In a country desperately short of heroes, perhaps the rush to canonise Farouk Lawan was understandable, even if premature and ill-advised. Close followers of the House of Representatives since 1999 would have taken note of the diminutive legislator from Kano, known for his principled stand on a range of issues. By chairing the House probe on the fuel subsidy regime – the result of the week long protests over the increase in petrol prices in January – he came to national attention.
The submission of that report, and it’s damning indictment on every aspect of the management of fuel subsidy, drew widespread applause not because anything in there was exactly new, but for the first time, official confirmation was given of the scale of the corruption and negligence in our downstream petroleum industry.
The withering critique of the Ministry of Petroleum, the Ministry of Finance, the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), several petroleum marketers, and even the auditors in charge of the process, had every part of Nigerian society calling for the report to be quickly adopted and further looked into. The House of Representatives adopted the report as its official position, but unsurprisingly the Presidency has been less than enthusiastic.
Meanwhile, Farouk Lawan’s star continued to rise. Those who had followed his actions since entering the House of Representatives viewed the report as his coming out party, and marked him out for great things. He had done his duty to his nation.
Now, Nigeria’s latest ‘hero’ stands accused of corruption. Femi Otedola, owner of Zenon and AP (now named Forte Oil) accused him of soliciting and collecting a bribe of $620,000 to keep the name of Otedola’s companies out of the report. Whether or not the allegations are true, the timing is very convenient, designed to call into question the credibility of the report. Stain the messenger, and the message will go away.
It is a game that has been played before. In Nigeria, public officials go from zero to hero and back again at the speed of rumour. You are guilty until proven innocent. The same knee jerk reaction that sees some politicians canonised, is the very same that makes even the appearance of impropriety stick whether true or not. Farouk Lawan is merely feeling the heat that comes with rattling the cage of a fire breathing dragon.
As interesting as this latest set of revelations are, it becomes easy to relegate the fuel subsidy report to the background while the accusations and counter-accusations continue to fly on the pages of newspapers and on the Internet. It would be in the best interests of all of us not to be sucked into the constant distractions that constitute Nigeria’s politics, and concentrate instead on making sure the report’s recommendations are implemented, and those indicted are taken to court.
If our political history is any pointer – and it is – Honourable Lawan will be fine. All the evidence points to yet another episode that will blow over, but what will not blow over is the scale of the corruption uncovered in fuel subsidy, a cancer that pervades everything else that goes on in this country and holds it back.
This is something that must be confronted individually and collectively, and you don’t need a report to tell you that.