Failed Nigerian presidential candidate lobbying US to recognize him as ‘authentic President’

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Nigerian presidential candidate and opposition leader Atiku Abubakar casts his vote along with his wife Amina Titilayo Atiku-Abubakar in February 2019. (LUIS TATO/AFP/Getty Images)

Enlisting the assistance of two high-powered Washington, D.C. lawyers, a Nigerian presidential candidate is looking for help in his legal challenge after his election loss. Atiku Abubakar, former vice president of Nigeria, lost in the country’s February presidential election to incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. However, Abubakar swiftly filed a legal suit challenging the election results due to allegations of voting irregularities and violence.

Abubakar has ties to those in Trump’s orbit, having hired political consultants like Riva Levinson, who worked with Paul Manafort, and Brian Ballard, a major Trump fundraiser. Like many other foreign leaders looking to bolster their standing with Trump, Abubakar stayed at the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C.

Abubakar joins opposition politicians like Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó in turning to lobbyists to garner American support. According to a FARA filings accessed using the Center for Responsive Politics’ Foreign Lobby Watch, on March 24, former Justice Department official Bruce Fein and his firm Fein & DelValle PLLC registered as foreign agents on Abubakar’s behalf.

Fein, the associate deputy attorney general in Ronald Reagan’s administration and general counsel to the FCC, played a significant role in the repeal of the FCC’s “Fairness Doctrine.” He also later worked with then-Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) in drafting articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton.

Joining Fein in the effort is his partner at the firm, W. Bruce DelValle, who according to an online biography has a varied background tackling civil rights and constitutional law issues, litigating intellectual property and liability disputes, along with representing a number of sports and entertainment personalities.   

The agreement notes that Lloyd Ukwu, who is described as “a Nigerian barrister and trusted confidant [of Abubakar],” is assisting  “in the operations of the U.S. Situation Room.” Ukwu is a critic of Buhari and is the founder of a group called We the People of Nigeria which claims to be an advocate for “free and fair elections.” Ukwu recently led a delegation to meet with a variety of government officials in the State Department, Congress and “delivered a letter to the [acting] United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Jonathan Cohen, in New York to ensure the success of the Nigerian elections.”

According to the filing, Fein will be paid $30,000 over a 90-day contract to provide “legal, consultancy and public advocacy services to encourage Congress and the Executive” to wait on recognizing a winner of the Nigerian election until after the legal challenge is “impartially and independently resolved.”

Another filing lays out how the influence campaign will be conducted. Lobbyists will meet with members of Congress and their staff to persuade them to pass resolutions in the House and Senate “to forebear from a final declaration and recognition of a winner” until after Abubakar’s appeals are decided fairly and independently. Additionally, the firm will “draft articles and op-ed pieces” about the issues surrounding the Nigerian election and appear on television and other media programs.  

In the contract, Fein’s firm is explicit in promising to “obtain official recognition that you are the authentic President of Nigeria based on an accurate counting of legal ballots.” The goal of the effort is straightforwardly described as “to convince the United States that your presidency would open a fresh and new chapter in Nigerian politics.”

The filing also asserts that the lobbying effort will demonstrate that an Abubakar presidency is “the will of the People.” It warns that if Abubakar is denied a victory, problems like genocide, poverty, corruption and strife will “undoubtedly continue.”

Abubakar himself has a rocky legal history. A Senate subcommittee report on foreign corruption cited Abubakar as a case study regarding his transfer of millions of dollars into the U.S. through shell companies. He was never prosecuted. In 2009, the FBI alleged that Abubakar demanded bribes from former Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), who was convicted of corruption charges. At one point, Jefferson stored $90,000 in cash for Abubakar in his freezer.   

The U.S. has long had close relations with Nigeria and is the country’s largest foreign investor. American troops work alongside the Nigerian military in an international effort against the Boko Haram terrorist organization. Additionally, the incumbent Buhari visited the White House and met with President Trump in 2018.

Fein did not respond to a request for comment.

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Raymond joined CRP as a reporting intern in January 2019. He graduated from Duquesne University with a B.A. in political science in December 2018. Prior to joining CRP, Raymond served as news editor and, most recently, editor-in-chief for The Duquesne Duke, Duquesne’s independent student newspaper. He grew up in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

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