Watching the fall from grace of my good friend and brother, Farouk Lawan, I was wondering if I was inside a cinema or outside. It is not about bribery or theft of money. The theft of billions of Naira has become commonplace news item increasingly devoid of shock value.
The difference that this scandal makes is that it is happening with someone who many think was above scandals. He may be small or petite as some will call it but Farouk looms larger than life. He has etched his name in gold in the minds of those who closely know him.
Farouk was Mr. Integrity, a name he gave to himself for the causes he pursued and the uprightness and persistence with which he did that. He had courage combined with sartorial splendor and eloquence. He didn’t become Speaker of the Parliament in 2011, and at various other trajectories in his 13-year legislative tenure, not because he didn’t merit it but because, in my view, of the tenuous nature of politics in his home state, Kano. The outbreak of this scandal was understandably greeted with skepticism and in many cases, outright disbelief. A retired female broadcaster sent this SMS to me and I’m sharing it with readers here. “I have always believed in the integrity of his brain and his ability to gauge situations. Please, please is the Farouk Lawan case true? What is wrong with us? Where did we get it wrong? Kanina (younger brother) what is going on? I feel disillusioned.”
My answer to her is to say that we should not rush to judgment on the matter although Farouk compounded the matter when he told different stories in two days. I heard his BBC Hausa interview when he said he had not met Otedola and did not receive bribes from him. That was on Sunday. On Monday, the press reported him verbatim saying he had got this money. Whether it was as exhibit as he claimed or not is secondary to the issue at stake.
Another thing to ponder is the integrity of the so-called sting operation itself. Did the SSS give him marked money and then let him go away? Is that how to sting?
I have myself helped the police nearly 20 years ago to catch a bribe-seeking NEPA official. As a new occupant, I was upset that NEPA had disconnected electricity in my apartment and had taken the apartment meter with them. When I called at their office, an impudent official said that I was illegally connected. He shocked me by making an outright demand for bribe. I thought this was blackmail, simple and clear. I spoke to the head of the CID in Kano, at that time Babalisa Ciroma, an Assistant Commissioner of Police. He is now late. ACP Ciroma gave me marked money and attached two sergeants to accompany me to NEPA. I resumed my conversation with the NEPA official. When he insisted on being paid, I gave the crisp new N20 wads. This money had been powdered and as they explained to me later, it was marked to register finger-prints. The moment the officer collected it from me, the sergeants pounced on him. He struggled to throw away the money across the wall but they were stronger so they held him, cash at hand.
For nearly three years, I went to court as police prosecution witness until the case was disposed of.
Could the sting on Farouk have been successful without anybody attempting to hold him with the exhibit at hand?
But given all that has been revealed by Farouk himself, the legislator’s human weakness betrayed him and that is his most important battle against a powerful enemy. Government was determined to void the fuel subsidy report, which has indicted every important state functionary from the President, who is the Chairman down to the janitor in the NNPC. They wanted to kill the report and bury the unprecedented theft of staggering two trillion (N2trn) Naira. They threw everything into the Farouk hunting expedition – not just the secret service cameras – cameras that should have been deployed to catch Boko Haram, but including, and not limited to subterfuge to uncover his personal possessions, at home and abroad. Given the efforts that have gone into these, it is hard to see how any man, not just Farouk could have survived this onslaught.
The Hausa have an apt answer to this intriguing situation. They say “Mutuwar Mai Adashi, Ba Mutuwar Adashi Bane” literally: The death of the debtor is not the death of the debt.
A President pampered by a boot-licking culture of an army of fawning characters who together have succeeded in bringing Nigeria to the verge of doom and disaster is now desperate to paper over the biggest official theft in our history. They are well determined to shoot down the messenger to kill the message. If they succeed, this will not be the first time because that is what the administration did with the theft by their predecessor in office, of sixteen billion United States Dollars (USD 16bn) supposedly ploughed into the electric power project. They cashed in on a mistake, indiscretion and greed on the part of the lawmakers, as did Farouk, and they shot down that report. As a consequence, Nigerians continue to suffer irreparable damage caused by collapsed and inoperative power systems.
The high drama being enacted between Farouk and the parliament on the one hand and the Presidency, through Otedola and other proxies, on the other hand, is a battle for gains and political survival. It has nothing to do with the common man. The nation is still to recover from the shock, shame and anger that thieves masquerading as oil importers have stolen N2trn in collaboration with officials. The clash between Otedola and Farouk is not at all shocking in comparison to this monumental fraud. The two are not the same because the weight of their toll on the common man’s interest is not the same.
For this reason, the parliament, labour and other civil society groups are right to remove Farouk from this complicated picture so as to focus on this heist of record. The oil subsidy fraud is the greatest failure of government in the annals of this country. No arm-twisting techniques should succeed in removing the focus of the public from what becomes of that report and the perpetrators of the heist.
This country’s misfortune is to find itself in the hands of leaders who are 100 per cent selfish. Except their interest, nothing matters.
As for Otedola, a pawn and lead character in the simulation of this bribery scheme, the decision to reinstate him as an accused person on the report must do irreparable damage to his international credibility and standing. A taste, they say, of his own medicine. Now he must fight for his own survival.
As one wise man noted, “the earth is made of glass; there is nowhere in the wide world to hide a rogue.”
No chicanery, no connection, no shenanigans, can kill the report of this epic thievery. The lawmakers themselves know that it is beyond their power to kill this subsidy fraud report; they have no choice but to stick out their necks on the side of the people. The insistence of Nigerians that the integrity of the report should not die with the reputation of the actors in this latest bribery scandal makes it difficult for any rational person to toy with the idea of killing the report.
This government and others before have pledged to fight corruption and Nigerians are now united to hold the powers that be accountable by insisting that no offender, however powerful, should get off the hook.