By Festus Keyamo
From the various reports, Press releases and statements made by all the actors involved in this saga, certain undisputable facts have emerged:
(1) There was definite communication between Farouk Lawan and Femi Otedola (both by telephone and face-to-face) in respect of the offer and acceptance of bribe money concerning the investigation by the House Committee probing the fuel subsidy scam. The question of who initiated a relationship is completely irrelevant when determining the guilt or otherwise of the giver and taker of bribe money.
(2) The sum of $620,000 dollars out of a grand total of $3million price tag actually exchanged hands between Otedola and Lawan. No party is disputing this fact.
(3) Otedola involved the State Security Service (SSS) and the scene was recorded when the money was handed over to Lawan to prove that he was pressured to part with the money.
(4) Even though Lawan claims he collected the money to expose Otedola, he (Lawan) did not involve any law-enforcement agency when collecting the money. QUESTION: So how on earth did Farouk Lawan ever hope to later convince anyone that those dollars came from Otedola when Otedola’s name is not written on the dollars? How did he ever hope to “expose” him?
(5) A few hours after collecting the dollars, Farouk Lawan stood up on the floor of the House and, instead of exposing Otedola, he was actually shielding him by convincing his colleagues to remove Otedola’s company name from the list of indicted companies in the Report. That was the point that Lawan was expected to tell the world that he just collected bribe money, and like has been done in the past, spill the money on the floor of the House. He did not do so.
(6) It was not until the scandal broke out in the Press that Farouk Lawan did something. He first denied ever collecting money and said he did not go to Otedola’s house and that if there is any such video, it must have been doctored.
(7) Less than 24 hours later, Lawan sang a different tune. He now said he actually went to Otedola’s house to collect money, but it was to “expose” Otedola.
(8) The only “expose” Lawan claimed he did was to write a hand-written note to Honourable Adams Jagaba, Chairman House Committee on Narcotics and Financial Crimes, to purport to hand over the bribe money to him. Honourable Jagaba has since denied that this ever happened. QUESTION: WHY DID FAROUK LAWAN NOT APPROACH ONE SINGLE LAW-ENFORCEMENT AGENCY WITH THE BRIBE MONEY?
(9) The bribe money that is the all-important evidence to “nail” Otedola cannot be produced by Farouk Lawan now despite repeated demands by the Police. QUESTION: How come Farouk Lawan treated his all-important evidence with so much levity that he did not make Honourable Jagaba to acknowledge receiving the dollars in writing when he purportedly handed it over to him?
(10) On the other hand, it has since emerged that Femi Otedola kept all his audio and video evidence intact and has decided to release them piecemeal to the public.
From the above sequence of undisputed facts, it is only a hired goon, mischief maker, or a complete fool that will not easily come to a definite conclusion in this on-going disgraceful and shameful episode rocking the National Assembly: Farouk Lawan collected bribe purportedly on behalf of his Committee to doctor his report but somewhere along the line the operation, like most robbery incidents, went terribly wrong. All the drama playing out now cuts the picture of a destroyed, disgraced and thoroughly embarrassed Farouk Lawan clinging on so desperately to anything to save his finished image and political career.
I use the phrase “National Assembly” advisedly because, even though it had sought to distance itself from the whole episode, it is undisputable that the bribe was solicited for and was offered to a Committee of the National Assembly which was doing an assignment of the National Assembly. Farouk Lawan only collected the money on behalf of the said Committee. Whether he gave to other members is another matter altogether.
However, the taped conversations between Otedola and Lawan only confirm what both parties actually agree took place: that they negotiated payment of bribe money several times by telephone. The only point of divergence is that both claim the negotiations were sting operations on the other. But while Otedola has evidence of his sting, Farouk Lawan has none.
By denying his obvious voice on those tapes, Farouk Lawan has made another u-turn: he is giving the impression that he never spoke to Otedola on telephone whereas he had earlier confirmed that there were several phone conversations between them and that he has call-logs to prove this. So, question to Lawan: during those phone conversations, what were they talking about? Was it about girlfriends or politics?
I thought the only honourable thing Lawan should have done is not to deny the obvious, but to say those taped conversations were part of his plan to “play along” and catch Otedola red-handed. So Farouk Lawan needs to now come up with his own version of those conversations between himself and Otedola because Otedola has provided to the public his own version.
In any case, the endless search for dollars or the debate about voice on those tapes are most unnecessary. The law says what has been admitted needs no further proof. In other words, what the recovery of the dollars and the voices on the tape seek to establish has since been established by the confessional statement of Farouk Lawan himself; i.e. he had several discussions with Otedola on phone over the bribe money and he actually collected it.
I am aware that many Nigerians are not happy with the way Femi Otedola hobnobs with all governments in power (and perhaps gets undeserved business concessions by so doing), but in this instant case, whether you like Femi Otedola or hate him, by reporting the matter to the SSS (the law says the SSS has all the powers of Police Officers too) and going ahead to record the transaction between him and Lawan, Otedola did all that a responsible citizen under the circumstances should do. Whether the sting was thorough or not is no longer his business. By the way, the purpose of arresting someone whilst collecting bribe is to establish the fact that the suspect actually collected it. But the video has already established that fact.
Farouk Lawan has confessed to that fact. And in any case, no Nigerian would have believed the SSS or the Police if Farouk Lawan was arrested for any reason a few hours to the presentation of that report. If, for instance, Farouk had claimed he was forced at gun point to go to Otedola’s house and then was arrested there, Nigerians would have believed him. In addition, Farouk Lawan would not have had the opportunity to perform the act for which the bribe was collected on the floor of the House the next day. But as it is, the
SSS allowed him to roast in his own stew. In my view, the SSS did perfectly well in this case.
The bare-faced denial by Farouk Lawan of his voice on those tapes, and the denial of his complicity despite these overwhelming evidence, gives the clear impression that we are dealing with a hardened, unrepentant crook who is like a thief caught with his hand in the cashbox, but still claims he was only checking the color of the money.
In Japan, such persons like Farouk Lawan would have committed what they call “hara-kiri”.
In America and Europe, he would have resigned immediately from public office in shame and begged for forgiveness.
Unfortunately, here in Nigeria and aided by dubious hired goons, he continues to deny the obvious. What a shame!
As for the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges, their so-called investigation of the scam is nothing but a laughable sham, a diversionary and disgraceful enterprise with a pre-determined end, an unconstitutional and illegal exercise and Nigerians must ignore it.
I issue this statement out of a deep love for my country over and above personal relationships. If we do not say things as we see them truthfully and honestly at such times when patriots are required to stand up and be counted because of friendships, personal or professional benefits, then we should not complain if our country and its critical institutions continue to collapse. In fact, after the oil subsidy probe and before the presentation of the Report, I was with one of the Committee members in London when Farouk Lawan called and the phone was handed over to me. We chatted a few minutes on the phone during which time I encouraged him to do a thorough job and thanked him for his efforts so far. But alas! He has let everybody and himself down.
Farouk Lawan must stop this dance of shame and save that House of whatever is left of its credibility by resigning from office immediately and face his criminal trial squarely. It is, indeed, himself and his hired goons that are turning this episode into a theatre of the absurd, and not the other way round.
FESTUS KEYAMO, ESQ.