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It’s Now a Game of Drama, Intrigues

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The tide of reactions to the fuel subsidy bribery scandal involving Farouk Lawan is shifting against Femi Otedola with more people calling for his trial

Drama, intrigues and denials continued to trail the investigation into the $620,000 bribery scandal against Farouk Lawan, suspended chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee of the House of Representatives on the fuel subsidy probe. Last week, Jagaba Adams Jagaba, chairman, House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial crimes, denied ever receiving such an amount from Lawan.

Lawan had, at the outbreak of the scandal, claimed that the amount which he had received from Otedola was passed on to Jagaba.  But in a letter to Aminu Tambuwal, speaker, House of Representatives on Monday, June 19, 2012, Jagaba denied knowledge of Lawan’s claim that he was in possession of the money.  The letter which was titled “Re: Investigation Activities: Request for Handing Over of Exhibits in Connection with a case of Criminal Conspiracy, taking Gratification to Pervert the Course of Justice” reads: “I wish to categorically and unequivocally state that there was never a time I was in possession of $620,000 or any other exhibits (in my personal capacity or official capacity as chairman of my committee) relating to the subject matter of the above investigation.  “I hope this explanation lays to rest, once and for all, the claims that I or my committee is in possession of the sum of $620.000 purportedly given as bribe to the Adhoc committee on the Monitoring of Fuel Subsidy Regime.” Jagaba’s letter was in response to an earlier letter from the Speaker, directing him, Jagaba, to react to the claims from Lawan that he, Jagaba, was in possession of the exhibit.

The speaker’s letter to Jagaba dated June 18, 2012, was prompted by an earlier one from Mohammed Abubakar, acting Inspector General of Police, asking for the reaction of the Speaker to the bribe scandal.

 Lawan, had on Monday, June 18, 2012, appeared before the Police Special Task Force probing the bribe-for-clearance scandal.  The police are searching for the $620,000 bribe Femi Otedola, businessman and chairman of Zenon Oil gave Lawan, chairman of the House Committee, which probed the fuel subsidy scandal to clear his company. Lawan had earlier confessed that he collected the cash, saying it was to prove that Otedola bribed him against his will.

The chairman of Zenon Oil claimed that the lawmaker put pressure on him to part with the money, which security agents gave to him to facilitate a sting operation against Lawan.  Police sources on Tuesday, June 20, 2012 told Newswatch that the police had started a fresh analysis of the video tape of the bribery saga and launched a fresh search for the cash, which Lawan has refused to surrender. 

The police, our source said, have retrieved the video tape from the State Security Service, SSS, which conducted the sting operation.  Besides, it was learnt that the police have sent enquiries to banks on any trace of a “strange lodgement” of such amount in the last one and a half months.  But members of the Lawan Ad Hoc Committee are yet to get any police invitation on the bribe, contrary to some reports. 

As at Thursday, June 21, Lawan was yet to turn over the bribe money to the police, but sources said that the police were looking beyond the intrigues over the whereabouts of the money. 

“I can conveniently tell you that we have retrieved the video tape to get the details of what transpired between Otedola and Lawan. We are reviewing this tape to determine the extent of the involvement of others in the bribery.  The review will enable us to re-invite Otedola and Lawan for interaction. “So far, we are still exploring clues on how to get the money, including checking lodgements in and out of Lawan’s accounts and a few other suspected accomplices. It may task us a bit but we are hopeful that we will get the bribe sum. We have also been relating with banks in tracking down the money. We have isolated some banks for investigation. We hope they will co-operate with us.”

As at press time last week, there were strong indications that members of the Ad Hoc Committee were yet to be invited by the police. A member of the committee who spoke in confidence, said: “None of us has received any letter of invitation or summon from the police.  “But since we have nothing to hide, we will honour the police, if they want us.” 

 Reactions have continued to trail the issue from members of the public. Former Lagos Police Commissioner, Abubakar Tsav, has advised security agencies not to waste their time prosecuting Lawan as, according to him, the $3 million bribe case has been destroyed.

According to Tsav, the procedure in laying bait for an accused person in a case of demanding and receiving bribe where marked money is involved is to arrest the suspect in the act and recover money on the spot, pointing out that if security agencies failed to do so, in his view, it is a deliberate conspiracy to destroy evidence material to the charge and save Lawan from successful prosecution.

The former Lagos police boss claimed that the filming of the incident alone cannot provide the required compelling evidence to sustain conviction.  Besides, he noted, charging Lawan to court without the cash exhibit is a sheer waste of time and compounding felony.

Dan Nwanyanwu, national chairman of the Labour Party, LP, said that real justice in the bribery scam involving oil merchant, Otedola and House of Representatives member, Farouk Lawan, was not sought the right way. Nwanyanwu noted that until Otedola was arrested, tried and his involvement made clear, every effort at attaining justice in the incident would be futile. He, however, praised the police for going this far about the arrest and planned prosecution of Lawan, although he felt pained that Lawan, who he described as one of the shining lights in the House, would be involved in a matter this shoddy. The party leader also urged the police to get to the root of the matter as a means of re-enacting the real fight against corruption.

 “Otedola, as party to the bribery is culpable. He has so many questions to answer and it would be partial and defeatist to the sense of justice that he is allowed to walk the streets free and even sneering at the House and Nigerians as if he is clean. “He admitted giving bribe and that is actionable, it is a criminal offence to give bribe as it is to take. So, why is he left out of the matter and only Lawan is facing the music? The two for having admitted giving and taking bribe are liable and must be tried. I call on the Inspector General of Police on behalf of the Labour Party as champion in the sincere campaign against corruption to immediately arrest Otedola, prefer charges against him and prosecute him accordingly.

He expressed surprise that after admitting to a criminal offence, the Zenon chairman should be sounding like an innocent person even when he accepted committing an offence. He is as liable as Lawan and no proper justice should leave him out of the trial even when he has said he actually gave the bribe. If he was telling the truth about giving Lawan marked money and informing the security operatives about it, then Lawan should have been arrested at the point of allegedly collecting the money. But since that didn’t happen, Otedola’s story is not believable and he should have questions to answer. “I am aware that the House said his companies collected foreign exchange to import petroleum products, but could not give account of what the money was used for. If indeed, he is clean as he said and Lawan pestered him for bribe, he had an option that was outside giving bribe.  Since he claims to have done nothing wrong or his companies not involved, he should have reported the alleged attempts by Lawan to the police or had him arrested immediately he got the money,” he said.

The LP chief’s position was shared by Eseme Eyiboh, chairman of the House Committee on Donor Agencies.  According to Eyiboh, the action taken by Otedola had the legal ingredients make him liable for the offence of giving bribe.

Eyiboh reasoned that Otedola’s action in exposing the taker of the bribe, Lawan, was like an afterthought, possibly arising from an intention not to keep the remaining part of the bargain. He questioned Otedola’s motive in offering bribe to the House member and said there were facts to show that he intended to have the name of his company expunged by the House Committee from the list of indicted oil firms.

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