Otedola, Lawan And The Rest Of Us by Simon Kolawole


How will this drama end? That is the question playing on my mind as I continue to watch the different episodes of the $620,000 (or is it $3 million) bribe row in the House of Representatives. Zenon boss, Femi Otedola, said the chairman of the fuel subsidy probe committee, Lawan Farouk, collected bribes worth $620,000 in steaming cash from him to delete Zenon from the list of marketers indicted over the subsidy affair. Otedola said he informed the security agencies, played along and had everything captured on audio and video. The audios are being released in batches. We await the video that will give it the proper outlook of a soap opera, tagged “Chop My Money” by some ever-creative Nigerians. That is one side of the story.
The other side of the story, as told by Lawan, is that indeed, he collected Otedola’s dollars, but that he too was playing along in order to expose how marketers tried to influence the report of his committee. He said he promptly handed the money to the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Economic Crimes, Jagaba Adams Jagaba, for safekeeping as “Exhibit A”. Jagaba has denied receiving the exhibit. Up till today, we don’t know where the money is. We understand it is marked money, so not just any dollar bill would do. The money was allegedly marked by the security agencies when Otedola informed them of the development.
Wait a minute. There is a third side. There is this suspicion that Otedola did not act alone, that he was fronting the interest of those who wanted to rubbish the probe. According to this thinking, the plan, ab initio, was to discredit the report of the committee. So the plan was carefully hatched so that after the whole show, the report would come to nought. Lawan only fell into a trap that would end up tarnishing the probe report, according to this line of reasoning. Already, one of the indicted marketers has headed to the court asking that the report be nullified “in the light” of the on-going revelations questioning “the credibility of the report”.
What do I believe? Well, I believe Lawan collected the money. But that’s not even in question. Although he initially denied collecting the bribe and described the video as a “caricature”, he finally admitted receiving it as “exhibit”. So that is settled. I believe the “bribe” paved the way for the swift “vindication” of Zenon championed by Lawan on the floor of the House. As a layman, I would argue that if I gave you $620,000 to delete my company’s name from the list and you promptly did so, you have fulfilled your obligation. I therefore declare that I believe Lawan vigorously saw to the removal of Zenon’s name because of the $620,000 bonanza.
However, Lawan, through his lawyers, is arguing that Zenon’s name was removed because it was proved beyond doubt by Otedola that the company had nothing to do with the petrol subsidy. Zenon, after all, deals only in diesel and that is one product that had been freed from control pricing many years ago. So Zenon could not have participated in petrol issues, logically speaking. If we are to believe Lawan’s lawyers, that means Zenon was not guilty of anything and Otedola had no reason to bribe anybody. It also means collecting the $620,000 booty was unnecessary since there was no case against Zenon in any form. I would therefore conclude that Lawan’s excuse is, at best, tenuous.
A vital question which we should ask, however, is: who initiated the bribery? Was it that Otedola called Lawan and said, “Bros, we need to see o!”? Or was it Lawan that said, “Bros, we need to see o!”? This is key in the whole scandal even as it has become my-word-against-your-word. If it was Otedola that made the overture, then it fits perfectly into the theory that the whole saga was orchestrated to rubbish the probe. If it was Lawan that initiated it, then it fits perfectly, too, into our opinion of the National Assembly as a place where there is no genuine oversight going on. It would seem all these probes are designed for the purpose of extortion.
Whatever the case may be, Otedola has murdered sleep. The Nigerian elite class has a way of protecting itself; it never exposes itself to public “ridicule”. It’s a close-knit family, no matter the ethnic, religious and partisan differences. Issues of this nature are usually treated as a “family affair”. As the mafia mantra states, injury to one member of the family is injury to all. House members are seething with fury. They will get back at him. For as long as Otedola continues to do business with the state, they will be waiting for him somewhere someday. Already, we can see the hostility of the House members towards him. But that is none of my business.
The real issue for the rest of us—the victims of the large-scale, shameless corruption in Nigeria—is: for how long are the elites going to hold us hostage? The issue, to me, is not who demanded bribe or who gave it. It is about the unending plundering of our resources and the unending cover-up. It happens almost every day. This is not the first nor will it be the last scandal in the corridors of power. We, the people, are the losers ultimately. These guys know where they meet, pop champagne and play golf. They will soon sort themselves out—leaving the rest of us high and dry… always.

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