Angela Otaluka, the judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Apo, Abuja, on Tuesday, sent a former federal lawmaker, Farouk Lawan, to jail for bribery on Tuesday.
In arriving at the decision sentencing Mr Lawan to seven years jail term, the judge relied heavily on the testimony of billionaire oil magnate, Femi Otedola, who was a principal character in the bribery scandal that broke out in 2012.
During the trial, both men admitted that $500,000 changed hands between them, but each of them claimed he gave or collected the money in a discreet operation to obtain evidence of crime against the other.
Ms Otaluka dismissed Mr Lawan’s account and believed Mr Otedola’s version of the story in her judgment on Tuesday.
This is why:
The bribery scandal was a fallout of the probe conducted by Mr Lawan-led ad-hoc committee of the House of Representatives on the multi-billion naira fraud in the federal government’s fuel subsidy scheme in 2012.
Mr Otedola’s firm, Zenon Oil and Gas Ltd, was accused by the committee of fraudulently benefitting from the scheme.
The committee alleged that Zenon Oil obtained $230 million foreign exchange from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to import Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) commonly referred to as petrol under the subsidy scheme, but failed to use it for the purpose.
But in the charges subsequently filed in court, the federal government accused Mr Lawan of corruptly demanding $3milion and eventually taking $500,000 as bribe from Mr Otedola to exonerate Zenon Oil of the oil subsidy fraud.
While testifying as the fifth and prosecution witness in Mr Lawan’s trial, however, Mr Otedola told the judge that none of his firms participated in the fuel subsidy scheme, saying Mr Lawan only put Zenon’s name on the list of indicted firms “to create a room to extort him”.
Led in evidence by the head of the prosecution, Adegboyega Awomolo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr Otedola walked the court through the journey of his encounters with Mr Lawan, whom he said demanded to clear Zenon Oil.
“I eventually contacted the Department of the State Security (DSS) when he (Mr Lawan) asked me for $3 million bribe.
“The DSS gave me the marked currencies and six operatives and gadget which we used to put him on tape,” Mr Otedola said.
During the trial, the prosecution played a video clip showing where Mr Lawan was seen receiving a swollen envelope which was said to have contained the $500,000 from Mr Otedola.
Mr Otedola said “Mr Lawan went on to remove his firm from the list of the indicted firms after receiving the $500,000 cash”.
“After the early hours of April 24, 2012, (the time the money was paid) he left and removed the name of Zenon from the list of indicted companies,” Mr Otedola said.
On his part, Mr Lawan, who testified along with two others as defence witnesses, said he obtained the money from Mr Otedola as evidence of moves made by owners of various indicted companies to induce him and members of his committee to exonerate their firms.
The secretary of the committee, Boniface Emenalo, who was initially charged as Mr Lawan’s co-accused but later turned to a prosecution witness, also admitted under cross-examination by Mike Ozekhome-led defence team that he took $100,000 from Mr Otedola as “evidence of inducement”.
But Mr Otedola denied pressuring the committee members to accept bribe to free his firm from indictment.
He said he chose to report Mr Lawan to the State Security Service after he baselessly indicted his company and then come arround to demand bribe to exonerate the company.
“I could not have put pressure on him because Zenon Oil was not involved in the theft of the subsidy fund.
“He did demand. And if he did not demand, why will he collect and expect a balance of $2.5 million? He mentioned to me that the $3 million will be shared by himself and some other members of the House,” Mr Otedola said.
In evaluating the evidence before the court, Ms Otaluka said Mr Lawan failed to impugn the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, including Mr Otedola.
She said Mr Lawan’s acceptance of the $500,000 from Mr Otedola could not have been for anti-corruption purpose “since he neither reported it to any law enforcement agency nor informed any of his committee members about it.”
“The defendant did not impugn Mr Otedola’s evidence in the course of his (Mr Lawan’s) defence.
“The conduct of the defendant established the ingredients of corruption as he did not report any case of inducement to any law enforcement agency.
“From the abundance of the evidence before me, the defendant corruptly asked for a bribe of three million dollars.
“He collected the sum of 500,000 dollars from Mr Otedola, while expecting a balance of $2.5 million.
“The defendant’s corrupt intention was the motive behind his ignoble conduct, rather than his defence that he collected the money from Mr Otedola in order to make an example of the fight against corruption.
“The defendant never told any of his committee members about the fact that he had collected the sum of $500,000 as evidence of inducement as he never called them as witnesses in the suit,” the judge noted,” the judge said.
“It was a clear case of demanding and receiving bribe to pervert the course of justice,” the judge said also quoting the testimony of a police investigator.
The judge took a further swipe at Mr Lawan.
“The receipt of $500,000 influenced the defendant’s action to hurriedly go to the House of Representatives and remove Zenon Oil Gas company from the list of indicted in the fuel subsidy scam in Nigeria,” Ms Otaluka said.
In her overall assessment of the testimonies of Mr Lawan and his two other defence witnesses, the judge held they were “unreliable.”
“The totality of the evidence of Defence Witnesses (DW) 1 and 3 is worthless. For over 10 minutes, DW 1 could not compose himself, and he muttered about his position at his place of work. Their evidence is not attributed any credibility.
“When DW1 was put under cross-examination, his initial claim of being a legal practitioner was discredited. He could not tell the court what he knew about the defendant’s case,” the judge said.
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