By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — Justice Peter Kekemeke of the Abuja High Court, yesterday, fixed November 23 to commence hearing on the legal tussle between oil mogul, Femi Otedola and the embattled erstwhile Chairman of the House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on fuel subsidy probe, Farouk Lawal.
Otedola who is Chairman of Zenon Oil and Gas, had in a suit he filed before the high court, adduced reasons why he said the House of Representatives should be compelled to pay him N250 million as compensation for business losses he suffered owing to his alleged indictment by the said probe panel.
He equally cited the Speaker of the House of Reps, Aminu Tambuwal, as a defendant in the suit.
It would be recalled that shortly after the Farouk Lawal led panel released its fact-finding report that exposed astronomical fraud perpetuated by various companies under the subsidy regime, Otedola, in a retaliatory move, released an audio tape with a view to proving that the probe panel demanded cash-for-clearance.
Otedola specifically accused Lawal of demanding $3 million to exonerate his company, emphasizing that the lawmaker even went to the extent of stuffing monies in his cap on one of the occasions he came to receive bribe on behalf of the panel.
However, Lawal, through his lawyer, Chief Mike Ozokhome, SAN, refuted the allegation that he stuffed money in his cap, stressing that contrary to insinuation that he travelled to Lagos to collect bribe as alleged, he only received money from Otedola on two separate occasions at his room at Protea Hotel at Apo Abuja and at Otedola’s house at Aso Drive Asokoro also in Abuja.
Describing the audio tape which was released to media houses as “a devilish caricature”, Lawal urged Nigerians to give him the benefit of doubts, insisting that he would not rest until he proved that the primary intention why he collected the money was to uncover the level of corruption within the oil sector of the Nigerian economy
Meanwhile, in a bid to further puncture the probe report, Otedola alongside his company, Zenon Oil and Gas, filed a suit before the High Court, where he is equally seeking the sum of N150billion against the defendants as exemplary damages for alleged oppressive and arbitrary actions he said was meted against him.
In the suit which he filed through his counsel, Chief BabajideKoku SAN, Otedola is further seeking another N100billion as general damages for acts of intimidation, loss of good-will and patronages occasioned by the acts of the Speaker of the House of Reps and Lawal.
Besides, he is also challenging alleged moves to re-list his company among the oil firms indicted for allegedly defrauding the federal government.
In his 28-point statement of claim, Otedola averred that by resolution of January 8, this year, the House of Representatives set up an ad hoc Committee to verify and determine the actual subsidy amount made to oil companies and to also monitor the implementation of the subsidy in the country.
He claimed that Hon Farouk later allegedly contacted and informed that his company was going to be indicted for purchasing foreign exchange from Central Bank of Nigeria without importing fuel.
He said in spite of his explanations; Farouk allegedly demanded $3m bribe to enable Zenon oil get a clean bill of health.
He contended that Farouk resorted to persistent phone calls threatening him that his company would be included in the list of indicted oil importers and that the image and reputations of Zenon oil would be greatly affected unless he pays the three million US Dollars.
He maintained that faced with the unrelenting barrage of intimidating phone calls, he became distressed and reported the unlawful demands to the security agencies.
Otedola told the court that he secured the advice of security agents to play along by giving marked money to Farouk with a view to gathering convincing evidence for the nefarious activities.
He said the situation got to a peak on April 18 when the fuel subsidy probe report was submitted, which he said indicted his company.
According to him, Farouk had called and assured him that Zenon could be delisted from the list of the indicted firms, an assurance he said prompted him to give $620,000 marked money in two instalments with $500,000 to Farouk and another $120,000 to one Boniface Emenalo on the instruction of Farouk.
Nevertheless, he told the court that Farouk, on April 24, moved the House to de-list the name of Zenon oil from the indicted company but was still persistent in demanding for balance of $2,380,000 prompting him to report the incident to Police.
He stated that inspite of on-going police investigations, the Speaker and Hon Farouk allegedly conspired to re-list his company among the indicted companies so as to embarrass him and his business corporate image.
He claimed that the purpose of re-listing Zenonoil was to force and intimidate him to drop his complaints against Farouk.
Otedola therefore asked the court to award him the N250bn for the grave injuries done to his reputation and business image resulting in the substantial loss of goodwill and patronage of the business built over the years.
Meantime, both the Speaker and Farouk have filed an objection to hearing of the suit, describing the court action as frivolous and grossly lacking in merit, stressing that only the federal high court has the jurisdiction to entertain and adjudicate over such matters.
The defendants filed their objection through a lawyer, Mr.KehindeOgunuwuniju who is from the chambers of Chief Afe Babalola, SAN.