By Pini Jason
NOWADAYS, the temptation is to preoccupy oneself with the mating habit of porcupines than to follow the typical Nigerian debate. As I said here last week, every issue spawns a polyglot of pseudo-experts and professional public affairs pundits, all climbing, clobbering and falling over one another to arrest our attention.
If you are not a very discerning listener or reader, and if you are not familiar with the pattern of a typical Nigerian debate, you are not likely to spot those deliberately injected into the fray simply to obfuscate and confuse the matter at hand.
A familiar spin is the conspiracy theory. Another is the ulterior motive syndrome. The other is to speculate about facts that are very clear and publicly stated while pure fancy and fertile imaginations are purveyed as facts!
By the time we are taken through the turns and twists of the habitual obfuscation, we usually lose track of what exactly the argument was all about in the first place. You see why it could be more exciting and even more rewarding to preoccupy yourself with the mating habit of porcupines? And elephants!
One thing that is clear and beyond speculation is that the current Farouk Lawan/Femi Otedola drama is A MESS! Both men are in a mess, if you like, a peculiar mess (penkelemsi, apologies to Chief Adegoke Adelabu, the late stormy petrel of Ibadan politics). Mine is to ask some questions, based on some of the illogicalities I have heard and read on this matter in the last one week. What do some people mean when they try to remind us that it is still “a mere allegation” against Rep. Farouk until he is convicted? Have such people heard what the law calls prima facie case? Let us call a spade a spade! Did Farouk accept Otedola’s bribe money or not? First he said he did not; that it was “a plot” to smear his image! Was he forced to accept Otedola’s dollars by those “plotting” to smear his image? I watched the news footage of Farouk proposing an amendment to the subsidy report to expunge the names of Otedola’s companies. I did not see a gun pointed on his head when he proposed that amendment! That the House of Representatives reversed itself on that amendment and re-listed Otedola’s companies last Friday is a sad comment on Farouk’s claims.
Sting operation a deliberate attempt
You know, Nigerians are loudest when they are telling lies and lose their voice when confronted with truth! When Farouk later admitted that he collected the money, he was no longer strident about his integrity and a “plot” to smear him! I have heard some ridiculous analysts argue that he admitted accepting the dollars but not as bribe! And what logic is that? Those who attempt to make such distinction have no honour!
I have read and heard people say the sting operation was a deliberate attempt to entrap Rep. Farouk. Excuse me? What is a sting operation all about if not to entrap a potential criminal or a man about to sell state secret? Any man with integrity, any man who is not greedy and any man who is not providentially corrupt cannot get his fingers caught in the cookie jar! An honest man does not get even one million miles near entrapment. Farouk should simply have told Otedola to go to hell; am sticking with the report; you go and clear yourself in the court! My question is why do our leaders fall easily to the odour and colour of money? Why do Nigerian emperors have no qualms about dancing naked in public?
Another question is this: Why must we always beg the government to prosecute criminals? I think I have an answer to that one. It is because the government is afraid of offending the offenders because the offenders are our ruling and governing class! Rep. Farouk was accused of extorting bribe. He admitted accepting the bribe. He even documented it, although we cannot ascertain the veracity of the dates those letters were allegedly written. Prima facie, an indictable offence has been committed. He should be given his day in court. We should desist from further diverting attention with speculations! By his own admission, he did. Why he did is not our business!
Rep. Farouk wants us to believe that he collected the bribe in order to procure evidence against Otedola. Was it necessary to go to that dangerous extent? Who made Farouk a sleuth? I know that our police are famous for inefficiency, but when did it become Farouk’s job to entrap his entrapper? If he did not take bribe to remove the names of Otedola’s two companies from the list of indicted companies, why did he, after submitting the report, stand on the floor of the House to move an amendment expunging Otedola’s companies? Farouk’s is a ridiculous tale that can only be told by a Nigerian legislator! Why was the Police just “wading” into the matter last week if they had prior knowledge of the sting, both from Otedola and Farouk?
Most intriguing is whose money really was used in the sting? If the security agents contacted by Otedola actually marked the money, which of the three installments was marked? For what purpose was the money marked? If the purpose was to obtain unassailable evidence against Farouk, why did they allow him to walk away with the money? Why almost two months after, were they begging the Speaker of the House of Representative, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, to help them retrieve the money? Was there an initial attempt to compromise the whole issue before someone blew the whistle? The gap between the sting operation and the revelation and the police “swinging” into action leaves much to be desired and must be investigated!
Oil magnet, Otedola cannot come out of this smelling like a rose! It is not enough to claim that he does not import petrol for which subsidy was being paid. His Forte Oil (FO for Femi Otedola?) sells petrol. Where does he get his supplies? If he did not do anything wrong, why did he not tell Farouk to buzz off when the legislator “pressured” and “intimidated” him? If the money used in the sting belonged to Otedola, how come that at a time the Central Bank is preaching cashlite and cashless economy, a man can be awash with dollars to the tune of $620,000. Was this kind of sleaze not what the cashless policy was intended to stem? Was the withdrawal of this amount reported by the bank to the EFCC as required by the law? If not, which bank was involved? If Otedola kept such huge amount of cash in his private vault, what was the source? All of these must be investigated and those involved in any infraction prosecuted according to the laws of the land if we want to show seriousness in fighting corruption.
Discrediting subsidy probe report
I really don’t know how conspiracy theorists arrived at the conclusion that the Farouk/Otedola scandal was “a plot” to discredit the Fuel Subsidy Probe Report. I can’t see any rational connection. It is important to note that the report, from the day it was submitted, assumed a life of its own! It is equally important that the President knows this and has pledged that the scandal will NOT adversely affect the prosecution of all those indicted by the report. Instead, let the conspiracy theorists worry about the diligence of prosecution based on past experiences and monitor the framing of the charges by the relevant security agency so that the case is not thrown out in court!
Many people have wondered about the panic in the National Assembly and the siege mentality members exhibited during the emergency session held last Friday on the matter. Many legislators who earlier spoke on it had distanced themselves. They should have reasons to worry, but not to the untenable extent of seeing the matter as “a plot” to remove the leadership of the House, or as a deliberate targeting of the House to destroy its integrity. I don’t believe that they are still naïve to think that the sordid behaviours associated with oversights and public hearings are not common knowledge to Nigerians. I quite sympathise with the honourable members. Power probe, pension probe, Capital Market probe, petrol subsidy probe, all ended up in bribe scandal. These are just recent ones. In the past we heard of bribe-for-budget-padding. Scandal after scandal, our legislators have been unable to learn any ethical and moral lessons! Some of them are just too greedy for money to care about ethics and personal integrity!
Playing the Ostrich about corruption
We may blame President Jonathan for not prosecuting the anti-corruption war to our satisfaction. The truth is that we all are playing the ostrich about corruption. We rave and rant about corruption when it concerns others, while in our minds, we are waiting for the day it would be our turn to have an opportunity to be corrupt. If it concerns “our own man” we apply different standards. Even as we savage Farouk, I can imagine some people salivating about what they would do with $620,000! I can hear people in their minds secretly asking, “if na you dey there nko?” A question that suggests that in fact, when you have the opportunity, you are expected to grab it! It also means that those who do not grab have no chance of being idolized in the society. What do we mean by “juicy” Senate or House Committees or “juicy” Ministries? What makes such posts “juicy”? What of those who besiege you during and after public office expecting you to part with what you grabbed? Thus, the real tragedy of Nigeria’s anti-corruption war is that the water with which we want to wash our nation clean is itself muddy and very dirty!
It is unrealistic to expect our elite to be productive or not corrupt. If you create a rent driven economy, you simply ordain graft. If Nigeria was refining its petroleum products and possibly exporting the surplus, we would not have a subsidy regime and all the attendant sleaze to the level of a national culture. Thus, what we are presently engaged in is what I call fighting darkness! The only answer to darkness is to light a candle!
Nigerians will be highly disappointed and it will further ridicule the anti-corruption war if at the end of all the hype, people politicise the matter through unguarded outbursts, lawyers, through their usual antics, truncate the case as soon as bail is granted and the big flies walk away free. Farouk, as I said earlier, should have his day in court and Otedola should prove his allegations against him.
By the way, where is the money in question? Who has custody of the exhibit?