Farouk vs. Otedola: Bribery Scandal Where Parties Involved Are Treated Like Kings
Farouk Lawan, as Chairman, House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy probe, didn’t know that he was caught on camera taking bribe from a Nigerian business mogul in order to remove the latter’s companies’ names from a 210-paged Fuel Subsidy report of which Farouk was to present to a plenary session of the House of Representatives, on the 21stApril 2012. Four years to the matter, authorities are handling the case with the kid’s glove.
On April 21 2012, the members of House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy probe were taken aback when Farouk Lawan, its Chairman, moved a motion of approval that two companies that were indicted by the committee for enjoying illegal forex from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in order to import fuel into Nigeria but disappointed, should be removed from the list of crowd of companies that were indicted for this purpose.
A bewildered Chief Emeka Ihedioha, who was Deputy Speaker and the convener of the probe committee, uncertain with the decision made by Farouk, asked, “Honorable Farouk, is this recommendation coming from your committee?” Farouk gave his answers in conformity and gave the companies names as Synopsis Enterprises Limited and Zenon Petroluem and Gas Limited; and they were unanimously cleaned out of the list by the House.
But the record had suspected that Zenon collected the sum of $232, 975, 385.13; while Synopsis Enterprises collected $51, 449, 977.47 for the year 2010 and refused to conduct the business of fuel importation that was given to them. Both companies were owned by Chief Femi Otedola, a billionaire businessman and oil magnet. On the contrary Farouk did not know that trouble was on the way to diminish his longstanding posture as a man of integrity.
When the House pressed on Farouk later and he was unable to stand by his decision of delisting the companies from the corruption list, on June 11, the same year, Otedola went berserk to inform the Nigerian audience that Farouk had days before the presentation, demanded a $3million as bribe to enable him (Farouk) delist his two hauled up companies. Odetola cried out that he gave Farouk $620,000 in part-payment for the bribe. However, Farouk denied involvement in any bribery deal with Otedola.
Albeit, when pressure was much on Farouk, he later revealed that he received ‘money’, not ‘bribe’ in a sting operation that the police authorities were aware. This was coming after Otedola had informed that the “$620,000 in part-payment for the bribe” was coordinated in a sting operation by the State Security Service (SSS).
Emergency For Truth To Prevail
On June 13 2012, the House of Representatives, called short a one week recess break for an urgent-situation plenary sitting, held on Friday, 15th June 2012. The heat the bribery scandal generated was all over Nigeria, but Police sounded like a partner-in-crime with Farouk, when they informed the Nigerian audience that there was no evidence to prosecute Farouk.
By July 4, 2012, the Nigeria Police Deputy Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, in that year, said that an audio that Otedola supposedly used in recording his talks with Farouk on the bribery deal was not sufficient proof to arraign Farouk.
“You just don’t rush to court for the fun of charging people to court. That is why courts are congested and that is why we don’t make progress. It does not make sense. It is unproductive; it is a waste of public resource,” Mba stated.
The bribery scandal was being investigated by the Ethics and Privileges Committee of the House of Representatives and Nigerians were in high spirit for Police to serve justice, when the Police made that statement, and later said, “We are not interested in what the committee is doing… we are not monitoring them and would not interfere as long as they don’t do anything that could jeopardize what we are doing.”
The plagued Farouk afterward said that the money was with the Chairman, House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, Hon. Adams Jagaba. The later sensing peril, denied the allegation in diverse letters to the then House Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal; and acting Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar.
Cock And Bull Story Of Farouk
Investigation revealed that a Lagos and Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), irked by the rigmarole shoelacing the matter, commented, “Embarrassed by the scandal the House of Representatives restored Mr Otedola’s companies to the list of indicted companies, removed Honourable Lawan and Honourable Boniface Emeluno from the House Committee on the fuel subsidy scam.
“Furthermore, Honourable Lawan was suspended as the Chairman of the Education Committee of the House pending the conclusion of police investigation. The cock and bull story of Honourable Lawan that he collected the bribe to implicate Mr Otedola did not impress the House which referred the scandal to the Ethics Committee of the House for further investigation.”
That was coming after a source testified, “Shortly after the opening of the Farouk saga, certain police officers were accused of allowing the honorable to stay away from detention when he was supposed to be in detention.
“Nigerians are also asking: Why have the police been unable to make Farouk Lawan to produce the marked money which he allegedly collected; or why has he not been able to come up with a concrete explanation about the whereabouts of the said money?”
A report revealed that Falana added, “The police had since concluded its investigation and handed the case to the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mohammed Adoke. No reason has been given why the accused have not been arraigned in court even after the AGF had appointed a prosecutor for that purpose.”
Drama With Farouk
It was like a drama between the Nigerian Government and Farouk Lawan in a bid to prosecute him. He was treated with the kid’s glove. By July 4, 2012, in a swift reaction to the audio tape that was later said was used in recording the speech made while giving the bribe, Mr. Mike Ozekhome (SAN), the lawyer of the beleaguered Farouk portrayed as slapstick, the audio release.
Ozekhome said, “Mr. Lawan is portrayed in the said conversation as an unyielding, talkative, bellicose and eager person who was hurriedly urging Mr. Otedola not to tell anyone that the names of his companies will be removed from the indicted list…” Ozekhome was believed to be baffled because the audio was purportedly playing in bits and pieces rather than altogether.
Displeased by this conduct by the authorities, Falana by January 14, 2013 raised a voice calling on the authorities to, as a matter of urgency, prosecute Farouk and his alleged accomplice – Boniface Emeluno – for collecting the sum of N93,000,000 ($620,000) as bribe to shield Otedola and his companies from fuel subsidy indictment.
Falana said that he talked the obvious because, “In their separate statements, they confessed that they collected the bribe of $620,000 from Mr. Femi Otedola. Indeed, Honourable Lawan further revealed that he had informed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that he was under pressure to collect the bribe.”
When Farouk Owned Up
It took Farouk some moments to own up of any transaction with Femi Otedola, but when he did, he rather said, “I Collected Money, Not Bribe.” Farouk told the police that he deliberately collected the money and handed it over to the Chairman, House Committee on Financial Crimes and assured the STF, in noticing that he was lured to take the bribe to rubbish him.
By June 28, 2012, Farouk was cross-examined behind closed doors by the House of Representatives Committee on Ethics and Privileges, with investigation carried out by the committee, on this day.
“Restating his earlier statement to the media, Lawan said he collected $500,000 from Otedola not as a bribe but as exhibit that he planned to use as evidence of the attempt by the oil marketer to influence the report of the subsidy probe,” a high power source said.
But journalists said that his statement was a contradiction to his earlier statement that the money was with Jagaba; while saying again that the security agents would know where the “serialised dollar bills” were, when they commence investigation.
Farouk Was Very Much Confident
Farouk was connected to the powers that be. This made him unperturbed and he walked in confidence, especially whenever he appeared before any of the committees handling the matter, like the Ethics Committee.
Farouk who had been in the House of Reps since 1999, got ticket to represent his constituency, Bagwai/Shanono Federal Constituency for the fifth term, while his matter raged. But this provoked of his constituents. A statement signed by the chairman of the Bagwai/Shanono Youth Network for Change, Muttaka Shanono, was a proof.
It read, “As party loyalists, we accept all party decisions in good faith. But we are calling on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to allow for the nomination of a fresh candidate to represent the party in 2015 as Farouk had had enough opportunities representing the constituency for the fourth uninterrupted term without positive results. With the case before the court involving the lawmaker, we need to have a change by sending a fresh person to consolidate on the little Farouk has contributed to the constituency.”
To Escape Justice
In his bid to escape justice, Farouk who was testifying orally before the authorities, later came up with documents that contained call logs, he said that had his communication with Otedola, while they were initiating the bribery deal. Farouk said that he decided to obtain the documents from a telecommunication service provider to authenticate his maintain that Otedola kicked-off the deal, not him.
There were many committees that Farouk appeared before them in the course of the bribery investigation but none told truth to him that he collected bribe. On one occasion, the media was excused by the Chairman, House Committee on Ethics and Privileges, Hon. Gambo Dan-Musa, when the matter was raised, in what Dan-Musa said, was for the committee to investigate Farouk in camera.
In the words of Dan-Musa, “The committee is set to carry out its assignment with a very high sense of commitment. We shall strive to be fair and just to all parties involved. It is our belief that at the end of the day, our report will meet the expectations of the House and indeed that of the Nigerian public.”
Farouk Tried In Secret Without Journalists
On that day, journalists were addressed by the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Zakari Mohammed.
Mohammed told journalists, “You know that it is an investigative hearing and we want to avoid a situation where his (Lawan) presentation would bungle certain people’s submissions.
“Of course, the police are doing their own investigations and they are doing that in camera. So we believe that this also should be done in camera to at least give everybody some protection and the freedom to say all that he or she knows.
“If you are sure there are cameras, there might be certain things witnesses might want to hide. So it is not as if we are trying to hide anything but we want to ensure that we do a thorough job of this investigation.”
Police Didn’t Allow Farouk Go Home
To fulfill all righteousness, by June 15, 2012, the Policeat the Force Headquarters, Abuja, didn’t allow Farouk Lawan go home. It was a weekend.
Detectives from the Special Task Force, STF, who were investigating the matter, said that they took the decision because Farouk has refused to submit the $620,000 bribe.
When the detectives searched Farouk’s residence, $10,000 was so-called found. The house of Emenalo, who was said to have collected $120,000 from the bribe, was also searched. They were however, detained by the Police Force Criminal Investigations Department, FCID, located in Garki, Area 10, Abuja.
When this happened, another lawyer to Farouk, Israel Olorundare (SAN), said, “The police are using the opportunity of the weekend to detain him illegally. We will meet in court on Monday if they refuse to release him before then.”
Notwithstanding, when the matter appeared before Justice Peter Kekemeke of the Abuja high Court by March 21 2013, it was adjourned indefinitely. Provoked that Otedola was a free man in the street while Farouk suffered the brunt, the then Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, as a special guest on a programme, “Guest of the Week,” aired by liberty FM, rebuked the authorities.
Aliyu said on March 20 2013, “Otedola should also be in prison with Lawal if we are serious about the fight against corruption and unless it was an arrangement with the police. If the police gave him money to give to Lawan, then they should explain to us. But if there was no arrangement of such, then Otedola ought to be in prison too.” By then Farouk and Emenalo had been granted bail by an Abuja High Court by February 8 2013.
Otedola Sues Farouk, House of Reps
Seeing that the House of Reps might not come out with a profound result in its investigation and reinvestigation of Farouk, Otedola by July 2, 2012 had demanded N250 billion in damages from Farouk, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal; the National Assembly and its Clerk.
The suit number was FCT /3839/2012 and filed on June 28, 2012 at the Abuja High Court. Otedola said that the amount would give him reprieve, adding that he had encountered terrorization by the National Assembly. By then Farouk’s lawyers had petitioned the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), asking for a physical argument between Otedola and Farouk.
Otedola stated, “Notwithstanding the on-going Police investigations and the first defendant’s admission of receiving money from the second plaintiff, the second and fourth defendants conspired to relist the name of the first plaintiff to the list of indicted companies, to embarrass the plaintiffs and their corporate and business image.
“The plaintiffs shall contend at trial that the conspiracy by the second and fourth defendants (Tambuwal and the National Assembly respectively) to re-list the name of the first plaintiff on the list of companies indicted by the ad-hoc committee is without basis given that the committee’s finding was arrived at without proper verification of documents submitted by the plaintiffs to aid their enquiry.”
Otedola Narrates How Farouk Demanded $3m Bribe
“In the course of carrying out his assignment, the first defendant (Lawan) as head of the ad hoc committee set up by the second and third defendants contacted the second plaintiff (Otedola) and informed him that the first plaintiff (Zenon) was going to be indicted by the ad hoc committee for purchasing foreign exchange from the Central Bank of Nigeria without importing petroleum products unless the plaintiff parted with a bribe of $3m,” Otedola said.
He continued, “The first defendant continued to make harassing phone calls to the second plaintiff calculated at intimidating the plaintiffs to meet the unlawful demand of the first defendant for bribe
“The second plaintiff faced with the first defendant’s unrelenting barrage of intimidating calls became distressed and contacted the security agencies to report the first defendant’s conduct
“The plaintiffs were advised by the security agencies to play along and hand over marked notes to the first defendant and his cohorts for the purpose of gathering evidence of their nefarious activities.
“On April 24, 2012, the sum of $500,000 was handed over to the first defendant by the second plaintiff.
“At the request of the first defendant, a further sum of $120, 000 was handed over to Boniface Emenalo by the second defendant.
“On the morning of the April 24, 2012, the first defendant persisted in making intimidating phone calls to the plaintiffs harassing them to pay up the balance of $2.380m.
“As a result of the distress caused to the plaintiffs by the first defendant’s persistent calls, the plaintiffs reported the matter to the police which invited the first defendant and the plaintiffs for investigations...”
What The Law Says
The Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission is prosecuting Farouk. One of the charges against him reads: “That you Hon. Farouk Lawan (M) while being a member of the House of Representatives and Chairman of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Monitoring of Fuel Subsidy Regime sometimes in April 2012 or thereabout at Abuja within the Federal Capital Territory under the jurisdiction of this honorable court did while acting in the course of your official duty corruptly obtained the sum of $500,000 (five hundred thousand US dollars ) for yourself from Mr. Femi Otedola Chairman Zenon petroleum and Gas Limited as an inducement to remove the name of Zenon petroleum and Gas Limited from the report of the House of Representatives Ad-Hoc committee on Monitoring of Fuel Subsidy Regime and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 17 (1) (a) of The Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000 and punishable under Section (17)(1) of the same Act.”
On February 9 2016, the presiding judge, Justice Angela Otakula of Federal Capital Territory High Court in Lugbe, Abuja, adjourned the matter of bribery involving Farouk and Otedola till March 7 and 8 for Boniface Emenalo, who was the secretary to the Farouk Lawan-led committee in House of Representatives, to conclude his evidence.
When Farouk had appeared before a Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court sitting in Maitama, Abuja, on February 2 2016, he sought for a leave to travel to Saudi Arabia for a Hajj. The court granted him such leave, but advised that he was in court in the next sitting.
Till the time of reporting on this issue, the case was wobbly, which suggests that Farouk and the parties involved in the bribery scandal may go free.
Odimegwu Onwumere can be contacted via: [email protected]