Business as Usual on K Street
A key criticism of American politics is the perceived influence of lobbyists on Capitol Hill. With offices often on K Street, many of these lobbyists have historically focused on domestic legislation, but there is another focus of K Street that should be scrutinized. The role of international governments, companies, and other actors, who have sought a voice and influence in Washington for decades. This is true whether it’s a government dealing with an insurgency or even worse, vice versa. Both sides have sought champions in Washington, and more often than not, the focus has been on which member of Congress they should reach out to.
One nation that falls under these criteria and seems to be lurching along from crisis to crisis is Nigeria. Most analysts became aware of Nigerian efforts to seek international allies, including in the U.S., after the 2019 presidential election in the country. Atiku Abubakar, the defeated candidate, reached a deal with Fein & DelValle, a law firm based in Washington, to assist him with challenging the results.
This is not the first time Fein & DelValle has been active in Nigeria. In 2017, the firm sent investigators to Enugu to conduct research for a lawsuit seeking redress under the Torture Victim Protection Act against Tukur Yusuf Buratai, the current Chief of Army Staff of Nigeria, by Igbo and Biafran communities.
The issue of elections in Nigeria is proving to be a potential source of income for DC-based lobbyists. For example, the webpage for CLS Strategies, another Washington firm that lists its international clients, states that the PDP (People’s Democratic Party) is one of their international partners. This partnership should be closely monitored due to a recent move on Facebook. A recent report found that this firm set up several fake accounts and pages in three Latin American countries in an apparent effort to disrupt the Venezuelan elections.
Another firm that the PDP retained is Ballard Strategies. The deal with the Florida-based firm came into being back in 2018 with the firm agreeing to represent the PDP. One of the focal points of the deal was to lobby the Trump administration to ensure free and fair polls during the 2019 cycle. The firm reportedly earns $1.1 million to advise the PDP on the status of relations between Nigeria and Washington.
It is not just established political parties in Nigeria that have reached out to K Street for representation but fringe elements and separatists as well. In an effort to improve its image, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which is considered a terrorist group by the Nigerian government, contacted Mercury Public Affairs to represent them in Washington.
The group is serious about how they want their image to be presented in Washington. On social media, the group is active to showcase itself as an organization wanting to create a safe haven for Nigeria’s long-suffering Christian community. It is worth noting that when President Trump met with President Buhari in 2018, this topic was raised by the U.S. president. It is clear that IPOB believes that the Buhari government has not taken the proper steps to end the violence. The period of inaction gives IPOB an opportunity to utilize the commitments to religious liberties by the Trump administration in their effort to secede from Nigeria.
Biafra is not the only flashpoint within Nigeria that has garnered attention on K Street. The governor of Kaduna State, Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai, found a voice on K Street back in 2007, as he was represented by KRL International. Why is this important? Over the last several months there has been violence in the southern part of the state. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 170 were killed in the first seven months of the year. The situation has led the local citizens to set up their own patrols. It is not clear what the current status of this relationship currently is but Kaduna is becoming an area of concern.
Nigerian political parties, insurgent groups, and governors are seeking a voice on K Street in order to influence the White House, Congress, or the State Department. Mercury has denied that it was lobbying for Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her effort to be head of the World Trade Organization earlier this year. Nevertheless, on June 5, 2020, Mercury Public Affairs registered to represent Ms. Okonjo-Iweala personally on Capitol Hill.
The situation in Nigeria remains fluid and fast-moving. It appears on the surface that the relationship with Washington is paramount and those parties, whether acting on the state or federal level or the insurgents themselves, desire to make sure that their voices are heard in Washington.