Monday, November 05, 2012
$620,000 oil subsidy probe scam: An evolving regime of vicious circle of corruption
•CLO, CACOL demand trial of Farouk, Otedola
•Government officials are sacred cows of corruption– Fasehun
NEW questions are beginning to arise in the polity over the credibility of legislation by members of the National Assembly. This is not unconnected with the perceived inaction of government over the controversial $620,000 (about N96.1 million) monetary deal which exchanged hands between Farouk Lawan, former Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee of the House of Representatives that investigated the oil subsidy fraud and Femi Otedola, Chairman of African Petroleum (AP) and Zenon Oil, in a $3 million (about N465 million) deal to doctor the House report and exonerate Otedola’s firms from indictment in the subsidy fraud investigation. Our investigation revealed that stakeholders in the Nigerian project have lost confidence in the Federal Government in the fight against corruption. They are of the consensus that state actors are more imbued with obsession for kleptomania than commitment to good governance that would promote socio-economic growth and development which would ameliorate the living standards of Nigerians. Several stakeholders have articulated that the Nigerian State has become an empire of corruption providing breeding ground for venal political actors. The Farouk/Otedola scandal was widely celebrated across the country and in the international community, giving currency to the rising profile of corruption in government. A deal of $3 million (about N465 million) was admitted by both parties to have been struck; Otedola made $500,000 part payment to Farouk Lawan, proceeded further to invite the Clerk of the Committee, Boniface Emenalor, whom he gave $100,000 to ensure he was not indicted in the investigation of about N2.7 trillion purported subsidy fraud looted from the national treasury.
The balance was anticipated to be paid after the assignment had been performed. Jagaban Adams Jagaban, Chairman, House Committee on Drugs and Financial Crimes, at a point, was dragged into the scandal as the keeper of the $500,000 given to Farouk Lawan. There were manifestations that the deal was almost successful. The Report was formally presented to the House and Otedola was indicted. It was gathered that “he was indicted for using his companies to collect foreign currencies from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to import petrol but diverted the money.” At the vetting stage of the Report before it was forwarded to the President for action, Farouk Lawan made a case for Otedola on the floor of the House that since Otedola deals on diesel and not Premium Motor Spirit (PMS); he should be exonerated from the indicted oil marketers in the alleged oil subsidy fraud. Members of the House unanimously endorsed the request and Otedola’s indictment was deleted from the Report. The deal was as good as having been done but unfortunately, it was said to have been leaked to the Presidency and some prominent Nigerians.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo blew the can of worms open when he declared that there are armed robbers in the National Assembly. The usual media blitz that trails Obasanjo’s public statement degenerated into bizarre revelations, including video displays, about the deal. The intrigues were thrilling. Investigations were said to have been conducted by the Police and the State Security Service (SSS). The House also suspended Farouk Lawan as Chairman, House Committee of Education and Chairman of the Oil Subsidy Probe Committee but he was not suspended from attending legislative sessions. However, Farouk Lawan was noticed to have momentarily stayed away from legislative proceedings in the House while the Police and other institutions of anti-corruption have been widely perceived to be inactive to prosecute actors. In a manner of ridiculing the Nigerian Government, Farouk Lawan had the option of accepting that he took money from Otedola but did not take bribe. The irony is that the lawmaker collected money to compromise a national duty entrusted to him by the Nigerian people, more appallingly, a national duty to identify corrupt oil marketers that purportedly looted the country’s treasury and sabotaged both the oil industry and the growth of the national economy. To some stakeholders, this is treachery against the Nigerian Government yet anti-graft agencies hold on to claims of lack of evidence to prosecute the case.
It would be recalled that the House Ad Hoc Committee investigation was a spillover of the January 2012 mass action against increase in the pumping price of PMS by the Federal Government.
Nigerians have continued to suffer the default of public policy on energy, the associated unmitigated scarcity and unofficial price increase of petrol, yet the celebrated bribery scandal remains un-prosecuted.
Speaking to National Daily, Comrade Ibuchukwu Ezike, Executive Director, Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), expressed the view that corruption is a vicious circle in country. He said that corruption is a normal business of government officials. This, he said, made it difficult for government to genuinely fight corruption. Ezike maintained that if Farouk Lawan is pressed hard or threatened with prosecution, many people will be exposed. “The federal government is not serious in fighting corruption. Those expected to prosecute Farouk and Otedola are also part of the spoilt system. If Farouk opens his mouth, many people will be exposed and they do not want to be disgraced,” Ezike said. The CLO Executive Director emphasized that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) cannot fight corruption beyond what those in power permit them to do. He protested why the Minister of Petroleum, Minister of Finance, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and management of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) who approved and administered all the alleged fraudulent subsidy payment have not been arrested and prosecuted.
Moreover, Comrade Debo Adeniran, Executive Director, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), also expressed that Nigerian leaders are not sincere in fighting corruption. He acknowledged that Farouk Lawan has not been suspended from the House and can thus attend sessions but however articulated that “the lawmaker has no right to be moving around freely without prosecution.” They deserve restrictive movement to convince Nigerians that government has not compromised the scandal, he added. Adeniran urged the EFCC and other agencies to speed up arrangements for the trial of Farouk Lawan and Otedola. “It is a national embarrassment to allow them to be walking around freely as if they have not allegedly committed any crime. Though they are presumed innocent until they are found guilty but the system should not assume that they are completely innocent,” Adeniran contended.
Furthermore, Dr. Fredrick Fasehun, Leader of the Odu’a Peoples Congress (OPC), told National Daily that nothing should be expected to come out of the $620,000 oil subsidy monetary transactions. He articulated that impunity of government in Nigeria knows no bound and is not susceptible to restraint by corruption. The OPC leader emphasized that Farouk Lawal is a very sacred cow in the country, adding that he can make and unmake; can do and undo and can get away with any crime. He reaffirmed that the leadership of the country is insincere to the people. “The leaders tell the people that they are fighting corruption yet there are no results. Nigeria is fighting corruption with corruption and the result will always be more corruption. People are insincere to this country. Nobody is sincerely fighting corruption. Even government officials are sacred cows of corruption. That is why Nigeria will forever remain corrupt,” Fasehun declared.
“Where there is no law there is no crime but we have laws against corruption in our statute book; the person to execute the laws is what we lack. Since nobody is prepared to be in charge to fight corruption, corruption will continue to thrive. I congratulate Farouk Lawan,” the OPC leader declared.
Fasehun observed: “federal lawmakers do not think integrity is anything to strive for, whereas integrity is everything. They run after money, they don’t run after integrity. It is better to run after integrity, then money will follow but they care less for integrity and more for money. This is the paradox of Nigeria.”
The OPC leader was of the view that corruption has made people skeptical about the credibility of legislation in the National Assembly and has caused eroding confidence building between leaders and the Nigerian people.
“We have had various incidents to demonstrate that integrity is far away from the leadership of this country. That is why we are confused. We don’t know where to go; don’t know what to do and where not to go. We have had several scandals in this country; we have set up panels to investigate these scandals, Nigerians are still waiting for Government White Paper. Is it that we have found the culprits innocent,” Fasehun declared. He noted that people know those who are undermining the integrity of the country, adding that even if government issues any White Paper, such White Paper will be doctored to shield some interests.
“It is only natural that we must vote at elections, People grudgingly and involuntarily come out to vote. Even then, our voting system has been one of the sources of anxieties in the country. That is why Nigeria has not been able to wash herself clean off corruption. The country is sinking lower on the index of corruption, down the ladder of corruption,” Fasehun summed up.
Meanwhile, the House Committee which investigated the Farouk/Otedola scandal indicated last week that the Report would be presented as soon as the House resumes from recess.
......SUNDAY ODIBASHI/NATIONAL DAILY NEWSPAPER