The Federal Government has told the U.S. to be cautious in granting visa to Atiku Abubakar, the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) presidential candidate, in order not to create the impression of endorsing him for the 2019 election.
Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, gave the government position at an interactive session with media executives in Abuja on Thursday.
Mohammed said that the government was aware of the move by the former vice president to lobby the U.S. to lift the visa ban imposed on him.
He said while the U.S. has the prerogative of whom to issue visa, it should be mindful of the timing, in order not to give the impression that Atiku has been endorsed by the U.S. government.
“We understand and appreciate the fact that it is the prerogative of the U.S. to grant a visa to anyone who applies.
“However, we want the U.S. to be neutral and be wary of taking any decision that will give the impression that they are favouring or endorsing one candidate over the other.
“Impression must not be created that the U.S. government is endorsing one particular candidate over the other,” he said.
The minister recalled that for years, there has been a kind of congressional bi-partisan investigation on corruption against certain individuals which had made it difficult for Atiku to secure a U.S. visa.
“I am sure you will all recall the Jefferson’s case and the cold $90,000 in fridge.
“We are not unaware that Atiku has engaged the services of some lobbyists to persuade the U.S. to issue visa to him.
“Our position is that if the former vice president is seeking the U.S. visa we have no problem about it.
“However, we want the U.S. government not to create the impression that it is endorsing one candidate over the other,” he said.
Speaking on security, the minister insisted that despite the recent set back brought about by attacks on the military, the Boko Haram insurgents had been largely decimated.
He recalled that when they took over in 2015, Boko Haram was active in 10 states including the FCT where they chose where and when to attack.
The minister said that 20 of the 27 local government areas in Borno were under the insurgents where they hoisted their flags, collected taxes and deposed the Emirs.
He said since they took over no inch of Nigerian territory is under the control of the insurgents who now operated in the fringes –Lake Chad Island- to launch guerilla attacks.
“What happened was a set-back and it is not enough to say that we are losing the war against Boko Haram.
“We want to appreciate the gallant military who are sacrificing day and night and those who have lost their lives to protect Nigeria’s sovereignty,” he said.
The minister added that the visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to Borno and his ongoing visit to Chad were indications of renewed vigour to end the war.
Mohammed also denied the allegations that the government was closing media space against the opposition.
On the arrest of Deji Adeyanju, convener of Concerned Nigerians by the Police, the minister noted that “being an activist or in the opposition does not protect anyone from arrest and prosecution”.
He said the case had been charged to court and it would be prejudicial to make further comments on it.
Reacting, Atiku Abubakar told the presidency and the Federal Government to leave him alone and focus their attention on addressing the concerns over the identity of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Speaking with Daily Independent, Atiku, who spoke through Segun Sowunmi, spokesman of his campaign organisation, said the nations of the world are at liberty to give or refuse visas to anyone they deem fit and do not need the Federal Government’s opinion on the issue.
“The countries of the world are free and are at liberty to give visa or not to. We are advising them that they should go and concern themselves with the allegations of duplicity and multiple personality sitting in Aso Villa. If they can resolve that, then they can come and start talking to us about any other thing”.
“Nigeria is a country that God gave to Nigerians to be ruled by Nigerians when we decide our presidency. There is no part of Nigerian conversation that says that Nigerian president must go and tour round all the countries of the world and bow down to them so that they can come back and lead us here.
“They should settle the issue of duplicity of the personality in Aso Rock first. I don’t know if his name is Jubril and I don’t know if his name is Buhari. They are hearing the allegations yet they have not done anything about it, all they keep focusing on is Atiku.
“When people said Obasanjo was dead, he came out and said ‘I dey Kampe’. When President Umaru Yar’Adua was rumoured to be dead, Obasanjo called him and placed it on loudspeaker and said ‘Umoru, Umoru are you dead?
“But now, they have been accusing them of putting a strange man in the presidency, why haven’t they come out to say ‘No, this is who we have’. They are making all sorts of stupid excuses and diverting from the issues”, he said.