Bank.

Atiku made this challenge in a statement issued by Mr. Phrank Shaibu, his Special Assistant on Public Communication, on Friday.

He said, “It is disgusting to continue to spin allegations of corruption against me by people who have failed to come forward with a single shred of evidence of my misconduct while in office.

“They just suddenly woke up to the reality that, their lies about Atiku being corrupt can no longer hold? It is instructive to note that the same Bank PHB is now Keystone Bank, which was said to have been acquired by Buhari’s cronies through AMCON last year,”Atiku said in the statement.

PDP Dares Buhari over Threat to Arrest Atiku

The PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation (PPCO) also described as laughable, “the plot to frame Atiku.”

The main opposition party said that the world already knows that this attempt to mudsling was coming out of Buhari’s frustration over Atiku  successful outing in the United States, for which the Presidency has gone into full hallucination.

The Director of Media and Publicity, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, at a press conference yesterday in Abuja said that the trumped-up charges was in addition to presidency frenzied face-saving effort to divert public attention from  Buhari’s humiliating appearances in the respective rallies and Television shows he has had.

Ologbondiyan stated that Atiku  has nothing to do with the alleged issues leading to the collapse of Bank PHB, but an honest and hard working Nigerian who has no skeleton of any sort in his cupboard, unlike Buhari, who is now entangled in series of corruption allegations.

For emphasis, he added that even the Chairman of  Buhari’s Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, had since told the world that the Presidency has searched everywhere and could not find anything incriminating on Atiku.

The PDP however counselled  Buhari and the APC to note that Nigerians could see through their lies, fabrications and frustration and that their scheme against Atiku is already dead on arrival.

The PDP urged Buhari to open the books and provide explanation for the N9 trillion stolen under his watch as Minister of Petroleum Resources as detailed in the leaked NNPC memo.

Ologbondiyan said, “President Buhari should as well, allow an open inquest into the alleged involvement of his relations in the N1.032 trillion alleged corrupt acquisitions in 9Mobile and Keystone Bank PLC.”