The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Nigeria’s opposition party, in the 2019 general elections and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, paid $16.5million (N8.7billion in today’s parallel conversions) to an American firm to help him destroy his opponent’s campaign message and procure a visa to Washington in the run-up to the elections.
According to Peoples Gazette, Abubakar used the money to enlist the services of K.M. Family Investment, LLC, a Texas-based public affairs consultancy run by Sada Cumber, a Pakistani-American diplomat and former U.S. Special Envoy to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) under President George W. Bush.
The deal was facilitated by Legacy Logistics, an Abuja-based integrated services venture linked to Abubakar’s associates, Samuel Cornelius and Joseph Nzepuome.
Amongst other campaign ideas, Cumber and his team accepted the $16.5million deal to help the former Nigerian VP lobby American politicians and bureaucrats for a visitor’s visa, coordinate advanced communications of his campaign and help build a structure tasked with the “destruction” of opposition messaging.
The deal was signed on October 26, 2018, three weeks after Abubakar clinched the presidential nomination of the opposition PDP to challenge President Muhammadu Buhari in the February 2019 elections.
But the filings said Cumber had contacted top Washington lobbyists Holland & Knight no earlier than September 20, 2018, seeking their services in helping Abubakar procure a visa to the U.S.
Holland & Knight charged Cumber $75,000 for the contract and promptly dispatched its personnel to liaise with Republican members of the U.S. Congress, as well as representatives of White House National Security Council and the State Department.
Cumber, an influential Republican and ally of former President Donald Trump, started preparing his team for a trip to Abuja to meet Abubakar’s campaign shortly after the deal was signed and the visa was all but guaranteed.
It was unclear how much Cumber charged Atiku for the visa alone as part of the $16.5 million campaign strategy deal.
The contract said the agreed sum was exclusive of Abubakar’s flight and accommodation to the U.S. and security and logistics for Cumber’s team on their trip to Nigeria — indicating that the The Nigerian politician paid out of his pocket when his entourage stayed at the Trump International Hotel in Washington during the trip.
In the contract agreement, Cumber asked Abubakar’s campaign to pay $16.5 million into an escrow account. The money would be depleted in three tranches at every milestone of the three phases of the project.
“The Escrow Agent shall disburse the Escrow Fund as follows: (a) Five Million, Five-Hundred Thousand and NO/100 Dollars ($5,500,000.00) shall be disbursed by Escrow Agent from Escrow Fund to Firm immediately upon confirmation that the travel VISA for Mr. Atiku Abubakar has been issued by the United States government;
“b) Eight Million, Five-Hundred Thousand and NO/100 Dollars ($8,500,000.00) shall be disbursed by Escrow Agent from Escrow Fund to Firm immediately upon shipment of the book by Firm and release of the Op-Eds by Firm.
“c) Remaining Two Million, Five-Hundred Thousand and NO/10G Dollars ($2,500,000.00) shall be disbursed by Escrow Agent from Escrow Fund to Firm thirty (30) days before the currently announced Election Day in Nigeria of February 16, 2019. This date shall not change even if Election Day is postponed.
“Funds may also be disbursed in accordance with the joint written instructions signed by both Firm and Client. On disbursement of all of the Escrow Fund, this Escrow Agreement shall terminate,” the contract said.
The contract was scheduled to last between October 2018 and January 2019, when the last $2.5 million was slated to be released from the escrow account. It also included a clause that said any postponements of the election will not affect the disbursement of the $16.5 million as scheduled in the agreement.
The election was indeed shifted from February 16, 2019, to February 23, 2019.
The deal underscored how expensive Nigerian presidential elections have become over the past decade, and how politicians continue to contract foreign strategists to help direct their campaigns.
In 2015, Buhari’s APC awarded a similar contract to AKPD Message & Media, a strategic communications outfit headed by David Axelrod, who directed President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 and 2012.
The amount appeared to have been drawn from Abubakar’s formidable campaign war chest and did not include other electoral expenses locally, including ad buys across traditional and digital media.
Nigerian politicians are also known to pay heavily to secure their parties’ tickets at the primaries, advance illicit payments to electoral officers and induce voters at the ballot box.