Farouk Lawan:End of Bribe Trial
FOLLOWING a long and drawn-out trial, the bribery case of former House of Representatives member, Farouk Lawan, has drawn to a final close as the apex court in Nigeria upheld the five-year sentencing meted out to him by the appellate court. The Supreme Court, on Friday January 26, dismissed his appeal against the judgment of a Federal Capital Territory High Court which sentenced Lawan to seven years imprisonment for receiving a $500,000 bribe while serving as the Chairman of the House’s ad-hoc committee investigating the fuel subsidy fraud in 2012 and that of the appeal court which only reduced his sentencing by two years.
THE appeal court had reduced his charges and the amended charges, which comprised three counts instead of the previous seven, now indicated that Lawan corruptly asked for $3m from oil magnate, Otedola and did corruptly collect $500,000 from the businessman. The offences are said to be contrary to sections 8(1)(a) and 17(1) (a) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000 and punishable under sections 8(1) and 17(1) of the same Act.
THE trial judge, Angela Otaluka, held that Lawan demanded $3m and received $500,000 from Femi Otedola in 2012 to remove Otedola’s oil companies, Zenon Oil and Gas and Synopsis, from the list of firms indicted for fraud in the fuel subsidy regime. She also held that Lawan was guilty of all three counts of corruption and bribery. Not satisfied, Lawan approached the appellate court where his jail term was reduced from seven to five years. As a last resort, Lawan approached the apex court, urging it to set aside the judgments of the lower courts. Justice Tijani Abubakar of the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal and dismissed the appeal.
PRIOR to the debacle that ruined his image, he led a campaign against corruption in the House of Representatives, and many economic and political gladiators quaked in their shoes whenever he beamed his searchlight on them. Farouk Muhammad Lawan, is a renowned stalwart of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) who represented his Bagwai/Shanono Federal Constituency of Kano State in the Nigerian House of Representatives between 1999 and 2015.
LAWAN, in 1999, served as chairman of the House Committee on Finance under Aminu Bello Masari’s speakership. He was regarded as one of the power brokers in the House and played a crucial role in Patricia Etteh’s emergence as Speaker in 2007. During the corruption scandal that rocked her boat later that year, he was the leader of the Integrity Group that was at the center of Etteh’s ousting. He became known as Mr. Integrity and was even then touted as a strong candidate for the governorship of Kano State until his fall from grace.
IT all began in the wake of January 2012 with protests against the attempt by President Goodluck Jonathan to remove fuel subsidies and fully deregulate the downstream sector of the Nigerian oil industry. Subsequently, the House of Representatives then set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate alleged fraud in the Federal Government subsidy regime. Lawan was appointed to chair the Committee. In April of the same year, the committee released its report revealing an enormous fraud in which Nigerian oil marketing companies were being paid hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies by the government for fuel that was never delivered. The scam was estimated to have cost the country $6.8 million. The committee headed by Lawan was seen as a saviour of sorts as it seemed bent on righting all the wrongs done to the nation.
IN a dramatic twist, the hunter became the hunted as Femi Otedola, billionaire oil magnate whose companies Zenon and Synopsis were allegedly earlier indicted in the committee’s report, accused Lawan of accepting $620,000 from him as part of a $3 million bribe Lawan had solicited from him in order to have his companies removed from the list of companies implicated in the committee’s report. Like a movie, the unfolding scenes came with theatrics, intrigues, accusations, denials and counter-accusations in which Lawan, Otedola and Boniface Emenalo, secretary to Lawan’s committee were like lead actors while the House of Reps, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Nigeria Police were the supporting actors.
LAWAN admitted receiving the amount, but insisted it was meant to expose the businessman and to convince the House of the pressure the committee faced. He said he had communications with the Chairman of the House Committee on Financial Crimes and the Inspector General of Police, alleging that Otedola pestered him to accept bribes in order to influence the outcome of the investigation. In his testimony at a Federal Capital Territory High Court in Abuja in 2021, Otedola said, Lawan removed his company from the list of indicted oil companies after he collected the money, adding that he was expected to pay a balance of $2.5m to the lawmaker. He said the money was given to him by the Department of State Services to set a trap for Lawan after he wrote a petition against him to the DSS immediately Lawan demanded the bribe
IT is noteworthy to mention that there have been series of scandals that have been discovered in Nigeria such as the Halliburton scandal, the probe by the Ndudi Elumelu-led House of Reps Committee on Power into the massive investment made in the power sector under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration (1999-2007) which opened cans of worms, and the Senate probe into the operations of the BPE in 2011 which revealed how public corporations were sold at rock bottom prices. Others are the probe on the management contract of the Nigeria Telecommunications Limited (2002), the Petroleum Technology Development Fund probe (2007), the pension fund administration probe (2012), and the fuel subsidy scam probe (2012).
THE Hope notes regrettably that many of these cases were not brought to a logical conclusion and soon fizzled out. All Nigerians heard was the news of discovery, then a deafening silence. Too many scandals have rocked the country in recent times that have been swept under the rug. Aside the publicity and noise that accompanied these probes, many of them were inconclusive, and the reports of those that were concluded are gathering dust on the shelves.
HOWEVER, the scandal regarding Lawan was one that refused to go away until it culminated in his nailing.
MANY critics believe that the conviction may yet be the end of Lawan’s otherwise sterling and promising political career but others believe that the Nigerian government may pardon him when the dust settles on the news. Be that as it may, Nigerians must continue to have hope in Nigeria’s judicial system following its justice delivery in the case of Lawan despite the earlier delay. The Hope is of the opinion that the judgement albeit long in coming is a good development as it would serve as a deterrence to other corrupt lawmakers in the nation’s hallowed chambers should “see something; say something”.