The $620,000 bribery scandal involving a federal legislator, Farouk Lawan and businessman, Femi Otedola, has entered a new phase with Otedola asking a court to order Lawan and three others to pay him N250bn in damages.
The suit coincides with petitions to the Inspector-General of Police by Lawan’s lawyers demanding a face-to-face confrontation between the lawmaker and the businessman.
The amount, Otedola says, will compensate him for the loss of patronage he has suffered as a result of an alleged intimidation by the National Assembly.
Listed as defendants in the suit number FCT /3839/2012 and filed on June 28, 2012 at the Abuja High Court, are Lawan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal; the National Assembly and its Clerk.
There had been a raging scandal in which Otedola, who is the Chairman of Zenon Oil and Gas Limited, claimed that he paid $620,000 as bribe to Lawan, the suspended Chairman of the House Ad hoc Committee that probed the management of fuel subsidy regime in the country.
While Otedola said that he paid the bribe under pressure, Lawan claimed that he obtained the bribe in order to expose the businessman.
The businessman’s company which had been removed from the list of subsidy thieves on the request of Lawan has, however, been re-listed by the House following the outbreak of the bribery scandal.
Otedola, who is suing along with Zenon as the first plaintiff, said in his 28-paragraph statement of claim that the re-listing of Zenon on the list of indicted companies was an act of conspiracy.
He claimed that the alleged conspiracy by both Tambuwal and the National Assembly was calculated to embarrass him and his company.
In his statement of claim, Otedola states, “Notwithstanding the on-going Police investigations and the first defendant’s admission of receiving money from the second plaintiff, the second and fourth defendants conspired to relist the name of the first plaintiff to the list of indicted companies, to embarrass the plaintiffs and their corporate and business image.
“The plaintiffs shall contend at trial that the conspiracy by the second and fourth defendants (Tambuwal and the National Assembly respectively) to re-list the name of the first plaintiff on the list of companies indicted by the ad-hoc committee is without basis given that the committee’s finding was arrived at without proper verification of documents submitted by the plaintiffs to aid their enquiry.”
Otedola narrated how Lawan allegedly demanded $3m bribe in the course of the committee’s investigation and how he made several other intimidating calls that Zenon would be included on the list of indicted companies if he failed to comply.
He said the lawmaker did not relent in his demand for the bribe despite telling him that there was no basis for Zenon to be indicted by the committee.
He added that he later took to the advice of some unnamed security agencies which asked him to play along with Lawan.
He states further, “In the course of carrying out his assignment, the first defendant (Lawan) as head of the ad hoc committee set up by the second and third defendants contacted the second plaintiff (Otedola) and informed him that the first plaintiff ( Zenon) was going to be indicted by the ad hoc committee for purchasing foreign exchange from the Central Bank of Nigeria without importing petroleum products unless the plaintiff parted with a bribe of $3m.
“The first defendant continued to make harassing phone calls to the second plaintiff calculated at intimidating the plaintiffs to meet the unlawful demand of the first defendant for bribe
“The second plaintiff faced with the first defendant’s unrelenting barrage of intimidating calls became distressed and contacted the security agencies to report the first defendant’s conduct
“The plaintiffs were advised by the security agencies to play along and hand over marked notes to the first defendant and his cohorts for the purpose of gathering evidence of their nefarious activities.”
In the purported sting operation, Otedola states that out of the $620,000 bribe, $500,000 was taken personally by Lawan on April 24, and that $120,000 was handed over to the clerk of the committee, Boniface Emenalo.
He also says that he would produce “all call logs and audio-visual records of conversation and/or meetings” held with Lawan to prove his case.
He states, “On April 24, 2012, the sum of $500,00 was handed over to the first defendant by the second plaintiff.
“At the request of the first defendant, a further sum of $120, 000 was handed over to Boniface Emenalo by the second defendant.
“On the morning of the April 24, 2012, the first defendant persisted in making intimidating phone calls to the plaintiffs harassing them to pay up the balance of $2.380m.
“As a result of the distress caused to the plaintiffs by the first defendant’s persistent calls, the plaintiffs reported the matter to the police which invited the first defendant and the plaintiffs for investigations.”
Otedola, dissatisfied with the reappearance of Zenon on the list of indicted companies, has therefore made the claims against the defendants “jointly and severally”,
“The sum of N100 billion against the defendants as general damages for the acts of intimidation; loss of goodwill and patronage, occasioned by the acts of the defendants; and a separate “sum of N150 billion against the defendants as exemplary damages for their oppressive and arbitrary action.”
He states, “The action and conduct of the defendants were oppressive and arbitrary and thereby also resulting to the plaintiffs suffering substantial loss to their reputation, goodwill and business.”
Hearing date has not been fixed for the case and it has not been assigned to any judge.
In a reaction on Sunday, the House said that it was ready for Otedola and would assemble a legal team to meet him in court.
However, it clarified that no court summons had been served on it as at Sunday (yesterday).
The Chairman, House Committee on Media, Public Affairs, Mr. Zakari Mohammed, noted that as a Nigerian, Otedola was free to express his views or take action on any issues he strongly disapproves of.
“He is free to go to court; he is a Nigerian. We are ready for him and he will hear from us when we receive accourt summons.
“However, as we speak, I am not aware of any court action taken against the House. This is weekend; but he will hear from us when we get the summons”, Mohammed added.