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Corruption…There we go again!
WHILE it is beyond dispute that Nigeria is a truly corrupt country, the most recent revelations on the bribery allegations leveled against Hon. Farouk Lawan, chairman of the House of Representatives ad hoc committee on the fuel subsidy probe, is indisputably of gargantuan proportions. The truth or falsity of the allegations notwithstanding, the ensuing revelations and counter-revelations are truly byzantine in their complexity, and I hasten to conclude that no matter how much we try, we may never really get to the bottom of it. Call me a cynic and you would not be far off the mark. I have my reasons. This is after all a country where politics trumps every other thing, including trampling upon the rule of law! At the end of the day, politics and other primordial considerations will triumph, the ruling class will close ranks against the rest of us, and we shall have no choice but to ‘live happily ever after’.
Just in case you don’t believe me, then ask yourself what has happened to similar probes in the past, and may be you’ll soon join the band of cynical Nigerians as well. The 1992 oil windfall probe asserted that a whooping $12 billion either vanished or was misappropriated, or at best not properly accounted for. The Okigbo probe panel did a fine job that Nigerians applauded, submitted its report, and that was the end of the news! No government ever acted on the probe report until all the copies of the report allegedly developed wings and vanished from government’s file cabinet. When the then military president who was indicted in the report was later invited before the Oputa Panel, he not only snubbed the invitation with characteristic military disdain for the rule of law, but also secured a court injunction preventing the federal government from acting upon the report of the Oputa Panel itself. End of story!
By the way, how many similar probe panels have we witnessed since 1999 alone? Whatever happened to the Siemens scandal, Halliburton bribery scandal, the PTDF allegations of humungous fleecing of the agency, the national identity project scandal, the House of Representatives bribery allegations during which Ghana-must-Go bags full of money were publicly presented before the House? What of the Senate probe of allegations of corrupt practices leveled against the then Senate President, the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo. What did his successor, Pius Anyim, now Secretary to the Federal Government, do about it? As of today, neither the police nor any of the anti-corruption agencies has picked up the gauntlet to probe the allegations that hundreds of millions of naira from the national treasury were freely dispensed to National Assembly members to secure the legislature’s approval of President Obasanjo’s third term agenda. Not even after Senator Ken Nnamani, President of Senate at the time had also openly confirmed he had knowledge of that act. By the way, is the same National Assembly today not made up of a number of former state governors on whom serious indictments and allegations of scandalous corruption are hanging? The question now remains: why should Nigerians expect that anything serious will be done to get to the bottom of the present scandal, when the same government’s body language concerning the report of the oil subsidy probe is not very encouraging?
According to information already in the public domain concerning the scandal, Hon. Farouk Lawan received, whether solicited or unsolicited, the sum of $620,000 from Mr. Femi Otedola, acclaimed oil magnate and chair of one or two companies implicated in the fuel subsidy bazaar. Otedola claims that the total bribery money demanded from him was $3 million and that the reported $620,000 collected was merely the first tranche. According to him, the security agencies were in the know, as the money he reportedly gave to Lawan were marked notes. And he has surrendered recorded video and audio clips of the giving and taking of the bribe, claiming it was actually a sting operation. Hon. Lawan, on the other hand, after initially flatly denying receiving any money from Otedola, later owned up, claiming the money was evidence of the proof that his committee was subjected to pressure to remove Otedola’s companies from the list of indicted companies. The Nigeria Police has waded in, asking Hon. Lawan to produce the marked money, detaining him for questioning and searching his house for evidence. As of the writing of this piece on (Sunday, 17th June) the legislator has been released by the police but has yet to surrender the marked notes.
For me, why have I so cynically concluded that we’ll never get to the root of the scandal? One, corruption has become a real national astime such that we have never seriously or successfully prosecuted anyone, especially when they are political bigwigs in the ruling party at the national level. The Economist of London once remarked that in Nigeria, government officials are not only corrupt, corruption is official! Remember that it had to take a British court to convict and put James Ibori, former Delta State governor, behind bars, because the Nigerian criminal justice system has been so thoroughly compromised. Second, politically connected persons will always hold the justice system to ransom by hiring a battery of senior lawyers to tie up the court process for decades through needless adjournments and other ingenious legal subterfuge, by which time we would all have moved on and forgotten about the original crime. In the present case, the two gladiators in question, Femi Otedola and Farouk Lawan, are well heeled and highly politically connected persons —— one a major business mogul who boasts billions in any currency, the other, even though of modest physical endowment but nonetheless of immense political standing as an intrepid ranking national legislator. Trust me, it will not be difficult for the ruling class to close ranks and treat the matter as another ‘family affair’. Don’t be fooled by all the righteous noises of ‘self-appointed’ anti-corruption crusaders and activists, the storm will blow over after a while. That’s the way it has always been in Nigeria. Very sad.
Third, the supersonic speed at which corruption scandals unfold in the public sector is so alarming as to make any normal person become dizzy just trying to keep track. Before long, the present corruption saga will recede into the inside pages of our national dailies as new and more salacious stories of even more sensational scandals erupt on the front pages to assail our sensibilities again. In the meantime, please enjoy the present theatre of the absurd as it unfolds. Truth be told, Nigerians have generally and unfortunately become immune to national scandals. And this is so because the ruling class has so comprehensively pauperized the citizenry to the point that all they are forced to care about is their daily survival. Who can blame them? A number of pertinent questions are begging for answers, but I still doubt if we shall get correct answers to them. Did Hon. Lawan really ask for the bribe or did Otedola offer it to influence the committee, or to entrap Lawan in a sting operation? If the latter, why then did the relevant security agencies not immediately arrest Lawan, as is the normal practice in sting operations? In any case, at whose behest and for what purpose was the sting operation, if it really was one? Why did Lawan himself keep the money and kept quiet about it for so long until Otedola blew the whistle? Why did Lawan cause two of Otedola’s companies to be removed from the indicted list during the House of Representatives debate on the report? Did Farouk Lawan act alone? By the way, for what purpose did Otedola blow the whistle on Lawan, and why did it also have to take nearly two months after the actual event for him to do so? What is the position of the police and other security agencies on the whole episode? Will the government attempt to use the bribery scandal to rubbish the entire probe report? I bet there are still many more questions, and it is increasingly looking like the case of ‘the more you see the less you understand’.
Commenting on this page a while ago after the submission of Farouk Lawan’s probe panel’s report to the House of Representatives, I had commended Hon. Lawan and his members for giving us hope that there are still Nigerians out there in the public space we can count on when we need heroes. I even recommended he be given a national honour to boot. Did I speak too soon? May be I did, and maybe I did not. But don’t blame me, for this is a country where corruption has eaten so deep into the fabric of governance that one cannot help getting excited by even the slightest appearance of probity on the national public horizon. May be I was too eager to see heroes in our government. More on this episode, as the events unfold in the next few days. Bye for now.Share