By Muyiwa Gbadegesin
Homecoming is an annual tradition in the United States, when colleges and their host communities welcome back former alumni with celebratory events that can include a football game, parades, gala nights and the crowning of a homecoming queen and/or king. Former VP Atiku seems to have joined this tradition by his recent visit to the US, a visit shrouded in secrecy and furtive maneuvers.
Atiku’s visit to the US is a homecoming because he is going back home to his alma mater, the illustrious International School of Corruption (ISOC), made up of bad elements in corridors of power in the US, Nigeria and many other long-suffering countries. Despite the hullabaloo in some circles in the ruling party and opposition in Nigeria, Atiku’s visit has no bearing on the coming elections. This is because the right to elect the president of Nigeria belongs only to the people of Nigeria.
So why exactly is Atiku coming to America? The answer should be obvious to anyone who has followed his political career: Atiku is going to America to revive crooked channels for self-enrichment- the channels of institutional corruption that led to international scandals involving ISOC companies like Halliburton, Siemens and Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR).
The KBR scandal involved payment of bribes to the tune of $180 million by KBR between 1994 and 2004 to Nigerian officials to secure $6bn in contracts for the Bonny Island Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project in the Niger Delta. These are not mere allegations- an interim report of a Presidential Panel of Investigation headed by former Inspector General of Police, Mike Okiro stated that Obasanjo, Atiku and former Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Group Managing Directors Gaius Obaseki and Funso Kupolokun jointly got $74 million from the KBR slush fund. As a matter of fact, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had once indicated their intention to charge former US vice-president Dick Cheney in this $180 million bribery case. Cheney was the chief executive of Halliburton before he became George Bush’s vice-president in 2001.
ISOC alumni companies like KBR had free rein in Nigeria because of Obasanjo and Atiku, and they are now paying Atiku back by organizing homecoming events for him in the American capital. Atiku could not have gone before now because the ISOC was on a long hiatus during the Obama years. With the rise to power of another prominent ISOC alumnus, Donald J. Trump, Atiku is once again welcome in Washington. Could it be that the US authorities are unaware that Atiku is scandal prone? Why would they welcome the same Atiku that put American University into scandal through the wire transfers of $14 million to that university for consulting fees to help him establish his American University in Nigeria?
The American authorities are fully aware that whatever door Atiku enters, scandal is the next visitor. They are aware of his corrupt tendencies because the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs published a report on February 4, 2010 titled “Keeping Corruption Out of the United States: Four Histories” in which Atiku and his wife featured prominently for bringing “over $40 million in suspect funds into the United States through wire transfers sent by offshore corporations to U.S. bank accounts”. The American authorities were also witness to how a President and Vice President of Nigeria openly accused each other of corruption for eight years, and how they are once again best friends simply because they have been blocked from accessing the national treasury for three and a half years.
Why would Atiku bother trying to get chummy with a President who called Africa a ‘shithole’? Why would he try to curry favour by staying at Trump International Hotel, a violation of the emoluments clause of the US constitution? Atiku insists on going to America because of his well-known love for staying overseas in exotic, moneyed destinations like Dubai. He doesn’t like staying in a Nigeria that he failed to improve during his years in office. Nigeria is not comfortable enough for him. He prefers the opulence and creature comforts that are readily available abroad, without undue scrutiny. He doesn’t care that millions of his countrymen can never enjoy the same comforts because he has plundered their wealth. Atiku is running helter skelter because he knows that APC has changed this country for good. We have turned the ship of state around and are now facing the right direction. And there is no looking back.
If Atiku is looking for vindication in Washington, he is looking in the wrong place. He will not get vindication but only vilification.
The real winner in all of this is not Atiku or Nigeria but the Washington DC lobbyists who are now millionaires because of Atiku’s loot. The alumni of the International School of Corruption will be swarming all over Atiku now. Afterall, they are his friends, and he has promised to sell off national assets like NNPC to enrich his friends. Atiku should enjoy his homecoming. We hope he took time out to visit his old friend Dick Cheney and reminisce about how they fleeced both countries at the same time. Perhaps they could dream about partnering once again. We hope they don’t fight over who gets to be the Homecoming King of the International School of Corruption.
Gbadegesin, Ph.D is former Commissioner for Health, Oyo State