As the subsidy thieves shift the fight to the courts…
The bribery scandal of $620,000 between Farouk Lawan and Mr Femi Otedola of Zenon Oil seems to have taken a new turn as an Abuja High Court reportedly granted an injunction preventing the government from implementing the recommendations of the
subsidy ad hoc committee. The injunction, granted at the behest of the subsidy cabal, feeds into a general impression that the fuel subsidy thieves chose to move the battle ground to the courts after efforts to rubbish the report by discrediting its chairman appear to be meeting stiff resistance from the general public.
Farouk Lawan, who has been a Member of the House of Representatives for thirteen years, headed the fuel subsidy probe which uncovered monumental fraud in the Nigerian oil sector. One of the mind-boggling frauds uncovered by the committee was the withdrawal of N999m a record 128 times within 24 hours. It is simply beyond comprehension that an individual could count and handle such a quantum of money within so short a space of time without collapsing! There was also the case of several marketers, including Otedola's Zenon Oil, obtaining millions of dollars from the Central Bank of Nigeria, ostensibly to import oil, only to use the money to fund their often lascivious life styles.
As Nigerians sense a certain desperation from the fuel subsidy cabals, and with the President making some cosmetic concessions to the public outcry for the report for the Lawan committee to be implemented, this is the time for the country to come together to completely neutralize these elements. The allegations and counter allegations between Otedola and Farouk must be kept in perspective. Farouk might have committed serious errors of judgment but the sums of money stolen by the subsidy thieves is so mindboggling that we need to go hard on them in unison before also confronting Lawan with the allegations against him. Is it a mere coincidence that all the pronouncements from the Police on the bribery saga seem to be slanted in favour of Otedola of Zenon Oil? Is it a mere coincidence that even though Farouk and Otedola have been accusing and counter accusing each other of initiating the bribery episode, the police is treating Lawan as the suspect? I am not holding brief for Lawan and cannot condone corruption in any form. If Lawan is found guilty, he must be made to face the law. My fear however is that with the judiciary now granting such an injunction when the regime is supposed to be upping the war against corruption, people may be legitimately wondering whether the subsidy thieves also have the judiciary in their pockets. If so, will Malam Lawan ever hope to get justice from our formal justice system? This is not by any means a defence of Lawan because I believe there are gaps in his story of what transpired between him and Otedola. If we overlook those gaps for now, Mr Lawan should not mistake it to mean we have pardoned him or that we completely believe his side of the story. It is just that the antics of the fuel subsidy thieves are beginning to get to a level where I feel like throwing up in disgust.
By going to court to seek an injunction against the implementation of the reports of the ad hoc committee, the cabal shows that they are far less clever than we had made them to be. At a time that some Nigerians are believing that Lawan was roped into the bribery saga to rubbish the subsidy report and ensure that it is never implemented, wouldn't they know that by rushing to obtain an injunction from the courts they would be lending credence to such a belief and by so doing buying support for Lawan?. In fact the cabal shot themselves on the foot by going for that ill-advised injunction. How can they now convince ordinary Nigerians that the whole essence of the allegations against Farouk was not to rubbish the fuel subsidy report? I am sure wherever Malam Lawan is he will be having a full-face grin at such apparent stupidity from the subsidy cabal.
To appreciate the harm done to the country by the subsidy thieves, we just have to imagine how the cost of living has shot up since January this year when the pump price of premium petroleum products was increased to 97p per litre from N65. This increase not only inflicted untold hardship on Nigerians but resistance to the measure and the police reaction to it led to the death of some Nigerians in Lagos. Had the subsidy thieves out of sheer greed and wickedness not ganged up against the common people, perhaps the price of fuel would be far less than N65 per litre today and the cost of living would have been such that the pay package of workers and others would be sufficient for their social reproduction. And if people's income were sufficient for their subsistence, it would obviously help in reducing the incidents of corruption and other social ills which are bred by poverty and privation such as terrorism and ethnicity. It is in this sense that I regard the subsidy thieves as people who have committed heinous economic crimes against humanity.
A first step in fighting the fuel subsidy cabal and other cabals in the other sectors of the Nigerian public life is to ensure that people appointed to probe them do not fear that unless they enter into a deal with the cabal, they will inevitably be rubbished either by contrived allegations of corruption or by walking into innocuous set-ups that will make them appear compromised. Of course those who go to equity must do so with clean hands so we expect members of any probe panel to be above board and to have the moral integrity to resist any attempt to compromise them. The fear now is that even when members of such panels are above boards, the cabals are so powerful that they can either contrive stories to rubbish anyone who refuses to do a deal with them or set up invisible traps that even the most principled may walk into. This is the greatest threat the cabal poses to this country, and the reason why they must be fought to a standstill.
Dr Shulwa is Director,
Campaign for Peace and Reconciliation,
F40 Hudco Quarters