by Segun Adeniyi
Whatever you may say about the State Security Service (SSS), one thing you must concede to them is that they don’t allow others to tell their stories. Whenever they conduct an operation, especially one in which the culprit is caught in the act or is killed, Mrs Marilyn Ogar would immediately address the media to give a blow-by-blow account of what happened. So when two months after a “sting operation” allegedly involving the SSS and the report was coming from Zenon Oil Chairman, Mr Femi Otedola, many Nigerians were quick to come to their own conclusion: the sordid affair was more an entrapment of a greedy politician by a desperate business man than any attempt to seek the end of justice.
Of course this is not denying that Otedola may have involved some rogue elements within the security agencies but to call what happened an official sting operation would be a disservice to the SSS and that is perhaps why they have not publicly claimed ownership. Whatever the cock-and-bull tales being bandied about some “operational mistakes” (all according to unnamed sources), it is more plausible to believe that Otedola, and not the SSS, conducted the “sting operation”. In fact, the more I learn about what actually transpired between the duo (and I have been speaking to some of the principal characters in the saga), the more it reminds me of the banned song, “I Go Chop Your Dollar”, (described as the anthem for 419 scammers) by the inimitable Nkem Owoh, alias Usuofia.
Notwithstanding, to borrow a famous refrain, “whether Jonah swallowed the whale or the whale swallowed Jonah, the point remains that there was a swallow” so to the extent that Lawan still has in his “custody” the sum of $600,000 (or $620,000, according to the ‘unedited’ figure) there was bribery. And that is the real shame given the hope many Nigerians had placed in the House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee on the Monitoring of Subsidy Regime.
But let us get some facts straight. Otedola and Lawan are very much known to each other as you would expect between a PDP financier and one of the most powerful members of the ruling party in the House. Therefore, the allegations and counter-allegations between the duo impose a grave responsibility on the security agencies to unearth what actually transpired beyond the lies and half-truths that we are being told by both parties. The police should also stop acting as if they want to help Otedola retrieve his loot in the name of a criminal investigation that is already bungled. In fact, the tardy manner in which this issue is being handled illustrates the incompetence within the security apparatus and why our country is now practically at the mercy of criminal gangs.
It is noteworthy that this “sting operation” took place almost two months ago and in the intervening period, all manners of negotiation, including the intervention of the PDP leadership, have reportedly taken place on an issue which ordinarily borders on criminality and abuse of public trust. We have even seen the police writing letters, while begging and cajoling Lawan to surrender money that even he has openly admitted does not belong to him.
However, given that Zenon was indicted by the probe committee but curiously “cleared” when Lawan claimed on the floor of the House that it was “listed in error”, Otedola should assist the police in proving his allegation of bribery against Lawan. But by cynically re-inserting Otedola’s Zenon into the list of indicted companies last Friday, the House has not only put a question mark on its own integrity, it is also telling the world that it has no regard for due process. That is because its members and leadership are misreading the public mood.
In asking that the subsidy report be implemented by the executive, it is not that Nigerians don’t have issues with it (afterall, many big names in the subsidy cartel were curiously left out of the indictment list). What Nigerians are saying is that notwithstanding the fact that the report is now compromised, given what transpired in the course of the public hearing, it is very evident that our country was criminally shortchanged by people who simply shared over a trillion Naira in the name of subsidy payments. And they see no reason why those people should go scot free.
Some of the disclosures: Payment of N1.7 trillion for subsidy as against the N245 billion appropriated by the National Assembly in 2011. Even that initial figure by the CBN was later further adjusted upward. Confirmation by the Customs Service that it was officially prevented from inspecting ships bringing fuel to Nigeria. Diversion by many importers of hundreds of millions of dollars meant for fuel importation, according to the CBN. And then the N300 billion paid as subsidy for HHK in defiance of a subsisting presidential directive. These and many more scandalous revelations came into the open during the public hearing so to Nigerians most of what was going on in the name of subsidy payments, especially in year 2011, was direct stealing. That is why they still believe the committee’s final outcome should not be wished away even with all the scandals surrounding it.
But I do hope that the National Assembly has also learnt a lesson. Right now our lawmakers are the butt of jokes on the internet and I can quickly share with them the latest that is making the rounds: A woman was said to have thoroughly beaten her son caught stealing. After applying the corporal punishment, she decided to counsel him by asking: “Do you know where you will end up if you continue to steal?”
To the amazement of the mother, the boy said he knew where he would end up. So she asked him: “Where?”. The boy replied: “National Assembly!”
A word, as they say, is enough for the wise.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija
This piece was first published in Thisday