By JIDE AJANI
This is the authentic story of the Chronology of the inconclusive sting operation conducted by the Department of State Service, otherwise referred to as the DSS, involving House of Representatives member and Chairman, Committee on Subsidy Management, Lawan Farouk, and oil and gas magnate, Femi Otedola.
The complicity of both men in this scam signpost a deeper mentality of dishonourable conduct that is pervasive in Nigeria and the alleged entanglement of the executive arm of government in the subsidy probe. This exclusive report was first published mid-June last year, some two weeks before the telecast of the audio recording on Channel’s Tv..
IN THE BEGINNING, 15 BECAME 13
Because the heart of man is clouded, the truth about who approached who may never really be known,without prejudice to the claims being made by Femi Otedola and Farouk Lawan. The truth, however, is that the one approached the other.
What is also established, moving forward, is that Otedola’s Zenon Oil and Gas allegedly collected forex to the tune of $232, 975,385.13 from the Petroleum Support Fund, PSF, scheme whereas he did not import petrol. There was another company, Synopsis Enterprises Limited, said to have collected $51, 449, 977, for the same purpose but did not deliver – so said the report of the House Committee, presided over by Farouk.
On the second day of the presentation of the report, a Wednesday, April 24, Farouk told his colleagues on the floor of the House that the now notorious Clause 29 (5) and (6) of the committee’s report needed attention. That fresh information had come upon the committee which suggested that some companies were erroneously listed as beneficiaries of PSF, whereas it was merely an error and, therefore, the names of the companies should be removed from the list. The House agreed to the amendment of the report. And, therefore, Otedola’s Zenon was removed from the list of indicted companies; ditto, Synopsis.
12 HOURS EARLIER, AT OTEDOLA’S RESIDENCE
The meeting between Farouk and Otedola was meant to hold by 1am, the very first hour of April 24, 2012. It did not. 2am, it did not. At about 4am, according to the timing on the recording device (which was used to bug Otedola’s residence) Farouk entered the premises of Otedola in Asokoro, Abuja. There, $500,000, out of a set aside $3m, was ready in cash.
According to visuals on the recording which Sunday Vanguard was privy to at that time, Farouk came in wearing a white Kaftan – not the long flowing and sweeping Senegalese type but a three quarter/near full length design. There was no cap to match. It was very late any way – 4am. Otedola also wore his now familiar white guinea brocade ‘buba and sokoto’. After the exchange of some banters, the $500,000 was handed over to Farouk and he left.
Sometime later, some four to five hours later that morning, Boniface Emenalo, the secretary to the committee, who had been nominated by a very senior high-ranking member of this administration entered. The recorder kept rolling. Emenalo was handed two packages containing $120,000.
Emenalo, according to the recording, was dressed in a Niger-Delta like attire. He collected the two parcels, put them in the trouser pockets which swallowed the packages – one in each pocket. The Niger Delta top did not betray the dollar cargo in the pockets of the trouser.
He left. Mind you, the disputation between the combined sum of $600,000 and $620, 000 came about as a result of the alleged declaration made by Emenalo that he actually collected just $100,000, as against the alleged $120,000 Otedola gave to him. The funds Otedola parted with were said to have been provided by the DSS.
It was part of the $3m that Farouk allegedly demanded for and which had been set aside for the operation. The point of convergence between the video recording of money changing hands and the now infamous bribery saga is the removal of the name of Zenon from the list of 15 later that morning on the floor of the House. The video recording had very clear audio accompaniment. The DSS experts moved in afterwards to develop the recording into a full fledged audio-visual production.
A copy of the recording was given to Otedola. Now, whether Otedola made it available to former President Olusegun Obasanjo or not could not be verified. But it was Obasanjo, in his characteristically garrulous and rambunctious manner, who openly told the world at a conference in late May last year that there were thieves in the National Assembly.
This drew the ire of legislators. It was later suggested that Otedola may have informed Obasanjo of what transpired between himself and Farouk, a long-time small fly in Obasanjo’s ointment while the latter served as President and Commander-in-Chief.
About the bribe money, however, what was verified was that there was a balance of $2.5m to be allegedly collected later at the airport.
THE AIRPORT RECORDING THAT NEVER HAPPENED
The next phase and scene of the sting operation was to be the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. There, the balance of the money was allegedly kept for Farouk. Otedola insistently told Farouk that he could not carry $2.5m cash to his residence and, therefore, wanted Farouk to meet him at the airport for the collection of the remainder of the money. Now, whether Farouk had a premonition that he was likely to be set up or that he just didn’t want to be spotted at the airport in the company of Otedola, he simply refused to meet Otedola at the airport afterwards.
Instead, according to records of the telephone conversation that was bugged, Farouk suggested that he would send a third party to collect the money.
According to the recordings, he gave the telephone numbers of the nominee. He, according to the recorded conversation between him and Otedola, actually spelt the name of the nominee to Otedola. But all these were activities in futility.
The high command of the DSS would not have a third party collect the balance of $2.5m. A senior security source told Sunday Vanguard at that time that the reason why the airport operation was aborted was that since it was Farouk that was being expected to show up and was now planning to send another party, there was no need to continue.
Had he shown up and collected the money, he would have been arrested immediately, a source confirmed.
WHY FAROUK WAS NOT ARRESTED EARLIER
In fact, Sunday Vanguard was made to understand that the “only reason why he was not arrested at the residence of Otedola that early morning was because options would be limited in proving that the episode was bribery related; and Farouk could insist that he was just set up, with cash brought in to justify the action”.
More importantly, Sunday Vanguard was told that “arresting Farouk on the morning of the day he was supposed to be presenting the continuation of the report of the committee, especially since Zenon’s name was still on the list of 15, would appear as if he was to be pressured into removing Zenon’s name and when he refused, he was set up for blackmail”.
According to the security source, such a “development would have made it appear again as if the government of the day simply decided to overshadow the presentation of the report with the arrest of Farouk”. These were the issues that weighed heavily on the minds of the DSS high command. They let Farouk go. All these were not known to Farouk at all.
AND THE MATTER BLEW OPEN
Police sources confirmed to Sunday Vanguard at that time that “contrary to what was being published, it was the police who first wrote Farouk, seeking to know who the people that were piling pressure on him were and those who were behind the threat to his life” – Farouk had granted an interview where he alleged that some people were attempting to compromise him and the work of the committee.
Farouk responded to the Police request and that actually marked the beginning of investigation into the matter by the Police. Sunday Vanguard was also made to understand that investigations by the Police had commenced before the matter blew into the open.
Indeed, it was the panic move by some powerful people both in the corridors of power and a few who rose in defense of Farouk that unwittingly blew the whistle in their bid to keep the matter out of public glare. Sunday Vanguard learnt that a very disappointed senior government official, who brought Emenalo in to work with the committee and who had suspected that the matter was already being handled by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, made a move to find out the culpability of his ward.
This was also another act which unwittingly blew the lid off. By mid-June last year, it had become obvious that the matter had spread like wild fire in the House. This was what necessitated the statement from the House declaring that it would investigate the matter. fully.
Farouk was immediately suspended indefinitely by the House at that time. And Otedola’s Zenon and Synopsis were both re-indicted by the House of Representatives’ Committee of the whole. At the trial last Friday, Farouk’s lawyers insisted that they would prove that what transpired was nothing more than a genuine intention on the part of Farouk to prove that Otedola intended to truly bribe him with a view to compromising his committee’s report.