Prior to his unceremonious and self-inflicted fall from grace, Farouk Lawan was the face of integrity in the National Assembly as he was perceived as one of the most honest members of the House of Representatives.
He shot into limelight riding the mantra of uprightness but little did Nigerians know that the cloak he wrapped around himself was just a front. He was to be brought down by his own greed and insatiable quest for money.
For Lawan, the well-built world of political reckoning crumbled in 2012 when a video of him stuffing wads of crisps dollar bills into the pockets of his ‘agbada’, as he left the home of billionaire oil magnate, Femi Otedola, found its way into public domain, sending shock waves across the nation.
The lawmaker’s fall was a classic example of the hunter becoming the hunted as Lawan, who was Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Ad Hoc committee set up to review the administration of the fuel subsidy regime in Nigeria, had used his own hands to bring himself down.
After an eight-year trial that was riddled with controversies, Lawan was found guilty of fraud and convicted by a Federal High Court in Abuja, and was sentenced to seven years imprisonment over the bribery charges preferred against him by the federal government.
He was accused of demanding $3 million from Otedola to remove the billionaire’s company, Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited, from the list of oil companies allegedly involved in the subsidy fraud.
After about 100 months trial, the former top schemer at the House was convicted of the crime of receiving $500,000 from Otedola, in exchange for legislative immunity for the businessman, in a sting operation.
Best remembered for his schemings in the parliament between 1999 and 2011, Lawan was the ringleader who played key roles in the emergence of five speakers of the House of Representatives including Salisu Buhari, Ghali Umar Na’Abba, Aminu Bello Masari, Patricia Etteh, and Dimeji Bankole.
He was also instrumental to the removal of Etteh and Buhari from their positions. Such was his influence in the political space that many believed he was being groomed for the presidency by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Lawan’s road to infamy began actively in February 2013, when he was charged to court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on seven counts of bribery and corruption, bringing a speedy decline to his political career which saw him losing his bid to return to the parliament in 2015.
Caught in the act
Otedola to sell all shares in Forte Oil’s downstream business, explores opportunities in refining
The investigation into the administration of the fuel subsidy regime in Nigeria took different dramatic twists when the ad hoc committee chaired by Lawan invited oil mogul, Otedola, to appear before it to answer questions over the role his company had played in the fuel subsidy scheme.
The twist took another turn when Otedola turned around and accused the outspoken lawmaker of demanding a bribe of $3m from him to strike off the name of his company from the list of defaulters.
The lawmaker who appeared shocked and bemused at the accusation, fired back at Otedola and demanded for a proof that he demanded bribes, not knowing that Otedola had a recording of their various conversations and of money exchanging hands.
To prove his allegations, Otedola presented to the House explicit transcripts of their conversation before money changed hands and the broadcast which found its way into the public space created such a buzz that dented the soaring image of the lawmaker and caused the House serious embarrassment.
Stung by the revelation that cast aspersions on his fight against corruption, then President Goodluck Jonathan set up a 15-member committee headed by the CEO of Access Bank, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, to verify and reconcile the findings of the Technical Committee earlier set up by the Federal Ministry of Finance to conduct a detailed review of all subsidy claims and payments made in 2011.
The Aig-Imoukhuede Committee had indicted most oil marketers with foul play in the fuel subsidy scheme, noting that there were significant gaps in the report of the Lawan committee’s findings.
The Technical Committee had earlier submitted its findings to the Finance Ministry and the Presidency and had uncovered overpayments of $26m to the oil marketers in 2011 with the report indicting the Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC), the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and some oil companies and recommended that they refund money to the government’s coffers and the prosecution of those involved in the illicit transactions.
According to the committee’s report, Otedola’s company, which allegedly collected petroleum subsidy funds from the Federal Government, was liable to refund N13bn into the federation account. But the company, which denied the allegation, had gone to court to challenge the report.
From the various reports and statements made by all the actors involved in the Lawan/Otedola bribery saga, certain undisputable facts had emerged which effectively roped in the lawmaker and made him guilty even before the case was taken to court.
Some of the fallouts from the investigation showed that there had been definite communication between Lawan and Otedola, both by telephone and face-to-face, in respect of the offer and acceptance of bribe money concerning the investigation by the House Committee probing the fuel subsidy scam.
The question of who initiated the relationship was, therefore, completely irrelevant when determining the guilt or otherwise of the giver and taker of bribe money.
It was also established that the sum of $620,000 dollars out of a grand total of $3m price tag actually exchanged hands between Otedola and Lawan.
To set up a sting operation, Otedola involved the security service and the scene was recorded when the money was handed over to Lawan to prove that he was pressured to part with the money and even though Lawan later claimed he collected the money to expose Otedola, he (Lawan) did not involve any law-enforcement agency when collecting the money.
The questions many Nigerians asked at the time was how Lawan ever hoped to convince anyone that those dollars came from Otedola when Otedola’s name was not written on the notes? How did he ever hope to ‘expose’ the smart business mogul?
It was also mind boggling that a few hours after collecting the dollars, Lawan stood on the floor of the House and, instead of ‘exposing’ Otedola, actually shielded him by convincing his colleagues to remove Otedola’s company name from the list of indicted companies in the committee report.
That was the point that Lawan was expected to tell the world that he just collected bribe money, and as a man of integrity, spill the money on the floor of the House for all to see; but he did not do that.
It was not until the scandal broke out and became public knowledge that Lawan tried some face saving stunts which did not convince even the dumbest of Nigerians. At first, he denied ever collecting the money from Otedola, insisting that he did not go to Otedola’s house and that if there was any such video, it must have been doctored.
But less than 24 hours later, Lawan sang a different tune when he agreed that he actually met with Otedola in his house where he collected the money which he meant to use to expose the businessman.
However, the ‘expose’ Lawan claimed he did was to write a hand-written note to another House member, Adams Jagaba, Chairman, House Committee on Narcotics and Financial Crimes, to purport to hand over the bribe money to him. On his part, Jagaba denied ever getting such a letter from Lawan.
From the scenario that played out, it would have taken a fool not to easily come to a definite conclusion that Lawan had collected bribe purportedly on behalf of his Committee to doctor his report but somewhere along the line, the operation went terribly wrong.
Failed fight back
It was barely a few hours after the ad hoc committee filed its report that the revelations began to unfold. Lawan’s group in the House, the Legislative Integrity Assembly, went to town claiming that the committee’s final report had been doctored.
“The list of indicted companies suddenly got shortened within 24 hours. This country is in trouble if this is allowed to go unchallenged. It just confirmed that probes in this country are not to be taken seriously,” the group said in a press statement.
Lawan himself called a face saving press conference to address the allegations directly, exonerating himself and the committee, claiming that his committee had faced severe pressure from other lawmakers, government officials and indicted businessmen, but they did not buckle.
“Yes, there was pressure, pressure from so many quarters. The committee made it clear to those mounting pressure on us that as far as they are not guilty of short changing Nigerians, there is no need to panic.
“The present mudslinging is not unexpected in view of the calibre of people whose actions and inactions were found wanting in the report.
“I am aware that in their desperation to discredit the report and divert attention of the public from the real issues of large scale fraud in high places established in the report, a video footage displaying a caricature of my person allegedly having a dealing with a marketer, reminiscent of the military era when dignitaries were invited to the villa to watch a video clip of a phantom coup involving Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, is already in circulation,” Lawan said in a statement that did little to assuage the anger of Nigerians.
But in a matter of days, he was exposed and his web of lies began to tighten strongly as Nigerians were confronted with the dramatic evidences which included the damaging video.
READ ALSO: Farouk Lawan sentenced to seven years in prison, to return $500,000 to govt
In the video, Lawan was captured negotiating terms of the bribe at Otedola’s home where he was seen receiving the sum of US$250,000 as part payment in the deal to remove Zenon Oil from the list of indicted oil marketers. The second receipt of another US$250,000 was collected in a subsequent visit.
Lawan was seen stuffing the dollar bills into his pockets and cap to avoid detection. The show of shame did not end there as the next revelation was in the form of a telephone conversation wherein the lawmaker assured Otedola that his company would be struck off the list of the defaulting companies before the committee’s final report would be submitted.
“Please, this thing we are doing, keep it to yourself otherwise you will make it difficult for us. You will make it difficult because somebody called me now and I said that we are going to address it.
“So, so please keep it…yeah, because if it is already out that we are going to do something, when we do it, people will think that we are doing it because we had compromised.
“And you know that is something that err…. And if my colleagues get to hear about it, I won’t be able to convince them. So keep it to yourself,” Lawan was heard pleading with the businessman in the recorded phone conversation.
“Let it be… Let it not be like anybody is aware of what is happening. If anybody asked you, simply explain that this thing, you know from your records, you have all the records and you have made a case to the committee. You have sent your documents to the committee. Yeah. It’s left for the committee; it’s left for the committee to decide what to do. Please keep it that way,” he had pleaded.
“Ok. God bless you,” Otedola responded.
“Yeah, because the moment it gets out now, we are going to correct it; then it means we have already haaaa… So let it be… I want to spring a surprise on the floor and that is the only credible way I can do this,” Lawan said.
“God bless you. God bless you my brother. I have been crying anytime I hear your voice,” Otedola said.
One case, four judges
I did’nt force Lawan to receive $500,000 bribe, he demanded it, Otedola tells court
Farouk Lawan’s long journey to prison was one fraught with a lot of controversies and inconsistencies as it lasted eight years and had four judges presiding over it.
His first trial by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) had a lot of obstacles, so much that a total of four judges presided over the case at one point or another.
Lawan and his co-defendants were first arraigned before Mudashiru Oniyangi, who was a judge of a Federal Capital Territory High Court, in February, 2013.
But upon Oniyangi’s elevation to the Court of Appeal in 2014, the case was reassigned to Adebukola Banjoko of the FCT High Court, Gudu.
The prosecution had barely called a witness when Lawan petitioned the FCT chief judge, accusing him of bias, claiming that the judge was close to Otedola who was billed to testify against him.
Banjoko then voluntarily withdrew from the case on November 18, 2014, after which it was transferred to Angela Otaluka, the judge who restarted the case on February 2, 2016.
However, Otaluka was directed to hands-off the case after another petition by Lawan accused her of bias, with his main grouse being that Otaluka allegedly refused to adjourn the trial on many occasions to enable his lawyer handle his defence.
The prosecution had called four of its five proposed witnesses and tendered documents when the case was transferred from Otaluka. It was eventually reassigned to Yusuf Halilu, judge of the FCT High Court in Jabi, in June 2017.
Adegboyega Awomolo, the lead prosecuting counsel, challenged the transfer of the case, but Halilu dismissed his petition.
Awomolo went ahead to file an appeal against Halilu’s verdict but before the appeal could be determined, Ishaq Bello, former chief judge of the FCT, returned the case to Otaluka in January, 2018, and she handled it till the end.
A timeline of the celebrated case ran like this:
February 1, 2013
Lawan and Boniface Emenalo, clerk of the ad hoc committee, were arraigned before an FCT high court on a seven-count charge.
February 8, 2013
The court granted Lawan and Emenalo bail in the sum of N10 million each, in addition to two sureties each.
April 10, 2013
Lawan filed a no submission case asking the court was asked to quash their trial, but the application was dismissed on May 10.
June 11, 2014
Lawan and Emenalo were re-arraigned on a seven-count charge before Adebukola Banjoko at the FCT high court in Gudu.
November 18, 2014
Banjoko, presiding judge, withdrew from the case following a petition by Lawan where he accused her of bias.
February 2, 2016
Lawan and Emenalo were re-arraigned for the third time before another judge, this time, Otaluka. But in another twist, the ICPC amended the charge against Lawan, turning Emenalo, his co-accused, into a prosecution witness.
April 12, 2016
Emenalo told the court how he collected $100,000 from Otedola as part of the $3 million bribe promised to Lawan.
October 17, 2017
After the case was mentioned for the first time before Halilu, the judge dismissed the prosecution’s application seeking to transfer the case back to the former judge
January 23, 2018
The case came up before Otaluka at the FCT High Court in Lugbe, having been returned to her by the chief judge.
November 21, 2018
Otedola testified that Lawan demanded $500,000 bribe from him. He said the former lawmaker removed Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited from the list of indicted oil companies after he collected the money.
January 28, 2019
Otedola also told the FCT High Court in Apo of how the Department of State Services (DSS), gave him the marked $500,000 he offered to Lawan. He said the DSS gave him the money to set a trap for Lawan after he (Otedola) submitted a petition to that effect.
October 17, 2019
Otaluka dismissed Lawan’s no-case submission and ordered him to open his defence.
August 4, 2020
The Court of Appeal dismissed Lawan’s application seeking to stop his trial. The appellate court, in a unanimous decision, held that a prima facie case was well established against Lawan that warranted him to enter his defence in the case.
June 22, 2021
After the submissions by the prosecuting and defense counsel, Lawan returned to court for the verdict on the case and was eventually convicted by Otaluka.
How Lawan became Mr Intergrity
Lawan got his reputation as Mr Integrity with his journey with The Integrity Group, which consisted of eight lawmakers during the sixth Assembly who spearheaded the removal of Etteh as Speaker in the wake of the N628 million house renovation scandal. It included members such as Abike Dabiri, Ikechi Nwogu, Halims Agoda, Igo Aguma, Mercy Isei and Lynda Ikpeazu.
Elected in 1999 into the House of Representatives as a member representing Bagwai/Shanono Federal Constituency in Kano State, under the platform of the PDP, Lawan was a permanent feature at the Lower Legislative Chamber for several years.
Before the bribery scandal broke, Lawan was touted as a strong contender for the gubernatorial candidate in Kano State at the 2015 general elections.
Between 1999 and 2011, he chaired seven different House committees including the Ethics and Privileges Committee and the much sought after Appropriations Committee.
He was still the Chairman of the House Committee on Education when news of the bribery scandal broke, forcing the then Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, to suspend him from the position.
While the scandal gathered momentum, Lawan was among the 57 members of the Lower House who defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC), with the hopes of getting a cover from the ruling party but as it has shown now, there was actually no soft landing and shield for him.
Culled: Ripples Nigeria