Following Federal Government’s declaration that the United States should think twice before granting former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar visa, the opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party has reacted.
The protest of the government came against the backdrop of the fact that Atiku was alleged to have visited the US Embassy in Abuja on Monday for fingerprints as part of steps towards issuance of visa, according to The Nation.
There are indications that Atiku’s visa application is still being processed by the US Embassy and he is likely to get his visa within a week or two depending on whether or not he enjoys any concession.
In a swift reaction, the spokesman for the PDP who also doubles as the spokesman for the party’s presidential campaign council, Kola Ologbondiyan, dismissed the comment as a “lazy talk”.
In a telephone chat with our The Nation yesterday, Ologbondiyan said: “Alhaji Lai Mohammed and the APC cannot dictate to America who to allow into their country. It is not in the place of Lai Mohammed to tell America who to admit and who not to admit into their country.
“America is a sovereign country and they reserve the right on who to admit into their country. This is part of the government’s misplaced priority. It’s all lazy talk.”
Recall that the Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed had while addressing a news conference yesterday advised the US Government to avoid dragging itself into Nigerian politics.
He said in the last 12 years, there had been an ongoing Congressional investigation of alleged corruption against some individuals which had made it difficult for Atiku to visit the US.
He said: “The issue of Atiku Abubakar and the grant of his efforts to secure a visa to visit the US. I must say that we are not at all in any panic. We will be honest in appreciating the fact that it is the prerogative of the US to grant a visa to anybody who applies.
“However, the impression must not be created that the US Government is interested in one particular candidate over the other.
“As you all will be aware, for more than 12 years, there has been a congressional bi-partisan investigation of corruption against certain individuals which had made it difficult for the former Vice President to secure a US visa.
“I am sure you will all recall the Jefferson case and what they called the cold $90,000 in the fridge. This is not the making of this administration, it has been ongoing.
“Our position is that if the former VP already has a US visa, we have no problem about it. What we warn the US Government against is not to give the impression that it is endorsing one particular candidate over the other. That is what is going to happen if, for instance the former VP is granted a visa.
“We are not unaware – I think it is also in the public domain – that Atiku has engaged the service of some lobbyists in the US to facilitate the issuance of visa for him.
“Once again, I say it is his own right to do so, but we want these countries country to be neutral on the 2019 elections and they should please be wary of taking any decision that will give the wrong impression that they are favouring or endorsing any candidate over the other.”
A source said: “Atiku is almost completing his visa process. He was at the US Embassy on Monday for fingerprint vitals.
“I think it is too late in the day for this administration to stop issuance of visa to the former Vice President.”
Asked to comment on the resurgence of attacks on troops by Boko Haram, the Minister insisted the troops only suffered a setback but Boko Haram remained decimated.
He said the setback would not retard the progress being recorded against insurgents by troops.
He added: “I think we need to put issues in context. And I still say that despite the setback that was witnessed last week, our position that we have decimated Boko haram is still valid. You need to know where we were in 2015 and where we are today in terms of security.
“Many of you were in Abuja pre- 2015 and you knew how even unsafe Abuja was. All of us were in Nigeria pre-2015 and we knew that Boko Haram was active in at least 10 states of the Federation where they chose where and when to act.
“In 2015 when we came in, 20 out of 27 Local Government Areas in Borno State alone were under the occupation of Boko Haram. I am glad that a few of my colleagues followed us to Bama on the 5th of December 2015 and they saw what the situation was. We were in Maiduguri, Bama, Kauri and Konduga. And I still remember that in the 17-kilometre road between Maiduguri and Bama, there was no single vehicular traffic on the road.
“Of the 6,000 plus structures in Bama, none was standing, they were all destroyed by Boko Haram. Actually, Boko Haram was not just occupying, they were in government in most parts of Borno State and four local governments in Yobe where they held court, they hoisted their flags, they collected taxes, they deposed Emirs and the Judiciary.
“Today, not one inch of Nigerian territory is under Boko Haram. They have all been pushed out of Nigerian territory; they now operate from the fringes, from Lake Chad Island (Basin).
“So, anybody who is well versed in insurgency will appreciate that what happened last week was nothing but a setback and I think it is not to say that the war against insurgency is not going well.
“I want to place on record our appreciation to our gallant men and women who daily are sacrificing their lives for us; who daily are paying the supreme price for this country to be peaceful. And what is important is about the steps the government has taken.”
The Minister said the Federal Government has taken steps to avert a repeat of the setback in Metele.
He said: “It gladdens my heart that on Wednesday, President Muhammadu Buhari was in Maiduguri for the occasion of Chief of Army Staff Annual Conference. He seized the opportunity to express Nigerians’ gratitude and appreciation to the entire military and assured them that he will make sure they get equipment. He said that this is a must win war.
“Today, as we speak, Mr. President is in Ndjamena as the chairman of the summit of heads of state and government of the Lake Chad Basin. As you are aware, the Multi-National Joint Task Force is made up of Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon with Benin Republic and Central Africa Republic.
“Insurgency is not a local issue; it is a global issue. And I am glad that Mr. President is in Ndjamena trying to rally support for the fight against insurgency. I think this setback does not mean that the war against insurgency is not being won.”
Pressed to say in one sentence whether Nigeria is winning or losing the war against Boko Haram, Mohammed said: “We are not losing the war; we shall win the war.”
On alleged clampdown on members of the opposition and some activists, Mohammed said the law should be allowed to take its course if they committed any infringement.
He added: “I believe that being an activist or being in the opposition does not grant you immunity against arrest or prosecution. And the important thing in the case of Adeyanju and co. is that they have been charged to court. Let the court decide whether or not they have infringed on any law of the Federation. I read it also. I think they are before a magistrate’s court and they are being charged under the Nigerian laws. I think at that point, nobody can comment on it.
But I want to say that being in opposition or being an activist anywhere in the world is not immunity against arrest or prosecution.”