The government spoke against the backdrop of the speculations that the US was planning to grant former Vice President Atiku Abubakar visa to visit the country.
Atiku, who is the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate in the election, is currently under ban from visiting the US.
Atiku will be squaring it up with the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari, who is flying the All Progressives Congress (APC) flag at the polls.
The US government had, last year, said, it won’t disclose reasons why the former VP is under travel ban to the country
The former VP, who served under Olusegun Obasanjo, has not been able to enter the U.S since completing his eight-year tenure in 2007.
And until very recently, the two leaders had been at ‘war’, with Obasanjo vowing never to support his erstwhile deputy’s political aspiration.
But the rift came to an end recently, following the intervention of some notable religious clerics, after Atiku emerged the PDP flag bearer.
Obasanjo, according to some media reports, was also alleged to be mounting pressure on the US to lift its travel ban on the former VP, a claim the former president strongly debunked.
Addressing journalists in Abuja yesterday, Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said, though the Buhari-led APC government was not panic, but cautioned that granting Atiku the US visa would be sending a wrong signal.
He said: “To answer your question on Atiku Abubakar’s effort to secure a visa to visit the US, I must say that we are not at all in any panic, and we understand and appreciate the fact that it is the prerogative of the US in particular, to grant a visa to anybody that applies for a visa. However, impression must not be created that the US government is endorsing one particular candidate over the other.
“Because as you are all aware, for more than four years, there has been a kind of operational and partisan investigation of corruption against certain individuals, which we think , has made it difficult for the former vice president to secure US visa. I am sure you all recall the Jefferson’s case and what’s called the cold $90,000 in the fridge. Now, this is not the making of this administration, it has been ongoing.
“If the former vice president already has the US visa, we have no problem about it. What we want is just to tell the US government, not to give impression that it is endorsing one particular candidate over the order. And that is what is going to happen, if for instance, ultimately, the former vice president is now granted a visa.”
Speaking further, the minister said, “we are not unaware that, I think it is also in the public domain, that he (Atiku) has engaged the services of some lobbyists in the US to ensure the issuance of US visa for him. Once again, I want to say, it is his own right, but we want all the friendly countries to be neutral in 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 one candidate against the other.”
Alleged police partisanship
The minister also spoke on the alleged partisanship of the police under the administration, with specific reference to the arrest of Convener of Concerned Nigerians, Mr. Deji Adeyanju, while leading a protest on Wednesday in Abuja.
He said: “I believe that being an activist or being in opposition anywhere in the world, does not grant you any immunity against arrest or prosecution. The important thing in the issue of Adeyanju and co, is that they have been charged to court, let the court decide whether or not, they have infringed on the laws of the federation.
“They have been charged under the Nigerian law; I think at that point, nobody can comment on it. But I want to say that, being in opposition or an activist, anywhere in the world is not an immunity against arrest or prosecution.”
He assured that the government would not “use the police to achieve personal or political gains,” stressing that the Buhari administration would not trample on the rights of any Nigerian.
Commenting on the recent Boko Haram attack on the troops in Metele, Borno state, he said the unfortunate development does not take away the fact that the insurgents had not been decimated.
“I think we need to put issues in context. I will still say that despite the setback that, our position that we have decimated Boko Haram is still valid, because we 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 unsafe even Abuja was. Many of you, all of us were in Nigeria pre-2015, and we knew that Boko Haram was active in 10 states of the federation. In 2015, 20 out of 27 local governments in Borno alone were under Boko Haram, collecting taxes, sacking the emirs. But today, not a single town is under Boko haram”, the minister clarified.
PDP fires back
But the PDP National Publicity Secretary, who also doubles as the Atiku Campaign spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, has said both the minister and his ruling party are chasing shadow.
Ologbondiyan told Blueprint that, “America has the right to decide who visits its country. So it is strange that a Lai Muhammed will sit down in Nigeria and decide for America who to enter their country. That, to us is a lazy man’s talk. There is nothing to it than just shadow chasing.”
On the alleged hired lobbyists, Ologbondiyan described it as a baseless allegation, saying, “what we expect is that we will allow issues to determine the 2019 general elections, not for anyone to be making allegations or making scam against a candidate.
“APC and President Muhammadu Buhari have spent almost four years in office, what have they done in those four years? How has their government improved the living standard of Nigerians? These are the issues we are ready to engage the APC and President Muhammadu Buhari on.
“We are not prepared to engage in scamming, we are not prepared for lies, we are not prepared for deception, we are prepared to engage the APC and its candidate in discussing the values they have added for Nigerians.”