Story About of $3m bribe scandal
About m bribe scandal.
Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa, wades through the myriads of claims and counterclaims in the unfolding m bribery saga rocking the House of Representatives’ adhoc committee on the management of fuel subsidy scheme. AS the House of Representatives commenced the clause-by-clause consideration of the 61 recommendations contained in the report of the Honourable Farouk Lawan-led Adhoc Committee on the management of Fuel subsidy by the Federal Government on April 24, the whole nation heaved a sigh of relief. The relief was to the effect that the much talked About report was seeing the light of day after all. Days before the eventual consideration of the report on the floor of the House, there were reports of the activities of a certain cabal moving to hijack the report. Hon. Farouk Lawan, who headed the adhoc committee, was quoted in the media as saying that his committee defied the cabals to prepare the report in the first place. There were also reports that the alleged cabal who were against the report had moved to impeach the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal as a result as a result of his backing to the activities of the adhoc committee.
To a section of Nigerians, the publicity blitz around the report was aimed at gaining political mileage, while some actually believed that the so called cabals were actually desperate to cover their ill deeds as documented in the subsidy probe report. But as the debate progressed, some details began to emerge. There was the clean bill of health granted the former Accountant General of the Federation for the payment of the huge sums quoted for fuel subsidy, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was also exonerated for any wrong doing in releasing the huge sums, just as the Minister of Finance. Some of such actions immediately raised questions as to who had powers over what. Some National Assembly watchers had queried the intention to free the CBN Governor and the then Accountant General who effected the payments of trillions of Naira to subsidy claiming companies as a puzzle since all the mentioned offices had supervisory roles over the nation’s finances. In practice, none of those offices is designed as mere conduits, but they were created as appropriate agencies that could detect fraud and stop unwholesome transactions.
While such contentions were not as explosive as others would think, the decision to absolve Synopsis Enterprises Limited and Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited of any wrongdoing in the management of Foreign exchange in respect of importation of fuel raised further eyebrows. On the fateful day, the Chairman of the House adhoc committee, Hon Farouk Lawan was asked by the Presiding Officer, Deputy Speaker, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha to shed more light on the findings concerning Recommendation29 as contained in the report. Lawan told the House that further findings have confirmed that Zenon Petroleum and Gad Company did not participate in the subsidy scheme and that the companies listed as number five and six on the report be deleted. He came by way of motion and it was seconded on the floor, while the House accepted the amendment and struck out the names of Zenon Petroleum and Gas Company as well as Synopsis Enterprises Limited from the list of companies guilty of mismanagement of Forex purchased from the CBN for the purpose of importing petroleum products.
There were some murmurings on the development by seven other members of that Committee who were not privy to the further findings on Zenon and Synopsis as claimed by the Chairman but the murmurs were not loud enough to catch the House’s attention. For instance, some members were of the view that such a development should have been known to them before it was presented on the floor and that they could also update their knowledge of the developments.
Months after that incident, the development is however coming to haunt the 205-page report of the subsidy probe headed by Farouk. That incident is now at the roots of the $3million bribery saga that is rocking the adhoc committee with Hon. Farouk Lawan at the centre of the whole issue.
The lid got blown open exactly a week ago when some top sources in the polity alerted newsmen to the video evidence of a top member of the House adhoc Committee on Subsidy scheme collecting some thousands of US dollars from the home of an oil magnate in Abuja. It was learnt immediately that the said Rep member was to have interacted with officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over the matter.
According to immediate findings, members of the House of Representatives were in frenzy on Wednesday and Thursday last week when indication emerged that a top member of the adhoc committee on fuel subsidy had been caught on tape, collecting some money from an oil baron to influence the report adopted by the House. Not all members were however in possession of the full details. While some were told that the member trapped an oil baron to pay him some money as bribes others went About saying that the security operatives had caught one of their members collecting bribe. The Story later came around that the said Honourable member tried to persuade the House to be allowed to tender the said money on the floor of the House as exhibits of bribe. When the House leadership rejected the bid as a way of shielding the chamber from the stench of the bribe saga, the Story spread further and by Friday, it had been confirmed in the security circles that a sting operation was actually carried out on the Chairman of the House of Representatives Adhoc committee on fuel subsidy scheme, Hon. Farouk Lawan.
According to the Story in possession of The Friday Edition, Lawan was tracked by detectives who were detailed around his house and the House of Mr. Femi Otedola after the oil magnate had complained to the security agencies that he was being pressurized to pay bribe in respect of the oil probe report in the House. He had told the State security Services (SSS) that he was angry because his company did not partake in the subsidy bazaar and that despite his protestations, Lawan had insisted on him paying up. A deal was then said to have been struck between Otedola and Lawan for the payment of the sum of $3million, while a first installment of #600,000 would reach the Rep so as to effect a removal of Otedola’s company from the list of indicted. In all, 15 companies had been indicted for failure to import fuel after obtaining forex by the Lawan committee. Synopsis was indicted for allegedly collecting $51,449,977.47 in 2010, while Zenon Petroleum and Gas was also accused of collecting $232,975,385.13 also in 2010. Lawan however told his colleagues on April 24, during the clause by clause consideration that the two companies were wrongly included in the report.
Other companies accused of trading forex without using them to import include Business Venture Nigeria Limited ($22,927,339.96); East Horizon Gas Company Limited ($20,735,910.81); Emadeb Energy ($6,606,094.30) and Pokat Nigeria Limited ($3,147,956.19) all in 2010. Those who were said to have received foreign exchange in 2011 without utilizing same for fuel importation include Carnival Energy Oil Limited($51,089.57); Crown lines($4,756,274.94); Ice Energy Petroleum Trading Limited($2,131,166.32); Index Petroleum Africa($6,438,849.64); Ronald Oil and Gas W/A($4,813,272.00); Serene Greenfield Limited($4,813,360.75); Supreme and Mitchelles($16,947,000.00); Tridax Energy Limited($15,900,000.00); Zamson Global Res($8,916,750.00). The report recommended that the affected companies should be referred to the relevant Anti-Corruption Agencies with a view to verifying what they used the forex for.
While Otedola’s company was originally indicted in the report, Lawan rose to exonerate the companies and requested that they be deleted from the list of indicted organisations. As the Story that broke out later had it, Lawan had earlier in the morning (4am) of April 24 visited the Aso Drive, Maitama, Abuja home of Femi Otedola to receive the sum of $500,000 in a bid to ensure the names of the oil baron’s companies were deleted. The Story also had it that the Secretary of the Adhoc Committee, Mr. Boniface Emenalo also visited the residence at 730am to pick up the sum of $120,000. It would come as a huge shocker to see the receipt of the said sums correspond with the time Otedola’s company was deleted from the report.
Efforts to confirm the veracity of the report immediately stressed the patience and investigative instincts of the journalist thin. Confirmations were not forthcoming from the House of Representatives even though it was learnt that the leadership of the House had been briefed by the State Security Services (SSS) on the activities of Hon. Lawan and that the said video was shown to the Speaker and some members of the Leadership. The EFCC was also not forthcoming despite claims in the security circles linking the Commission with possession of the video tapes. Lawan’s phones were also not reachable, just as the text messages sent to him went unanswered.
The text messages and phone calls to the number of Hon. Adams Jagaba, Chairman, House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics, Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes also did not receive responses. Thus, the newspapers on Saturday and Sunday went without mentioning the names of the major characters in the unfolding saga, even though investigators had acknowledged their identities. On Sunday, the pressure on the major characters appeared unyielding, leading to the decision by Mr. Femi Otedola to confirm in a newspaper interview that he actually gave the bribe money to Hon. Farouk Lawan after he had been pressurized to do so. He also confirmed that the SSS actually gave him the money for the operation.
While confirming to Thisday, Otedola said that the Managing Director of Zenon Oil had appeared before the Adhoc Committee and clarified that the company did not partake in the subsidy 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,” he said, adding that notwithstanding the clarification, Lawan still approached him for payments.
.He further stated: “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 their companies’ names were not published in the report.” According to Otedola, he became suspicious that Lawan was out to extort money from him and he got angry.
He further told the paper: “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 his course of action, but Lawan insisted that I must pay up as other oil marketers had done before me.”
Just as Otedola was confirming his involvement in the saga, Farouk Lawan also hurriedly put together a press briefing in Abuja where he denied ever taking any bribe. Even though no one directly mentioned his name in the reports, the fact that he was the chairman of the adhoc committee in question made many journalists to direct questions his way. In a hurriedly put together press briefing, the Honourable member said he never got bribe from anyone. He also insisted that no member of his committee got any bribe in the course of the assignment.
Lawan said in a statement he personally signed on Sunday: "My attention has been drawn to several newspapers and Internet stories alleging that a prominent member of the House Adhoc Committee on Petroleum Subsidy demanded and received the sun of $600,000 as bribe from an oil marketer.
"I wish to categorically deny that I or any member of the committee demanded and received any bribe from anybody in connection with the fuel subsidy probe and I believe this is evident from thorough and in-depth manner the investigation was carried out and the all-encompassing recommendations produced therefrom as approved by the whole House.”
He posited that in a situation where the Committee exposed trillions of Naira in subsidy fraud, it was certain that those affected would not only fight back but would fight dirty.
The following day, Farouk sang a different tune when he admitted taking the bribe and keeping same as evidence of his attempted inducement.
In a statement in which he completely contradicted his earlier position, Lawan said that he Otedola initiated the bribe saga and that he had wanted to bring up the matter on the floor of the House on April 24. He said that he desisted from doing so because it was felt that the controversy would dwarf the report of the subsidy probe being considered by the House.
In Lawan’s account, he was concerned that the needed reforms to be carried out in the oil sector would be jeopardized if the bribe saga was made public at the time. He had 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 affected.
“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 the secretary of the adhoc committee Mr. Boniface Emenalo collected the sum of $100,000 from Otedola, contrary to claims by Otedola that he gave $120,000 to the secretary. Contrary to well known practice where such monies are handed over to the police, Lawan said that the Secretary initiated a memo to intimate him of the said bribe. The said memo dated April 24 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.”
He also claimed that the Police was aware of the bribe offer and that the Inspector General of Police had in a letter dated May 9 directed the Task Force on Investigation to meet with him. The Rep member also claimed that the Inspector General had in a letter with reference number CR:3000/IGP.SEC/STF/FHQ/ABJ/VOL 2/309 addressed to him, referred to an interview granted by Lawan in a newspaper on April 28, 2012 and confirmed that the Police had commenced “a discreet investigation into the matter.” The Police, according to him also wrote through the Commissioner of Police, Special Task Force, Ali Amado, requesting that he hand over exhibits money in his possession. He said that the letter was dated May 16, 2012, with reference number CR:3000/IGP.SEC/STF/FHQ/ABJ/VOL 2/319. But Lawan claimed that he had replied the police in a letter dated May 31, where he stated that the exhibit has been referred to the relevant committee of the House for legislative action.
While Lawan’s claims have jumped from one extreme to the other, it remains clear that the issue on ground is sure to challenge his integrity. There are questions as to whether the secretary of the Committee should ever visit the home of a man under investigation by the same committee and whether it was proper for Lawan to also visit the same man at the peak of the investigations, especially since the same Lawan had raised alarm that oil marketers were attempting to derail the report of his committee. There are also questions as to the propriety of Lawan making two contradictory statements within twenty four hours and whether any of the statements are to be believed. Incidentally, Otedola had stuck to his line of argument that he approached the security agency on frustration.
Now that the Police have started taking evidence from the affected persons, the time may be up for the lid to be blown on some of the alleged monumental financial dealings that characterized the oil subsidy probe. Some members of the House had alleged that they confronted the chairman, Farouk Lawan, during the probe exercise with claims that money was exchanging hands but that he denied anything of such. Some members claimed that money to the tune of $10million might have exchanged hands during the probe but that the whole thing happened very fast. The time could be ripe now for the police to deeply and carefully separate the allegations and pick out the way forward.
The whole saga has also raised some questions as to whether the intent of the security agencies was to discredit the report of the subsidy probe panel. Insiders in the administration however insisted that the report has been taken as a fact finding exercise which would come in handy for investigation being carried out by the EFCC. It was confirmed that since the government cannot sustain prosecution on the basis of the investigations carried out by the House, the report can only be taken as work in progress, while the EFCC double checks and confirms the facts of the matter.
How will the House handle the matter of Lawan, a prominent member of the Integrity Group that fought the alleged scandal in the era of Speaker Olubunmi Etteh? Lawan is also a member of the inner caucus of the Speaker Aminu Tambuwal’s tenure and a strong pillar in his emergence as Speaker in 2011. The question of a confused House is gaining the grounds on the basis of the fact that Lawan could not have on his own move the motion in the House without the permission of the Presiding officer. On the fateful day, Ihedioha, the Deputy Speaker beckoned on Lawan to brief the House of further details as regards Recommendation 29, which deals with Otedola’s company, an indication that the Adhoc Committee chairman had briefed the leadership of the House of the details of his transaction with Otedola.
If that is the situation, why then did the House keep the issue out of public glare all along and why then did the House proceed to do the bidding of Otedola, for which he paid the bribe money. The question will arise whether Lawan can be allowed to carry the can alone or whether there are members of the leadership who will enter the dock with him. A source had raised some emerging questions thus: "Why was Zenon Oil cleared and its name removed from the indictment list hours after the bribe was collected? Why did the Hon member not write the Police to report the incident? At what stage did he realise he had to own up after all he previously denied? If he claimed that his live was in danger, why did he visit an oil baron's house at 4am to collect bribe? Why did he not hand over the money to the Speaker the same day? And why did he not tell the Speaker About the bribe until the security agencies alerted speaker of the incident and showed him the video?"
For now, the development is work in progress and only a decisive action from the House at its resumed sitting on Tuesday June 19 would restore the confidence of the public and the members on the variety of probes and activities of the lower chamber.
$3 million bribe:What Lawan, Otedola said
My attention has been drawn to several newspapers and Internet stories alleging that a prominent member of the House Adhoc Committee on Petroleum Subsidy demanded and received the sun of $600,000 as bribe from an oil marketer.
“I wish to categorically deny that I or any member of the committee demanded and received any bribe from anybody in connection with the fuel subsidy probe and I believe this is evident from thorough and indepth manner the investigation was carried out and the all-encompassing recommendations produced therefrom as approved by the whole House.
“The general public is hereby reminded that during and after the investigations, we have severally raised alarm on pressures on us from different quarters. In particular, I wish to refer to the front page publication in the Leadership Weekend newspaper of 28th, April, 2012 captioned “Marketers offered subsidy committee plane-load of dollars” where we alerted the public that a marketer promised to fly in a jet loaded with US dollars which he “intended to share to both the House leadership and members of the Adhoc Committee” to influence the outcome of the report.
“The clarification is necessary in order to clear all the insinuations being bandied About and more importantly to enable Government concentrate on the implementation of the report.
“The present mudslinging is not unexpected in view of the caliber of people whose actions or inactions were found wanting in the report. I am aware that in their desperation to discredit the report and divert the attention of the public from the real issues of large scale fraud in high places established in our report, a video footage displaying a caricature of my person allegedly having a dealing with a marketer reminiscent of military ear when dignitaries were invited to the Villa to watch video clip of phantom coup involving Chief Olusegun Obasanjo is already in circulation.
“I wish to assure all Nigerians that the sanctity of our reports remains unassailable and it will be in the best interest of the country if the relevant authorities faithfully and consciously implement the resolutions of the House. No amount of red-herring and cheap blackmail will affect our resolve to act in the best interest of the country with all the available information at our disposal. No doubt, the last has not been heard”.
As reported by THISDAY newspapers.
“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 their companies’ names were not published in the report.
“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 his course of action, but Lawan insisted that I must pay up as other oil marketers had done before me.”
“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 filled the Form M.
“Sanusi will simply clamp down on anyone who tries to pull that kind of stunt “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,” he said.
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 of the money with the promise that I would pay the balance when my company’s name had been removed from the report.”
“On Tuesday, at 9am, just before the House commenced seating, Boniface came and collected another $120,000.”
Otedola confirmed that during the sting, Lawan and Boniface collected a total of $620,000 in three instalments as part of the $3 million demanded from him.
He 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 import products.
“He (Lawan) now asked for the balance of $2.5 million, but 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.”
“If you have information that an armed robber is come to raid your home, won’t you notify the police? So, that was the purpose of the sting operation.
“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 if he was in the wrong he would not have involved the security agencies in the first instance.
“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.”
Story About m bribe scandal.
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