For 13 years (1999-2012), Farouk Lawan was the poster boy of the House of Representatives. At the height of his influence, Mr Lawan served as the chairman of an ad hoc committee that investigated fuel subsidy scam. It turned out to be his waterloo.
“We were told that we were not going to live long [enough] to even finish the exercise. They were death threats, very clearly death threats. Fortunately, we are still around,” Mr Lawan said to the BBC during the probe.
Unknown to Nigerians then, the self-acclaimed ‘Mr Integrity’ was using the free publicity to negotiate deals with those he was investigating.
The Probe Committee
The selection of Mr Lawan to head the probe committee was not a coincidence. For the over a decade that he had been a federal lawmaker, the diminutive politician had publicly carried himself as an outspoken critic of corruption and injustice, often challenging the Executive on crucial issues to the admiration of many Nigerians.
And so, when he was appointed to chair the ad hoc committee investigating the multi-billion naira petroleum subsidy fraud, the expectations were high.
The petrol subsidy fraud under the Goodluck Jonathan administration was one of the largest and most daring frauds in the country. Billions of naira had been paid to private businesses from the public purse for imported petrol; most of which turned out to have never been imported or which figures were extravagantly inflated.
The public knowledge of the fraud was triggered by the decision of the Goodluck Jonathan administration to abruptly remove the subsidy on petrol on January 1, 2012.
There were nationwide protests against the policy, which was later partially reversed. But it was allegations of corruption in the scheme that necessitated the investigation by the House.
The Speaker of the House at the time, Aminu Tambuwal, had called for a special session on a Sunday, for members to discuss the removal of subsidy. Tajudeen Yusuf (PDP, Kogi) moved the motion and it was adopted by the House.
Mr Lawan’s committee was mandated by the House to investigate the allegations of fraud in the subsidy regime.
The Kano lawmaker was not shy to name names. He called out many companies for collecting billions from the government but failing to import any fuel.
Two companies – Synopsis Enterprises Limited and Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited, the latter belonging to billionaire Femi Otedola – were listed in Mr Lawan’s black book.
Zenon allegedly collected $232, 975, 385.13 while Synopsis Enterprises allegedly collected $51, 449, 977.47, according to Mr Lawan’s findings. But they collected the said sum in 2010 without importing any petroleum, he said.
On April 21 that year, when the report was presented to the House, Mr Lawan moved a motion for the two companies to be removed from the list. Emeka Ihedioha, the then deputy speaker, who presided over the session, was obviously startled and asked Mr Lawan: “Hon Farouk, is this recommendation coming from you?”
The committee presented 60 recommendations, of which 29 were adopted by the House.
It later emerged that the motion to delist the two companies was purchased with $620,000 upfront, with a promise of $2,380,000 as balance. Mr Lawan had requested $3 million to remove those two companies. Unknown to the lawmaker, however, the hunter had become the hunted – Mr Otedola only played along with the bribery after consultation with a security agency.
A sting operation between the State Security Services (SSS) and Mr Otedola produced both audio recording and video evidence. In one of the videos, Mr Lawan reportedly hid the wads of dollars he received from Mr Otedola in his cap; thus the term ‘cap banking.’
According to Mr Otedola, his companies were not involved in the importation of petroleum but diesel, a product that was already deregulated.
Mr Lawan had initially claimed that he did not collect any bribe from Mr Otedola. He, however, later admitted to collecting the bribe from the oil magnate in what he said was a ‘sting operation with police.’ The court, last month, said that claim was spurious.
Following the scandal, the then Speaker, Mr Tambuwal, convened an emergency session on Saturday, June 16, 2012. At the session, Isiaka Bawa, the then Chief Whip, moved a motion for Mr Lawan to be removed as the chairman of the ad hoc committee and he was also suspended as the chairman of the standing committee on Education. The secretary of the committee, Boniface Emenalo, who was also involved in the scandal, was removed.
The motion to remove Mr Otedola’s companies from the black book was rescinded, and Mr Lawan was referred to the committee on ethics.
Mr Tambuwal had said the “resolutions of the House over the fuel subsidy regime remain valid despite this recent controversy.” He urged the Executive to implement the recommendations.
By March 2013, Mr Lawan was sacked by the Speaker as the chairman of the House committee on education and replaced by Aminu Suleiman from Kano State.
Head of Integrity group against Patricia Etteh
Mr Lawan, a federal lawmaker since 1999, was part of the famous ‘Integrity Group’ that, in 2007, spearheaded the campaign that removed Patricia Etteh, the first female speaker of the House of Representatives.
Mrs Etteh had emerged as the Speaker in June 2007 with the support of the Executive arm of government. However, a N628 million house renovation contract presented the Integrity Group, led by Mr Lawan, the opportunity to remove the woman from the office, alongside her deputy, Babangida Nguroje.
Mr Lawan, who was then a member of the ruling party, was able to work with the two major minority parties in the House then – the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Action Congress (AC). The alliance tamed lawmakers supporting Mrs Etteh, including controversial ex-lawmaker Dino Melaye. Even a brawl at the investigative hearing on the allegations against Mrs Etteh did not stop the probe.
The probe led to the successful removal of Mrs Etteh and her replacement with Dimeji Bankole.
Mrs Etteh would later be cleared by her colleagues on the last day of the 6th House. The former whip, Ita Enang, moved a motion for an apology to her and also cleared her of any indictment.
Lawan: The kingmaker
From Salisu Buhari to Ghali Na’abba to Aminu Masari to Dimeji Bankole to Aminu Tambuwal – all former Speakers of the House of Representatives – one name was there through it all, Farouk Lawan.
A member of the 6th House of Representatives (2007 to 2011), Hakeem Aiyedun, who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES, described Mr Lawan as outspoken and a man who made things happen, based on his experience in the House.
He said the scandal that eventually led to Mr Lawan’s fall was a shock to most members of the House back then.
Mr Aiyedun, who was a first-timer back then when he represented Ekiti/Isin/Irepodun/Oke Ero federal constituency of Kwara State, said Mr Lawan was able to reach out to some newbies during the speakership battle between Mr Tambuwal and Mulikat Akande in 2011.
Mr Akande was the choice of the PDP and then President Jonathan. Once again, Mr Lawan and others in the PDP were able to work with the minority parties to install Mr Tambuwal.
Mr Lawan represented Bagwai/Shanono Federal Constituency of Kano for four consecutive terms. And there were reports of a possible bid for the Kano State governorship in 2015. All that ended with the 2012 bribery scandal.
Instead of going to the Kano State Government House, Justice Angela Otaluka, last month, sentenced Mr Lawan to Kuje correctional centre in Abuja where he would be for the next seven years. An irony, considering the fact that the man who later became governor of the state was also caught on video stuffing wads of dollars into his traditional attire.
“The prosecution has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant (Mr Lawan) demanded and received the sum of $500,000 from Mr Femi Otedola in order to exonerate his oil firm from an investigation by the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee on fuel subsidy probe,” the judge ruled.
At the end, despite the overwhelming evidence of bribery against Mr Lawan, it took nine years, after the bribery incident to get him convicted. But for many Nigerians, it was worth it as ‘Mr Integrity’ cum ‘cap banker’ finally went to a deserved jail.
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