*How SSS showed clips to Speaker Tambuwal
*Otedola faces fresh troubles
*SSS’ role in the sting operation
*Why Farouk was not immediately arrested
This is the chronology of a now inconclusive sting operation conducted by the Department of State Service, otherwise referred to as the SSS, 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 latest scam signposts a deeper mentality of dishonourable conduct that is pervasive in Nigeria.
By Jide Ajani
Femi Otedola and Lawan Farouk made a mockery of purity – they both wore white clothes in the video which showed them giving and collecting bribe.
The SSS swept the house before the operation was set up. They had to. They called it a STING OPERATION. It was set up at the palatial Aso Drive, Abuja residence of Otedola, the oil and gas magnate. The set-up was for bugging devices for an audio visual operation. With a camera pen for the visuals, ultra-sensitive microphones that could pick the sound of the drop of pins for the audio, as well as telephone bugging devices, the SSS’ communications experts did their job of installation and left.The question to ask is, why this elaborate operation at the residence of a friend of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan?
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 Otedola and Farouk.
The truth, however, is that one approached the other.
What is also established, moving forward, is that Otedola’s Zenon Oil and Gas collected forex to the tune of $232, 975,385.13 from the PSF whereas it 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) 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, Farouk entered the premises of Otedola. There, $500,000, out of a set aside $3m, was ready in cash.
According to visuals on the recording, which Sunday Vanguard has now been privy to, 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 banters, the $500,000 was handed over to Farouk and he left.
Sometime four to five hours later, Boniface Emenalo, the secretary to the House Committee on Subsidy Management, 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 trousers pockets which swallowed the packages – one in each pocket. The Niger Delta top did not betray the dollar cargo in the pockets of the trousers worn by Emenalo. 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 collected just $100,000, as against the alleged $120,000 Otedola gave to him.
The funds Otedola parted with were provided by the SSS.
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 SSS 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.
What was verified, however, was that there was a balance of $2.5million allegedly to be collected.
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 being 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 the oil magnate at the airport afterwards.
Instead, according to records of the telephone conversation that was bugged, Farouk instead 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 the Zenon Oil chief.
But all these were activities in futility.
The high command of the SSS would not have a third party collect the balance of $2.5m. A senior security source told Sunday Vanguard that the reason 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 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, sources said 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 the oil firm’s name and, when he refused, he was set up for blackmail”.
According to a 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 SSS high command. They let Farouk go.
All these were not known to the lawmaker .
AS A GUEST OF SSS
Once the operation at the airport was inconclusive, but with Farouk removing Zenon’s name from the list of 15, it was time for the SSS high command to act swiftly.
Later that same week, the Command invited Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Speaker of the House of Representatives, to its office in Asokoro. He obliged.
Upon his arrival, he was met by the Director General, DG, Ita Ekpeyong. A source disclosed to Sunday Vanguard that after the pleasantries, the Speaker was entertained with the recording of the morning of April 24, with the star actors being Emenalo, Farouk and Otedola. It was a totally astounded Tambuwal who was said to have watched in utter amazement footages from the recording.
He was informed of the sting operation which was set up by the SSS.
He was also informed of the botched operation meant for the airport.
The Speaker was made to understand that what he saw that transpired in the video led to the actions of Farouk on the floor of the House whereupon Zenon’s name was removed from the list of 15.
While the DG was said to be doing the briefing, it was a Tambuwal, with dropped jaws, who listened in awe and shock. On conditions of confidentiality, what transpired between the Speaker and his host can not be reproduced here.
However, Sunday Vanguard was told that “the Speaker simply said they should call Farouk and show him the recording; that he should come and answer ‘his father’s name’”.
Upon arrival back in his office, Tambuwal reportedly summoned Farouk and gave him a thorough dressing down.
Farouk initially insisted that there was nothing of such. He denied any such thing as collecting any money from any marketer.
It was learnt from associates of Farouk that he also thought “he was doing a sting operation on Otedola; that he collected the money with a view to exposing him; that he wanted to collect the balance before presenting it all to members of the House and the public”.
In addition, Farouk, in a confidential briefing with Sunday Vanguard in April, had hinted at the development.
He disclosed that “one of the marketers wanted me to come and collect money from him at the airport but we are watching him and, when the time comes, we would expose him and the others”.
He also granted an interview published on April 28, in another newspaper, where he openly made the claims that an attempt was being made to bribe him and that some people were even threatening his life over the subsidy probe.
Farouk maintained that he planned to expose Otedola by going full length and playing along. Why he did not carry others along remains a mystery.
AND THE MATTER BLEW OPEN
Police sources confirmed, last Friday, 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”.
The lawmaker responded to the police request and that actually marked the beginning of investigation into the matter.
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.
It was learnt that a very disappointed senior government official, who brought Emenalo in to work with the committee, had suspected that the matter was already being handled by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and made a move to find out the culpability of his ward. This was also another act which unwittingly blew the lid off.
By penultimate Saturday, it had become obvious that the matter had spread like wild fire in the House.
This was what necessitated the statement from the House leadership declaring that it would investigate the matter fully. Meanwhile, Farouk has been suspended indefinitely by the House.
And Otedola’s Zenon and Synopsis have been re-indicted by the House of Representatives’ Committee of the whole.
THE SEQUEL CONTINUES NEXT SUNDAY