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A Scandal Begets Another Scandal

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The probe into the oil subsidy scandal by the House of Representatives ad hoc committee gives birth to another scandal allegedly involving Farouk Lawan, its chairman

T he  last  may  not have been heard about the raging $3 million bribery scandal allegedly involving Farouk Lawan, chairman of the House of Representatives ad hoc committee which probed the 2009-2010 fuel subsidy regime in Nigeria and Boniface Emenalo, secretary of the committee. Both have so far remained the only names among other members of the committee, associated with the scandal since the act became public knowledge on Sunday, June 10.

Newswatch learnt that names of some members of the ad hoc committee and a few leaders of the House who knew about the $3 million deal, and would have benefited from it if it had not generated controversies, may also be revealed this week. Indeed, investigations so far carried out by a Police Task Force handling the matter at Force Headquarters in Abuja, is said to have stumbled on evidence which implicated a principal officer of the House. Sources at the Force Headquarters told Newswatch new revelations may be made this week about the identity of some owners of oil companies who also gave bribes, in hard currencies to the ad hoc committee chaired by Lawan.

But Lawan, the man at the centre of the controversy remained in the eye of the storm last week. Newswatch learnt the diminutive four-time House member from Kano remained in shock and withdrawn from public glare throughout last week after Femi Otedola, chairman of Zenon Oil and Gas Limited, one of the companies investigated in the oil subsidy saga, dished out vivid details of the scandal.  Lawan was said to have held several meetings with a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, at Dansville Plaza in Apo, Abuja, and may be contemplating heading to court to avert more trouble.

An account of how Lawan got enmeshed in the bribery allegation was narrated last week by Otedola. The oil magnate alleged in an interview with a national daily on Sunday, June 10, that  Lawan  approached him on April 18, 2012, a few days before the report of the oil subsidy probe which he led, was to be tabled  before the House and demanded money so that Zenon’s name would be kept out of the report. He said he refused the demands for bribe at that point and responded angrily, reminding him that Zenon has never participated in the subsidy scheme and that it would be criminal to rope in the company for something it did not do.

Otedola said his reply did not deter Lawan. Rather, he said, Lawan notified him that several other marketers were playing ball and had offered the members of the committee large sums of money to ensure that their companies’ names were not published in the report.

A day before the report was to be submitted, Lawan was alleged to have called again, but this time to inform Otedola that Zenon’s name had been included in the report. Otedola said he could not believe his eyes when, after the report was released, he found Zenon’s name listed under the category of companies that had bought foreign exchange from the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, but had not imported petrol.

In the report, Zenon was said to have received $232,975,385.13 but failed to import fuel. The report subsequently recommended that the company and 14 other marketers that had bought the foreign exchange be referred to the anti-corruption agencies to determine what they used the monies for.

Otedola said at this point he again called Lawan demanding that Zenon’s name be removed from the list, as there was no way his company could have bought that volume of foreign exchange without importing products. “I reminded him that the amount ascribed to Zenon was wrong as what the company bought was over $400 million for importation of products through the banks – Zenith, UBA and GTB – and that under Sanusi (CBN governor) there was no way anyone could have bought that quantity of  foreign exchange and not import the products having filled the Form M,” he said.

In spite of this, Otedola said Lawan still demanded that the members of the committee be given money in exchange for removing Zenon’s name from the report before it is considered in plenary by the entire House. He said it was at this juncture that he then asked how much would be required to make the committee happy and that  Lawan responded by mentioning  $3 million.

Otedola revealed that it was at that point that he decided to involve the security agencies to set a trap to catch Lawan and his committee members. He explained what he did thus: “As a law-abiding citizen, I decided to involve the security agencies and they advised me to play along, which prompted me to offer to pay part of the money with the promise that I would pay the balance when my company’s name had been removed from the report.”

He said the security agencies gave him serialised dollar bills for the sting job, which also involved the use of   video to secretly record what transpired between himself and Lawan. Otedola explained that he proceeded to invite Lawan who came in person, on April 21, the Saturday before the plenary, to his residence where he collected $250,000 in cash, as the first installment. The second batch of $250,000 was said to have been paid on Monday, April 23, while the sum of  $120,000 was paid the next day, April 24, at about 9a.m., to Boniface Emenalo, the secretary of the Committee, just before the House commenced seating.

Otedola confirmed that after he had paid the total of $620,000, as part of the $3million bribe, Zenon’s name was removed from the list of companies that had bought foreign exchange but did not import products. He said the motion for the removal of his company’s name from the list of indicted companies was moved by Lawan at a House plenary soon after.

Otedola said a request was later made by Lawan for the payment of the balance of $2.5 million, but that “when I told him that I had no money now, that the money was in Lagos, he suggested that I should charter a plane to fly the money from Lagos to Abuja.” He explained that his decision to get the law enforcement and security agencies involved stemmed from the fact that he had not broken any law, maintaining that as a law-abiding citizen, he was saddened by the fact that he was being blackmailed by all  sorts of people, including legislators.”If you have information that an armed robber is coming to raid your home, won’t you notify the police?  So, that was the purpose of the sting operation,” Otedola said.

Lawan denied on Monday, June 11, that he neither met nor collected any bribe from the oil baron. The next day, however, he recanted. He said he collected the money as exhibit. Sources explained that he admitted collecting the money after he was told by some people who saw the video recording of his involvement in the deal to do so, as a rebuttal could no longer be tenable in the face of the evidence against him.

His account of what transpired, however, differed from what Otedola said. He claimed that it was   Otedola who initiated the bribe offer and that he accepted the money as a strategy to expose the cabal. After he took the bribe money, Lawan said he confided in some people about what was going on.  Among those he said he confided  in was Adams Jagaba, chairman of the House Committee on Narcotic, Drugs and Financial Crimes. He said he notified Jagaba through a letter dated April 24, 2012, on the sum of five hundred thousand dollars offered him by Otedola.

In a statement in which he gave a detailed account of what transpired between him and Otedola, Lawan said: “I had considered bringing this issue as a matter of privilege on the floor of the House later today (April 24), but I am concerned that the controversy it will generate will dwarf the contents of the report, which needs public attention so that necessary reforms in the sector could be effected.”  He said: “given the desperation of Mr. Otedola, handling this matter, in a firm but diplomatic manner is necessary as he has also made some veiled threats which put me and members of the committee in a delicate situation.”

He also confirmed that Emenalo collected money from Otedola but that the amount reported to him was $100,000 and not $120,000 as claimed by Otedola. He said Emenalo notified him of the transaction through a letter dated April 24. Emenalo’s letter reads: “I wish to inform you that I was, on his invitation, at the residence of their chairman, Mr. Femi Otedola, in Maitama (Aso Drive) this morning and he offered me the sum of one hundred thousand US dollars in two bundles of $50,000 each. The money is hereby forwarded as evidence.”

Lawan also stated that the police were aware of the offer of bribe. As a matter of fact, he said the Inspector-General of Police, IG, had, in a letter dated May 9, directed Ali Amodu, the commissioner of Police in charge of the Task Force on Investigation, to meet him.

He said that in another letter dated May 16, with reference number CR:3000/IGP.SEC/STF/FHQ/ABJ/VOL 2/319, and signed by Amodu, the IG requested the money exhibit, names of witnesses and other material evidence from him. Lawan explained that in a letter dated May 31, he told the IG that the matter of the bribe offer had been referred to the relevant committee of the House for legislative action. He said he, however, promised that the House would inform the IG about the outcome of the legislative action.

The   whole truth about what transpired between Otedola and Lawan may never be known. What the public is being told presently may indeed be a tiny fraction of a disagreement emanating from a transaction that had gone awry. The duo are said to started relating well after Otedola was introduced to  Lawan during the period of the  sitting of the   ad hoc committee on petroleum subsidy probe.  Newswatch learnt that the relationship was allegedly cemented by Aliko Dangote, the billionaire businessman from Kano who is a close relation of Lawan. Their relationship was said to have become so close within the short period that Otedola exchanged calls with Lawan on a daily basis during the panel’s sittings.

On account of their close relationship too, Otedola was said to have assumed a more or less unofficial resource person to the ad hoc committee, offering very useful and valuable privileged information during their public sittings.  Newswatch gathered that Otedola allegedly produced a working paper for the committee before the commencement of the public hearing.

In the course of the public sittings which was aired live on television, Otedola allegedly often sent questions, comments and vital information via text messages to Lawan each time a person appeared to present a paper before the committee.  One glaring example was said to have occurred when a female owner of a company called Britannia appeared before the committee. Through a text message from Otedola, Lawan was able to shock the woman with a revelation that it was Dola, the woman’s child who is the real owner of the company and not the woman herself.

Similarly, it was allegedly through Otedola’s texts that the committee got to know that SEA Petroleum is allegedly owned by Stella Oduah, the current minister of aviation. Sources revealed also that each time an oil marketer appeared before the committee, Otedola who allegedly remained permanently glued to his television, watching proceedings from his home quickly occasionally notified the panel members about the marketer’s level of involvement in shady oil deals. Depending on his perception about capacity of each of the marketers, Otedola is said to have labelled his fellow oil marketers as either grade A, B or C oil crook.  But Newswatch was unable to confirm these allegations as at press time.

Otedola also identified companies involved in the lower cadre of the oil business in the country. He was said to have notified the committee members who among this low class of oil marketers he simply called rice and beans, was responsible for fuel adulteration in various parts of the country. These classes of oil marketers were said to be the brains behind the mixture of kerosene and diesel to produce adulterated petrol in the country.

There were indications last week that the police have commenced full investigation of the bribery scandal. Otedola confirmed that he had made statements to the police and even submitted evidence at his disposal, including video recording of himself handing over of the bribe money to Lawan. He, however, could not be reached by Newswatch for more details, as at press time last week.

Lawan was yet to make statements to the police as at press time last week too. Expectations are, however, that he would do so before Friday, June 15.

Varied reactions have continued to trail the revelations on the bribery scandal. Many Nigerians and organistions who made their views public called for a deeper probe of what transpired. The consensus of opinion is, however, that the Federal Government should not allow the bribery issue to divert their attention from the need to urgently implement recommendations of the ad hoc committee. Among organisations which reacted last week was the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC. In a statement it issued in Abuja, the NLC warned that the scandal should not in any way stop the implementation of the report authored by the Lawan committee.

The NLC said although the allegations were weighty, they have nothing to do with the final report of the committee which contains names of indicted persons. The NLC statement issued by Comrade Kiri Mohammed, acting president, was titled- “Stop the Diversions: Implement the Oil Subsidy Report, Now.” It stated that Nigerians should not be overburdened with an issue that should strictly be the burden of appropriate security agencies, particularly the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.”

Mohammed Bello Adoke, the attorney-general of the Federation and minister of justice, also reacted last week. He promised that the Federal Government would take appropriate action when it receives the report of investigation into the allegation. “We are waiting for the report. As soon as we get it, we would investigate it and take appropriate action. The Federal Government will not condone any act of impropriety. We have enough laws to prosecute anyone who commits an offence in the country,” he said.

 Ahmed Makarfi, senator and former governor of Kaduna State, has also urged Nigerians not to be distracted by the bribery allegation rocking the House of Representatives ad hoc committee on fuel subsidy payment.   He said last week that it was clear that some money must have passed in-between the parties, but that the question is: why should attention be on where there is a small thievery and not where you have huge plunder?  He provided the answer himself. “They are all issues and even if you go before a court of law, they look at the quantum of what you have done in sentencing. So, as much as we must get to the root of the issues involved, none should be put in the back burner,” Makarfi said, noting, the main issue is the report of the House while all other issues are subsidiary.

The reaction of the House was being expected by press time last week. Although the House was on recess when the matter blew open, the leadership issued a notice for the House to reconvene on Friday, June 15, ostensibly to discuss the matter which has painted their image black. The notice issued by Sani Omolori, clerk of the House reads: “This is to inform all Honourable members of the House of Representatives that the House would reconvene to hold a plenary session on Friday, June 15th, 2012 at 10am prompt. Honourable members are advised to take note and attend promptly, please.”


Reported by Anza Phillips, Haruna Salami and Sule Elaigwu


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