By Niyi Odebode, Ihuoma Chidozidie and Friday Olokor/Punch
The government, sources affirmed, had been undecided whether to prosecute only Lawan, the suspended chairman of the House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy, who had confessed to receiving the bribe money or along with Otedola, the Chairman of Zenon Oil and Gas, who claimed that he gave the bribe in a sting operation.
Our correspondents learnt that both Lawan and Otedola were recommended for prosecution by some legal minds in the Ministry of Justice. The ministry officials were said to have based their recommendation on the report of the Police Special Task Force that investigated the scandal.
A member of the Police Special Task Force, who pleaded anonymity, confided in one of our correspondents that that the report of the STF did not exonerate Otedola.
However, there were speculations that there had been pressure on the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Mohammed Adoke (SAN), not to prosecute Otedola.
But Adoke said he had been no under any pressure not to prosecute Otedola.
“I am not under any pressure not to prosecute anyone. The file (on the scandal) has not got to me. It is with the Director of Public Prosecutions,” the minister told one of our correspondents on Tuesday.
“The feelers we are getting from the government indicate that it is not ready to prosecute the businessman,” a top police officer said.
The source, however, said that the manner of the suting operation being claimed by Otedola was making it difficult for the government to exclude the businessman.
The police source said that if the case was a sting operation, $620,000 should be used as exhibits in court and Lawan should have been arrested immediately the money was handed over to him and the Clerk of the committee, Boniface Emenalo.
Curiously, while State Security Service did not deny its participation in the alleged operation, it could not produce the $620,000 as an exhibit.
The PUNCH had last month reported that the Police Special Task Force had on June 13 written the Director-General of the State Security Service asking for the money and other exhibits.
Investigations showed that the SSS had handed over to the police neither the money exhibit nor the call logs, which included what transpired between Otedola and Lawan.
The police source said the failure of the SSS to release the money “cast doubt on its participation in the sting operation.”
Efforts by our correspondents to get the Police Force Deputy Public Relations Officer, Mr. Frank Mba, were unsuccessful as he did not pick his calls. He did not also respond to a text message sent to him on the matter.
But an expert in constitutional law, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents, said that both Otedola and Lawan should be prosecuted.
He said, “As far as I know, the law equally criminalises not only the person who is asking for a bribe, but also the person giving a bribe. So, both the taker and the giver of bribe have committed an offence.
“Potentially, Otedola himself is liable for prosecution unless it is established that it was a sting operation in which the police was involved.”
Also, a group, Anti-Corruption Vanguard, also said that both Otedola and Lawan should be prosecuted.
Its Director-General, Mr. Dino Melaye, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said that it was illogical for the police to take the report of the investigation to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN).
According to him, the police have power of prosecution.
But a lawyer, Mr. Emeka Ngige, SAN, said that Otedola should be prosecuted, if he made the bribe offer.
He said, “If it was Otedola himself that made the offer in order for his company to be removed from the list of indicted companies that benefited from the subsidy fraud, he can be prosecuted alongside Farouk Lawan.
“However, the law enforcement agencies are at liberty to use Otedola as a witness. It is within the purview of the prosecution to use the giver to get the taker.”
Another SAN, Mr. Yusuf Alli, insisted that Otedola should not be prosecuted.
He said, “The law in Nigeria is that if anybody acts like a whistle-blower, he has not committed an offence. Why should he (Otedola) be prosecuted? He only acted as a whistle-blower.
“How did he become a sinner? I am amazed at the way some people are making comments, saying he should be prosecuted. Anyone involved in collecting money from Otedola with Farouk Lawan should be prosecuted.”