By NBF News
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Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Mohammed Abba-Aji, has accused a United States-based Nigerian academic, Mr Aminu Gusau, of attempting to blackmail the Presidency for personal gains.

Senator Abba-Aji told journalists in Abuja on Friday that his office had in late 2009 accepted a proposal from the African Leadership Institute of the University of Kansas, where Gusau works as a Programme Director, for a three-day workshop for Nigerian legislative and executive leaders.

The Presidential aide said that upon the correspondence, he was informed that the workshop was meant for the training of 20 Nigerian legislators drawn from the House of Representatives and the Senate at an agreed fee of $4,000 per participant.

He further explained that the agreement, which was jointly signed by Gusau and the Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Dr Cairo Ojougboh, indicated that two additional participants were to be granted payment waivers provided all the 20 fee-paying participants were mobilised for the workshop.

The document, which he made available to journalists, indicated: 'Each participant will pay the sum of $4,000. This payment will cover tuition, accommodation, local transportation, certificates, materials, and educational visits and tours.

'Twenty-two participants are expected to attend the workshop. The Institute has waived the tuition of two participants. The total cost for 20 participants is $80,000 and $20,000 has been paid. The balance of $60,000 will be paid prior to the participants' departure to the United States.'

Abba-Aji further stated that the timing of the programme, which was scheduled for January 20-23, 2010, coincided with the uproar over the bomb attack on an American airline by Nigerian-born Farouk Abdulmutallab on December 25, 2009.

According to him: 'The subsequent listing of Nigeria as country of interest on the watch list by the US as a result of the attempted bomb attack caused a great deal of apprehension among Nigerians wishing to travel to the United States during that period. 'Indeed, one of the participants who is a member of the House of Representatives was turned back at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and his U.S. visa was cancelled. This apparently discouraged most of the participants from making the trip.'

He explained that even though arrangements were concluded and all the 22 participants had their air tickets, only three of the legislators attended the workshop. However, Mr Gusau, in a petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), insisted that the balance of $60,000 be paid to him to cover the fees of those who could not attend the programme.

But Abba-Aji countered the claim, saying the initial $20,000 paid to Gusau was far higher than the quoted amount per participant since only three legislators participated in the workshop, adding that going by the terms of the agreement, Gusau was expected to refund $8,000 to the Presidency.