The mysterious oil marketer who is said to have offered a $600,000 bribe to Hon. Farouk Lawan, chairman of the House of Representative’s Ad-hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy, has been revealed.
Mr. Femi Otedola, chairman of Zenon Petroeleum & Gas Ltd, told Thisday newspapers in an exclusive interview that he did in fact give $620,000 in bribes to Lawan and secretary of the Committee, Mr. Boniface Emenalo, part payment on a much larger $3 million bribe, which Otedola alleged Lawan had demanded of him in order to keep Zenon Oil out of the report.
In a shocking twist, however, Otedola insists that he is innocent in the matter as he was working with security operatives in a sting operation.
In its report, Thisday said that the operatives of the State Security Service sent a video recording of the bribery transaction to the EFCC for “further scrutiny and action”.
The Zenon boss claimed Lawan had initiated first contact at the start of the probe, asking Otedola for insight into the oil industry.
Though Zenon claimed to have made no claims for subsidy payments from the Federal Government – managing director, Mr. Kanmi Kareem Otaru, especially denied that the company benefited from the Petroleum Subsidy Fund – the company was still listed in the probe report as one of the companies who made subsidy claims without importing oil.
Otedola alleged that mere days before the publication of the report, Lawan had approached him demanding the bribe if Zenon was to be kept off the list.
He claimed he reminded the Adhoc Committee chairman that Zenon never participated in the subsidy scheme, however, Lawan responded saying “other marketers were playing ball”.
An angry Otedola initially refused to pay, but Lawan allegedly called him a day before the report was to be published to tell him Zenon was now listed as one of the fraudulent oil marketers.
“Lawan insisted that I must pay up as other oil marketers had done before me.”
Zenon was said to have claimed $232,975,385.13 without importing any product. The probe report recommended that Otedola’s Zenon and 14 other marketers be referred to the anti-corruption agencies to determine how they spent subsidy funds they claimed.
Otedola revealed that he made several calls, angrily demanded vindication for his Zenon, but finding none. Lawan, instead, allegedly demanded $3 million in bribe offerings to the Committee if his company name will be cleared.
It was then he decided to involve security agencies who gave Otedola marked bills for a sting job. There are also call logs, audio and visual evidence of the bribery incident he claimed.
Lawan allegedly received two payments of $250,000 on two different days amounting to $500,000 in bribes.
“On Tuesday [21 April], at 9am, just before the House commenced seating, Boniface came and collected another $120,000.”
Between the Lawan and Boniface, Otedola claims to have paid $620,000 in bribes in three installments, only a percentage of the total $3 million demanded from him.
He further claims that Lawan demanded the balance of $2.5 million be flown on a chartered plane from Lagos to Abuja.
Lawan denies, denies, denies
The Adhoc Committee chairman defended himself against the allegations in a press statement released long before Otedola’s shocking story was published in Thisday.
In the statement released on Sunday night, Lawan refuted the “internet stories” and claimed that neither he nor any other prominent member of the Committee that conducted the fuel subsidy probe took a bribe.
He described the bribery allegations as “cheap blackmail” and said the “present mudslinging is not unexpected in view of the caliber of people whose actions were found wanting in the report”.
As to the audio/video recording of the bribery transaction, which was obtained by a spy camera pen security operatives gave to Otedola, the adhoc committee chairman says it wasn’t him.
According to a Punch report, Lawan claimed that the video which shows him collecting the bribes, now said to be in the hands of the EFCC, was doctored.
Otedola says, however, that he has “nothing to hide,” explaining that it was the reason he involved security operatives.
EFCC knows nothing, House of Reps steers clear
Both the EFCC and the House of Representativies are claiming ignorance in the matter.
Spokesman for the corrupting fighting unit, Mr. Wilson Uwugiaren, said he had no official knowledge of the bribery allegations and was not aware of the existence of any incriminating video footage.
He said at the moment, the EFCC’s priority as it concerns the fuel subsidy probe, is to find those guilty in the massive fuel subsidy fraud and hold them responsible.
Meanwhile the House is washing its hands of Lawan.
In a statement reacting to the allegations, spokesman for the House, Zakari Mohammed, said: “While we await investigation into these weighty accusations, we wish to state without equivocation that this Honourable House will never take side with corruption and we will always stand on the side of the rule of law”.
The Osun Defender cites Mohammed as saying: “The reason we inaugurated the ad hoc committee to look into the controversial subsidy regime in the first place was to expose corruption in the sector, as such, we cannot, for whatever reason, support any underhand dealing from any quarter”.
The allegations of bribery and underhand dealings not withstanding, the House says it remains committed to its “efforts to render quality legislation” and urged the executive not to use the bribery scandal as an excuse to “abandon its commitment towards bringing to justice the culprits already identified in the committee’s report”.
Mohammed said whatever the merits of the accusations, it does not “detract from the quality of the work done by the committee. The report of that committee was adopted by the whole House and we stand by the resolutions of the House”.