By Mariam Kareem
The Chairman of Forte Oil, Mr Femi Otedola, has testified in court how he blew the whistle on subsidy scam during the immediate past administration.
Otedola told the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja how he told former President Goodluck Jonathan that some highly placed Nigerians were ripping the country off in the oil sector.
Otedola disclosed: “I realised that companies in Nigeria were claiming money for subsidy on petroleum products they never imported. When I saw how much was being stolen, I went to then president Goodluck Jonathan.”
But Jonathan, according to him, did not believe.
“I told him my observations as to how much was being stolen as money for subsidy on the products they never imported. He told me later that he had consulted with then-Minister of Petroleum and that there was nothing of such. I then reached out to Senator Bukola Saraki who raised the issue on the floor of the Senate and, thereafter, the House of Representatives set up a panel to investigate the allegation,” the billionaire businessman added.
He recounted how Farouk Lawan, then-lawmaker in the House of Representatives and the Chairman of Ad hoc Committee inaugurated by the lower chamber to investigate oil subsidy scam, had threatened to indict his oil company (African Petroleum Plc now Forte Oil) and demanded $3m to exonerate Zenon from a subsidy scam allegation.
“The defendant (Lawan) reached out to me and I gave him the background information as to how monies were being stolen. I gave relevant information to the ad hoc committee. I had two companies, which are in the oil and gas industry, which were AP and Zenon oil. The two companies had something to do with the defendant’s panel. AP submitted to the committee documents regarding all the importations of the company. Mr. Otaru, General Manager AP, had direct contact with the defendant’s committee,” he told the court.
As Otedola narrated, Lawan had other ideas, saying: “On 18th of April, 2012, the defendant came to see me at my house in Abuja after the report of the committee had been laid before the House of Representatives in plenary. He told me that pursuant to what we discussed on the phone while I was in the UK, he was going to indict Zenon Oil and Gas Ltd. He demanded the sum of $3m to exonerate Zenon oil. I asked him why he would indict a company that did not import petrol but diesel. He said most of the companies indicted had paid a bribe. I told him this was extortion.”
Subsequently, the Forte Oil boss petitioned the Department of State Services regarding the issue and a plan for a sting operation was hatched.
“After my petition to the DG DSS, I received a call from the DSS official – from Caleb – who told me that they were going to carry out a sting operation. He told me that I will be provided with serialised dollars to give to the defendant and they were going to install video-recording gadgets in my living and dining rooms. About six operatives of the DSS did the installation, I was given $620,000 serialised dollars. I took the instruction of the DSS and I agreed to play along.
“On April 23, 2012, I was in my house in Abuja. The defendant came to my house and I handed over to him the $500,000 given to me by the DSS. After handing over the $500,000 to the defendant, I asked him what next. He said he would go to the House and discuss with its leadership. He said I should watch House plenary on the television. Shortly after, I watched it on the television where the defendant applied to the House in plenary that the name of Zenon oil removed from the subsidy scam which was then removed,”the oil magnate recounted.