It is a classic example of the hunter becoming the prey. Hon.(?) Farouk Lawan, a fourth-term member of the House of Representatives, was about a month ago, a folk hero of sorts among Nigerians. Reason: He carefully waded through the maze and mess of the Nigerian oil industry and the contentious fuel subsidy programme of the Federal Government.
In doing his job, Lawan, who is more known with the Integrity Group, which saw to the downfall of Mrs. Patricia Etteh in 2007 as the Speaker of the House, huffed, puffed, made a public show of it and indicted a legion of fuel subsidy beneficiaries. But - wait for it! - it appears certain now that he also soiled his hands by taking a poisoned chalice in the form of $620, 000 from billionaire businessman, Femi Otedola. In less than one month, Lawan moved from the hero's dais to that of a villain, EMMANUEL ENYINNAYA
"INTEGRITY is necessary for systems and institutions to be strong. Today, rogues, armed robbers are in the state Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly. What sort of laws will they make?"
Those were the words of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, recently, when he told his audience at a conference of the Academy for Entrepreneurial Studies in Lagos that reports and laws made oy the National Assembly are questionable. That was because of his belief that most members of National Assembly lacked the right character and integrity to be in the hallowed chambers.
For opening up on the mind-boggling cases of corruption in the National Assembly, Obasanjo came under intense attack from members of the National Assembly. In fact, the Mr. Waziri Tambuwal-lea House of Representatives asked its committee on Ethics to investigate the former president's assertion. Obasanjo is expected to appear for House Committee on Ethics later this month to answers questions from the Committee on the comment.
"The former President called us rogues and armed robbers. But I am not an armed robber, neither am I a rogue," Deputy Minority Leader Suleiman Kawu Sumaila, (ANPP, Kano) said, while moving a motion under Rule Six of the House standing orders to draw attention to Obasanjo's statement as reported in the newspapers.
According to Sumaila: "His (Obasanjo) greatest grouse against us is that we refused him third term in office and since then, we have become his enemies. But Obasanjo does not have credibility in Nigeria. Remember, he was dragged to court by his own son accusing him of sleeping with his wife."
But while Obasanjjo is yet to appear before trie ethics committee of the House, the former President appears to have proved right, as one of the most respected members of the House has most certainly been caught in the web of corruption.
Mr. Lawan, a fourth term member of the House of Representatives, representing Shanono/Bagwai constituency oT Kano State, on the platform of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDF), may have unknowingly lent credibility to Obasanjo s statement that there are indeed, rogues, armed robbers in the House.
Before now, Lawan has presented himself as corrupt-free parliamentarian. He has also championed causes that are seen to be in the interest of the public and accountability.
Recall that he was the leader of the Integrity Group that worked against former Speaker Patricia Etteh and eventually ensured she resigned as Speaker. The same Lawan and his integrity group lost their voices when the embattled former speaker, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, presided over the sixth House that was characterized by alleged massive corruptpractices.
A member or the sixth House from Niger State, who is currently not in the House, told the Nigerian Compass on Saturday during the Dino Melaye-led Progressive saga that Lawan was allegedly the most corrupt lawmaker in the House.
According to the lawmaker who does not want his name in print, Lawan was a key figure in the alleged malfeasance and corrupt practices in the House under Bankole. But Lawan played a fast one, according to Nrger lawmaker and exonerated himself after he had misled Bankole and watched him (Bankole) being dragged for corruption.
Another member of the House from Abia State, who also does not want his name in print, told Nigerian Compass on Saturday yesterday that Lawan has brought shame to the entire House. The Abia lawmaker, who said that Lawan parades himself as an institution and lawmaker extraordinaire, said he must be allowed to face the wrath of the law if it allegations against him are proven.
Reacting to Lawan's $3m bribe scam, Etteh said that she has been vindicated as Lawan's confession has justified my innocence.
Etteh, who was removed in October 2007 by members of the Integrity Group led by Lawan, for anticipatory spending, said the allegation of bribery against Lawan, who has been in the House of Representatives since 1999, never came as a surprise to her.
According to her, "Now, Nigerians know who is corrupt and who is not. It is a big shame. It has further ridiculed the image of the House. Basically, what we read in the newspapers does not come as a surprise having had relationship with him for a very long time. He is the leader of the cartel.
"I did not steal any money. What happened when they were calling for my removal was a mere anticipatory spending; no money was missing. Dimeji Bankole, whom Farouk installed, spent over N400m to renovate his official quarters, which I wanted to renovate with just N40m, and sold it to himself for N100m.
"I was removed not for stealing money, but three groups sacked me for their selfish reasons. The first group was led by Farouk Lawan who was annoyed that he was not given the headship of Appropriation Committee.
The second group was the Islamic fundamentalists who would not like to bow down to the authority of a woman and the third froup believed that since the enate President is a Christian, therefore, the Speaker must be a Muslim. All these groups joined forces together to fight me.
"But now, God has vindicated me. All of them have been caught in one corruption or the other and they were disgraced out of the National Assembly through Appeal Court on election matters but Farouk Lawal is the last man standing and God has revealed the truth," slie added.
Etteh, who is in London, Britain, spoke through another former member of the House, Mr. Dino Melaye.
Etteh however, called on the Speaker, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, to "stand on the path of truth, honesty and transparency on this matter and should isolate the issue of Farouk Lawan from the report of the fuel subsidy committee".
Emerging facts have it members of the House of Representatives want Lawan to "face his music alone".
Lawan, who is a nursing a 2015 governorship ambition in Kano, is believed by many lawmakers to be living a larger-than-life lifestyle in the House since 1999.
It was learnt that, in some cases, he single-handledly sponsored elections of some of his colleagues and ensured that they got juicy positions.
Even outside the PDP Caucus in the House, members revealed how his political influence had in the recent past caused Tambuwal to take decisions that would always favour Lawan.
The lawmakers, who later learnt that Lawan indeed, collected the sum since April, said his action had affected the integrity of the House, hence the needto abandon him.
They lamented how Lawan's initial denial in the media, particularly on a live programme of AIT in Abuja on Monday morning where he insisted that he never saw or received any money from Otedola, misled the House.
Majority of members of the House, who listened to the programme and other newspaper advertorials, were shocked when few hours later, he owned up to receiving the money but to expose Otedola.
It was gathered that a meeting of House Principal Officers, presided over by Tambuwal last night ended in further confusion, following Lawan's latest confession.
Lawan was said to have excused himself from the meeting when it became apparent that he could no longer provide links between some of his encounters with Otedola in April.
A source privy to the meeting said: "Lawan left the venue of the meeting shortly and handed all technical details to his lawyer to furnish the House leadership
Another source said why most members of the House are insisting on sacrificing Lawan is "to make this one serve as a deterrent to other Committee Chairmen".
There have been allegations against Committee Chairmen that they often run a one-man show and neglecting other members in carrying out their assignments.
The lawmakers are also angry with the way Lawan picked Emelano Boniface, the Clerk of his Education Committee, as the Clerk of the Ad-hoc Committee.
Meanwhile, the embattled lawmaker is sard to have relocated to Tarnbuwal's private residence, 11, River Niger Street, off Denube Street, Martama, where most meetings are currently being held to savehim.
A source said he has been reaching out to some Emirs to help him get a soft landing.
Nigerian Compass reported that mixed reactions have trailed the Lawan bribery saga in his home state, Kano, as a cross section of those interviewed, said that Lawan may soon be recalled by his constituency in Shanono/Bagwai According to a report in our sister publication, Nigerian Compass, one Alhaji Ah Kakako Commander, said Lawan "is on his own" as far as the alleged bribe scam is concerned, while another source hinted that indigenes would continue to pray for him, because they believe that some people must have set him up.
Interacting with newsmen in Bagwai, Commander recalled that Lawan has never been fair to them in their constituency, adding that he has not been fair to those who helped him to secure his seat.
"We have not felt his presence as a member from this local government; he is only good to imself. When you talk of quality representation, he is good but he is a self serving man".
Another member of the PDP in Bagwai, who preferred anonymity, said: "If it is true that he admitted and participated in the scam, it is a shame to him. We are just hearing that but if it is true that Lawan did that, I think he has brought shame to the people he represents".
It is no longer news that the 'revered' Hon. Farouk Lawan, approached one of the oil big boys, Mr. Femi Otedola, and asked for $3m for delist the names of Otedola's companies from the list of firms indicted by House Adhoc Committee report that investigated the subsidy regime.
Otedola "himself gave account of how Lawan pressurized him to bribe him, and how he (Otedola) played the sting alongside security agencies. Otedola spoke exclusively to a national daily.
According to report, Otedola, Lawan, and the secretary of the committee., Mr. Boniface Emenalo, had collected $620,000 from him in a sting operation masterminded by the security agencies.
Otedola said the amount waspart payment for the $3 million, which he alleged Lawan had demanded from him to exonerate Zenon Oil from the ad-hoc committee's report. Otedola has also appeared before the Special Task Force headed by Commissioner of Police Ali Amodu, where he made statements on the scandal to police and also tendered video evidence to his claims against Lawan.
Otedola, told the Special Task Force that he has nothing to hide and that the bribe money in question was given to Lawan who collected $50000 in cash and the Secretary of the committee. Boniface Emenalo, who collected $120,000 in two installments of $20,000 and $100,000 respectively.
The oil magnate told the Special Task Force that the money in Suestion was taken from the State ecurity Service, adding that it was done that way to show that he was pressured to part with the money because he was aware of the implications before the law.
According to him, Emenalo, who paved the way for the bribery, first collected $20,000 from him. He said that on the day Lawan collected $500,000, the SSS recorded everything, but did not arrest him in the act.
The complainant also stated in his statement to the police that Emenalo, on the second visit, collected $100,000. He added that the SSS operatives followed the whole saga to the end, adding that the money he gave him (Lawan) belonged to the SSS.
Otedola, narrated how Lawan at the outset of the probe had approached him to get some insight into the workings of the downstream oil and gas sector. He said he obliged him and ensured that the Managing Directors of his companies, Forte Oil Pic and Zenon Oil. appeared at the subsidy probe during its public hearing after both companies had been invited by the committee.
During the probe, he said the committee was informed in no uncertain terms that Zenon did not and has never made claims for subsidy payments from the Federal Government, as the company was engaged solely in the importation of diesel, a product that is not subsidised.
Zenon's Managing Director, Mr. Kanmi Kareem Otaru, during the probe, had denied that the company had anything to do with the subsidy regime. He told the committee, "For the avoidance of doubt, Zenon never participated or benefited from the subsidy scheme or Petroleum Support Fund(PSF)."
According to him, going by the Act which established the PSF scheme, "Zenon couldn't participate in it because, we don't have a network of PMS retail outlets which was one of the key criteria beneficiaries must meet and as such, we are not qualified to participate to draw from subsidy payments on PMS. So, we never collected as records will show."
Irrespective of the clarification made at the hearing. Otedola said Lawan still approached him a few days before the report was to be tabled on April 18, 2012 before the House of Representatives, demanding money so that Zenon's name will be kept out of the report.
When this happened, I was very angry and reminded 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.
"But Lawan responded, stating that several other marketers were playing ball and had offered the members of the committee large sums of money to ensure that then-companies' names were not published in the report," he added.
Otedola, said initially, he balked at Lawan's attempt to extort money from him and told the legislator that he would not pay up, as Zenon had not committed any crime.
"Then a day before the report was to be submitted, Lawan called again, informing me that Zenon's name had been included in the report.
I, of course, was very angry and asked him to desist from nis course of action, but Lawan insisted that I must pay up as other oil marketers had done before me."
Otedola said he could not believe his eyes the next day when the report came out and Zenon's nameTiad been listed under the category of companies that had bought foreign exchange from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) but had not imported petrol.
The amount ascribed to Zenon in the report was $232,975,385.13.
The report had recommended that Zenon 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.
"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 imported the products having fined the Form M.
"Sanusi will simply clamp down on anyone who tries to pull that kind of stunt," 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.
Otedola accused Lawan of demanding $3m from him. According to him, when Lawan made the demand, "I screamed at him, demanding to know why he was doing this to me. All he said was other marketers were paying up to keep their names out of the report, so I should do likewise"
Otedola revealed that it was this point he decided to involve the security agencies to catch Lawan and his committee with their hands in the till.
According to him, "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 ofthe money with the promise that I would pay the balance when my company's name had been removed from the report."
The security agencies, he disclosed, gave him serialised dollar bills Tor the sting job and there are call logs, video and audio recordings in the possession ofthe agencies to confirm all that had transpired between himself and Lawan.
The rest is now history as Otedola added that with the $620,000 that had been extorted by Lawan and the committee, during the plenary, Zenon's name was removed from the list of companies that had bought foreign exchange but did not importproducts. Otedola stressed 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 of all people, members ofthe legislature.
"Besides, my integrity is paramount to me. I started selling petroleum products 14 years ago in drums and somebody who has never run a petrol station is trying to blackmail and extort money from me.
"If others (marketers) have paid money, maybe they are guilty. But I did not do anything wrong, so why should they extort money from me? As a law-abiding citizen, I had to involve the security agencies. Indeed, I'm very disappointed because I have worked hard to build my business."
Insisting that he had nothing to hide or fear over what had happened, Otedola maintained it he was in the wrong he would not have involved the security agencies in the first instance.
Tn a reference to the strong denials made by Lawan since the scandal became public, Otedola stated, "When he (Lawan) demanded the bribe, I called the agencies. That is because I had nothing to hide. When the bribe was paid, why did he not call and report it to the agencies if he had nothing to."
However, it will be recalled that on the second day when the report of Lawan was considered before the House in plenary, which the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha presided over, Lawan moved a motion that the names of Otedola's company be removed from the list ii the firms listed as defaulters in the oil subsidy funds.
Lawan's motion was obliged by Ihedioha before the House as Otedola's firms were delisted from the list.
Lawan has opened up and agreed that Otedola made $620,000 part-payment, $3 million he (Otedola) offered to bribe him to spare his company from the report of the committee. He claimed that he briefed IGP and the House.
Lawan said Otedola made a $500,000 down payment with a Sromise to pay up the remaining 2.5 million if the committee spared Zenon, but that the matter had been reported to the police. He dismissed Otedola's claims that he and his committee's secretary, Mr. Boniface Emenalo, collected $620,000 bribe from him unaware it was a sting operation as "diversionary," saying Otedola actually offered Emenalo $100,000 to shield Zenon during the probe.
Lawan said that his decision not to raise the matter on the floor of the House was deliberate, as he did not want anything that would overshadow the fuel subsidy probe.
He was quoted as saying by a national newspaper, "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."
Whatever happens, there is need that this allegation is followed to its logical end. There is no gainsaying that the allegation of Lawan who made himself the symbol of the committee that investigated, will obviously affect the report.
There are insinuations that the Tambuwal-led House is already planning to visit Obasanjo and beg him to give forgive them, ft Obasanjo obliges to their plea, the former president is expected to go to President Goodluck Jonathan to beg on behalf of the House and Lawan in particular. All these are effort to have the matter treated as PDP family affair.