It is one thing to deny collecting a bribe. It sort of puts one in the clear, at least until proven guilty. But it is an entirely different thing to reiterate such statement later on saying you actually collected the bribe just to expose the ‘giver’ of the bribe. Such is the nature of the controversy currently raging between the Chairman of the House of Representatives’ ad hoc committee that probed the fuel subsidy regime, Hon. Farouk Lawan, and the Chairman of Zenon Oil and Gas, Mr. Femi Otedola.
In an earlier testimony, Hon. Lawan denied collecting a $620,000 fuel subsidy bribe from Mr. Otedola.
In response to news reports circulating on the alleged bribe, Hon. Lawan, initially issued a statement denying his involvement in the scam.
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 sum of $600,000.00 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 the thorough and in depth manner the investigation was carried out and the all-encompassing recommendations produced therefrom as approved by the whole House.
He went on to say that the allegations were in an attempt to discredit the Fuel Subsidy report and divert the attention of the public from the real issues of large scale.
Barely 24 hours later, he reversed his earlier statement and admitted that he collected $620,000 from Mr. Otedola to doctor the panel’s report. He told journalists that he collected the money after Otedola approached him, adding that he informed the police and his colleagues about it.
Otedola, on his part, has agreed offering the money to Lawan; adding that it was part of a sting operation initiated by security agencies after he had reported that the committee demanded $3 million from him not to list his companies as part of those indicted in the report.
Otedola had alleged that the lawmaker pressed him for a bribe to remove his firm from the list of companies indicted by his committee for oil subsidy fraud. He said the request compelled him to involve security agencies in a sting to catch Lawan.
The Otedola-security agents’ collaboration was said to have led to a video recording of Lawan receiving a $500,000 bribe with a promise to remove Otedola’s company’s name from the list. The Clerk of the Lawal-led panel, Boniface Emenalo, also received $100,000 as part of the $3m allegedly negotiated with Otedola by Lawan.
In the latest development, Mr. Otedola appeared before the Police Special Task Force in Abuja yesterday to brief investigators on his own side of the story. He reportedly spent about an hour answering questions from detectives in the Special Task force team headed by Commissioner of Police Ali Ahmadu.
The police had invited Lawan but the lawmaker did not honour the invitation to appear before the panel on Tuesday.
However, media reports claim that a police source has established that Mr. Lawan initiated the contact with Mr. Otedola and demanded a bribe in exchange for removing two of Otedola’s firms from adverse reports that would beam an investigative searchlight on the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars in oil subsidy funds.
The police also confirmed that the SSS worked with Mr. Otedola to videotape the bribe and also snooped on several phone conversation between the Zenon executive and the legislator.
Police sources said that they believed Mr. Lawan contacted them to report that he was in possession of bribe money only after he realized that the currencies were marked.
Following Otedola’s statement, the Police authorities, have tagged Lawan as the ‘prime suspect’ in their investigations and are expected to make their move anytime soon.
Otedola said he can’t be accused of being a bribe giver because the money in question was handed to him in its entirety by the State Security Service (SSS).
This latest corruption saga has drawn the attention away from the initial fuel subsidy probe. However, Nigerians and indeed, the international community are eagerly watching to see what would be the outcome of this.