Nigerian presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar was issued a visa for his visit to Washington last month after over a decade of being banned from the country due to his alleged involvement in corruption and money-laundering schemes. Last year, Abubakar’s political party hired Ballard Partners, a Trump administration-linked lobbying firm, and he stayed at the Trump Hotel during his visit to Washington. CREW filed a Freedom of Information Act request to understand how foreign actors such as Abubakar advocate for their interests in this presidential administration.
On January 17 and 18, 2019, Abubakar and a delegation of Nigerian politicians visited Washington, D.C. to meet with U.S. diplomats and members of Congress. Reports noted that this visit marked the first time in over a decade that Abubakar had been allowed to enter the United States because he was previously unable to obtain a US visa due to alleged graft and corruption, including a $40 million money-laundering case investigated by the Senate in 2010.
In September 2018, Abubakar’s political party, the People’s Democratic Party of Nigeria, hired Ballard Partners to “assist [them] in communication with U.S. government officials.” In December 2018, prior to his visit to Washington, Abubakar hired Holland & Knight LLP to lobby the State Department, House of Representatives, and National Security Council on his behalf regarding “Visa Issues.” On January 22, following Abubakar’s visit to Washington, a Nigerian news platform reported that Ballard Partners’ president arranged the trip and that Ballard “may have come in handy in clearing all the obstacles on Atiku’s path to travel to the United States.” On February 4, a Reuters report confirmed that Abubakar’s U.S. travel ban was temporarily suspended after a lobbying campaign to convince members of Congress and the State to allow him to enter the country.
CREW requested communications between the Bureau of African Affairs, Ballard Partners, Holland & Knight LLP, and certain congressional offices about Abubakar and his party. The public has an immense interest in understanding how lobbyists that are closely tied to the administration reportedly convinced the State Department to reverse the ban on an allegedly corrupt foreign politician entering the US.