The ongoing controversy surrounding alleged exchange of money (bribe) between Femi Otedola, Chairman of Zenon Oil and Gas and Farouk Lawan, former Chairman House of Representatives Adâ€“hoc Committee that successfully unravelled the rot in the funding of the federal governmentâ€™s fuel subsidy scheme clearly shows that this country is in a big mess in the hands of those in and around positions of power. Before now, the House of Representatives Power Probe Report died when the committee chair, Ndudi Elumelu, was accused of malfeasance involving some power contracts. And till date, none of those indicted for the $16bn fraud has been prosecuted. Elumeluâ€™s alleged complicity provided escape route for the â€śpower thievesâ€ť and now we are replaying the same acts in the fuel subsidy scam.
When will this country mature out of these sort of self-deceits?
From available indications, it is clear that the principal intention of the Otedola-Farouk drama is simply to rubbish the House Committee report on Fuel Subsidy and ultimately distract Nigerians so that those indicted in the heinous subsidy scam can be allowed to walk away without punishment â€“ as they did with other probes. There are so many questions begging for answers. Is it not disheartening that Otedola could even have the audacity to own up to giving Lawan US$500,000 bribe money and allegedly US$120000 to Boniface Emenalo the secretary of Lawan led Ad-Hoc Committee? Why was Farouk not arrested way back in March/April when he got the alleged bribe?
How could the State Security Service (SSS) have left Farouk with the money (the only evidence) to spend for 3 months (April to June?) How come it is the bribe-giver-Femi Otedola who announced the so called sting operation to the press and not the SSS who purportedly carried out the sting? Has the SSS confirmed they gave the marked dollar bills to Otedola? If so, why did they not arrest Farouk immediately he took the bribe? Otedola once claimed that the money belonged the SSS. Can the agency tell Nigerians if this is true, and if so how it came about such huge sum in foreign currency?
More importantly Nigerians must ask questions about what the purported bribe money was about. Was it really bribe money or was it for other purposes? As gathered from several publications on the matter, both Otedola and Lawan are bosom friends who ordinarily exchanged visits, even at odd hours as politicians and top business people are wont to do. They also reportedly have several friends in common so what both Farouk and Otedola did not tell us was that they related to each other as close friends rather than as a marketer and chairman of the ad hoc committee probing the subsidy thieves. Whether it was appropriate for the two to have carried on with their close friendship, bearing in mind that such could easily intrude into the work of the ad hoc committee to become conflict of interest, is a different issue.
From some of the reported text message exchanges between Otedola and Lawan, it is obvious that the bulk of the critical information which the committee probing the fuel subsidy scam used to do its work appeared to have come from Otedola, including a KPMG Report which the Committee could not even get from the Ministry of Finance. It was reported that at each sitting of the committee Otedola would be watching these proceedings and would be sending text messages to Farouk Lawan, directing him to the sort of questions he should ask whoever was being interrogated. It was widely reported that shortly after the inauguration of the committee, Lawan went to see Otedola to â€śget an insight into the workings of the committeeâ€ť. The crucial question here is: did Lawan go to see Otedola as a marketer or as a friend?
It was human for Otedola to feel enraged that after helping Lawanâ€™s committee to succeed and even boosting Lawanâ€™s public image, he could not do anything to ensure that his companies were not among those implicated. This might sound corrupt but would be a natural expectation from many people from their friends, especially friends they have dispensed huge favours to. If Lawan did not want to grant such favours, why then did he have to apparently rely on Otedola to get an insight into the workings of the oil industry? My feeling is that once Otedola felt enraged that Lawan could not return his favours, Lawan either had a guilty conscience and realised he had made a mistake or got intimidated and decided to find a way to help. This might be the reason why he later asked for Otedolaâ€™s companies to be removed from the list of infamy.
But that move, which is still one of the things many people held against his version of events, would probably not have been necessary if Lawan had confided in the other members of the Committee that Otedola was indeed responsible for the committeeâ€™s success and then make a case for him to be treated as a sort of informal State Witness. This will in essence mean overlooking any sins committed by Otedolaâ€™s companies in exchange for the critical information he was giving to the committee because the truth be told, without Otedolaâ€™s inside knowledge of the subsidy cabal, and his decision to turn against his colleagues and rivals, the work of the ad hoc committee would not have been anywhere as successful as it turned out to be. It is not uncommon for a State to overlook the crimes of an individual or entity if that entity will cooperate with the State to nail others and stop the crime wave.
It is always a controversial issue to overlook a crime but some, including states, are willing to embrace that option if it will lead to the accomplishment of a higher goal. If Lawan had taken his colleagues into confidence from the beginning, he would not have had any need to be pricked by his conscience or intimidated and then began a last minute effort to pay back Otedola. Today, this lack of initial transparency with his colleagues and its aftermath is a key argument of Otedola that Lawan was compromised.
There are also suggestions that Lawan was pressured to change some of his story several times by either the PDP who told him versions to narrate to the public or other agents acting as his friends. But unknown to him, he was being set up to walk into a well choreographed script. By walking into the cabalâ€™s sucker punch, they succeeded in making him look like a flip-flop, raising questions about his credibility. What is clear is that the story of the purported $620,000 dollars is still unfolding and both Farouk and Otedola still have to come clean on what really happened.
The facts on the ground do not seem to support the current thesis that the money was meant to influence the report of the ad hoc committee when the purported exchanges took place after the committee had concluded its work and its report had already been in the public domain.
IFEANYI IZEZE: iizeze at yahoo . com; 234-8033043009)
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