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Cacophony As Defence …That Bribe Allegation Against Lawan

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From the moment, the Right Honourable Farouk Lawan was named as chairman, Ad-hoc Committee of the House of Representatives to unearth those behind the rot in the nation’s oil subsidy regime, through the Public Hearing of the assignment, up to the eventual submission of report, Nigerians expected nothing short of total success. And total success, the Lawan Committee produced. Or, so many thought.

So even when, a supposedly culpable oil giant’s company, Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited was deleted from the blacklist, by the Lawan Committee on the floor of the House, during the deliberations on Tuesday, April 24, 2012, not many saw any thing wrong with it. It remained same even when, the company’s chairman, Mr Femi Otedola later alleged that the Lawan-committee had demanded and received from him part of a $3million bribe.

Unfortunately, Lawan’s response to that serious allegation has unwittingly forced me to appreciate the linguistic value of some African dialects, and in particular, poetic value of the word-Cacophony.

Before the Europeans discovered parts of Africa and imposed on Nigeria the English Language virtually every ethnic nation-state had its own modes of communication, with a long list of words and the meanings. Such language forms may not be perfect and variously went as dialects, they were rich in all literary expressions, uniquely theirs.

The word Cacophony is one of such expressions which definition in African dialect is more apt when laced with a proverb than what the New English Dictionary (Geddes & Grosset) simply explains off as ‘an ugly sound, a discord’.

Ask an average elder of Wakirike Nationality, about what cacophony means, he probably will say, ‘Obiri bipi-belema Obori piri-oku’, meaning, “just like a conversation between a dog and a goat”. Such is the nature of the ugly sound, Nigerians have, for over a week now, been fed with by key actors in an alleged $3million bribe scandal.

Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Adhoc Committee on Oil Subsidy Probe, Hon. Farouk Lawan is one of flawless integrity, honesty and patriotism. In virtually every assignment he put his hand to do, he emerged a national hero, fearless, thorough and indeed incorruptible.

Little wonder, when his Adhoc Committee early last month submitted its report to the lower Chamber of the National Assembly, many Nigerians saw no other need for any anti-graft agency to act on it. As far as they were concerned, what was left, was for the Federal Government to implement, without question or delay, all the recommendations of the Lawan Committee. I belonged to that group and so did, nearly all members of the House of Representatives.

So popular, Lawan and indeed his brilliant report became one vital tool depended upon to correct the inherent contradictions and corruption within the downstream sector of the industry and indeed the oil subsidy regime.

Infact, many Nigerians started seeing in Lawan, not just the future of true Democracy, but indeed the pivot around which a corruption-free Nigeria will revolve. This is why Lawan is held in very high esteem as one of impeccable character,. His name alone justified the Speaker of the last dispensation, Hon.  Patricia Etteh in belief that Lawan could never be part of any wrong doing.

But that pedigree is now being contested over allegations of bribe in course of his committee’s assignment. That Lawan had indeed demanded $3 million, from Femi Otedola, and from whom the respected lawmaker had already received $620,000.

At first, most Nigerians were united that Lawan and his Adhoc Committee might be victims of set-up or blackmail on account of their brilliant report which listed influential oil companies as guilty of short-changing Nigeria.

Infact, the moment he ‘opened his mouth’ to deny the allegation, Nigerians believed him without hearing. And for sometime, all seemed united that Lawan did not and could not have received a penny, in bribes, so when Lawan voiced it, the matter remained closed, many believed. Instead, they prayed that the lying Otedola be punished for attempting to tarnish the image of Nigeria’s future.

That remained so until Monday last week when Chairman, Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd. Mr. Femi Otedola, largely believed to be one trying to bribe the adhoc committee, opened what now appears a pandora box. The man revealed how Lawan and the adhoc committee Secretary, Mr. Boniface Emenalo had collected $620,000 from him in a sting operation master minded by the security.

The amount according to Otedola was part payment for the $3 million, which he alleged, Lawan had demanded from him to exonerate Zenon Oil from the adhoc committee’s report. Amidst repeated denials by Lawan, and on his behalf, by notable Nigerians, it was learnt that the State Security Services had provided a video recording of the incident to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for assessment and necessary action.

Otedola chronicled how, at the outset of the committee’s probe, Lawan had approached him to get some insight into the workings of the downstream Oil and Gas of the industry, which he gladly obliged him, by ensuring that directors of both Zenon Oil and Forte Oil Plc appeared at the Subsidy Probe’s public hearing. On that occasion, Zenon’s Managing Director, Mr. Kanmi Kareen Olaru told the committee, “For the avoidance of doubt, Zenon never participated or benefited from the subsidy scheme or Petroleum Support Fund (PSF)”.

Even so, Otedola said, Lawan was persistent that $3m be paid otherwise, his companies would be listed among subsidy fund defaulters, because according to Otedola, Lawan insisted that all other companies ‘were playing ball’.

“I screamed at him, demanding to know why he was doing this to me. All he said was that other marketers were paying up to keep their names out of the report so I should do likewise,” Otedola said. According to him, it was at that stage that he involved the security agencies to catch Lawan and his committee with their hands in the mess of porridge, reported ThisDay of Monday, June 11, 2012.

On Saturday, April 21, before plenary on Tuesday, Otedola continued, Lawan went in person to his residence to collect $250,000 in cash and then on Monday night collected another $250,000 making $500,000.

And, “On Tuesday, at 9am, just before the House commenced sitting, Boniface (the Committee Secretary) came and collected another $120,000”, totalling $620,000 in three installments, as part of the $3 million demanded from him.

Then the bomb-shell. That it was with payment of the third installment, that Lawan and his committee at plenary Tuesday, publicly removed Zenon’s name from the list of companies that bought foreign exchange but did not import products.

To these allegations, Lawan who was insistent in denial of ever demanding or receiving any penny from any marketer, least of all Otedola, changed his statement. That the $620,000 was being kept as evidence to bribe his committee.

Now the questions are: If indeed Lawan kept the money for such purpose, why did he initially deny ever demanding or accepting bribe? Why did he not notify the leadership of the House between April 21 and June 11, this year? Why did he not report the attempt to bribe him, and enlist the support of the security services to help authenticate his new claim? In which security safe is the money kept?

Is it with the Registrar of the High Court or with Lawan himself?

No matter the many times he has re-shaped his denials, they have not been able to provide answers to these questions and that leaves me with one option, albeit with a heavy heart -Lawan cannot be believed this time.

Infact, the highly respected, adored and honourable Lawan’s disjointed defence matches the Okrika man’s view of Cacophony – a conversation between a dog and a goat, and that worries me. A great deal too; because I still believe in and wish for his innocence and vindication on the long run.

That is why I applaud the decision of the House of Representatives that his matter be assigned to the House’s Ethics and Privileges Committee, where I pray Nigeria’s hope of a corruption-free future, could have a soft landing.

My Agony is that some are battling to rope the person of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, and for all the wrong reasons. Both Otedola and Lawan’s adhoc committee members should prove their innocence, with hard evidence and leave Aso Rock out of the scandal, this time.

But I have a worry. Should the adhoc committee’s report be implemented in the face of the scandal? How many other companies were cleared for silent contributions, we may never know unless the investigations go their full cycle. Any suggestion to the contrary may be preemptive in the face of the evidence in public view.

 

Soye Wilson Jamabo

Faruk Lawan and Femi Otedola

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90% Of Money Laundered Via Real Estate, EFCC Reveals

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) says about 90 per cent of money laundering is done through the real estate sector.
The commission’s Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, stated this while featuring on Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily, yesterday,
According to him, although the sector is monitored via the special control unit, more needed to be done.
According to Bawa, “One of the problems we have now is the real estate. 90 to 100 per cent of the resources are being laundered through the real estate.”
He said there are so many issues involved, but that they were working with the National Assembly to stop what he called “the gate keepers” as there would be reduction in looting if there is no one to launder the money.
Bawa, the EFCC boss, gave an example of a minister who expressed interest in a $37.5million property a bank manager put up for sale.
He said, “The bank sent a vehicle to her house and in the first instance $20million was evacuated from her house.
“They paid a developer and a lawyer set up a special purpose vehicle, where the title documents were transferred into.
“And he (the lawyer) is posing as the owner of the property. You see the problem. This is just one of many; it is happening daily.”
The EFCC chairman also revealed that he receives death threats often.
Asked to respond to President Muhammadu Buhari’s frequent “Corruption is fighting back” expression, Bawa said he was in New York, USA, last week, when someone called to threaten him.
“Last week, I was in New York when a senior citizen received a phone call from somebody that is not even under investigation.
“The young man said, ‘I am going to kill him (Bawa), I am going to kill him’.
“I get death threats. So, it is real. Corruption can fight back,” he said.
On corruption in the civil service, he said there were a lot of gaps, especially in contracts processing, naming “emergency contracts” as one.
Bawa said, “A particular agency is notorious for that. They have turned all their contracts to emergency contracts.”
However, he said, EFCC has strategies in place to check corruptions, one of which is “corruption risk assessments of MDAs”.
According to him, “I have written to the minister and would soon commence the process of corruption risk assessments of all the parastatals and agencies under the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to look at their vulnerability to fraud and advise them accordingly.”
Asked if the scope of corruption in the country overwhelms him, Bawa, the EFCC boss said, “Yes, and no.”

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We’ve Spent N9bn To Upgrade RSUTH, Wike Confirms

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The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, says his administration has spent N9billion in upgrading structures and installation of new equipment at the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital (RSUTH).
He said the fact that 40 per cent of the 2021 budget of the state is dedicated to provision of quality healthcare delivery was a further demonstration of the priority placed on the sector.
Wike made the explanation at the foundation laying ceremony for the construction of a Renal Centre at RSUTH, last Friday.
The governor said he made promise to Rivers people that the best would be provided to them in all sectors of the society within his capability because of the mandate they gave to him.
“As we came on here, I just looked around and I see the changes in this teaching hospital. I can say that we have put not less than N9billion in this teaching hospital.
“If you look at the budget, the health sector alone, what it’s taking from the Rivers State Government is not less than 40 percent of the 2021 budget.”
Speaking further, Wike said the state government cannot afford to implement free medical service programme in the present economic circumstance.
While dismissing the request for a subvention for RSUTH, Wike, however, commended the chief medical director and his team for their commitment to turnaround the fortunes of RSUTH.
“I have never seen anywhere that health services can be totally free. They’re telling me that people who come here can’t pay. I have never declared that this state is going to take over the health fees of anybody.”
Also speaking, the former Minister of Transport, Dr. Abiye Sekibo, who performed the flag-off, noted that Wike’s achievements in the health sector in particular, surpass what former governors of the state had done.
Sekibo said that the governor has given equal attention to every section of the health sector by providing complete health infrastructure that was positioning the state as a medical tourism destination in Nigeria.
Earlier, the Rivers State Commissioner for Health, Prof Princewill Chike, lauded Governor Nyesom Wike for his interest in the health of Rivers people.
He noted that the renal centre, when completed, would become another landmark development project in the health sector that would handle and manage all kidney-related ailments.
In his remarks, the Chief Medical Director of the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital, Dr. Friday Aaron, commended Wike for approving the renal centre.
Aaron explained that chronic kidney disease was a major burden globally with estimated 14 million cases in Nigeria.
According to him, over 240,000 of these cases require renal replacement therapy in the form of dialysis and renal transplant.
The CMD said the building that would house the centre was expected to be completed in six months and consists of two floors.
The ground floor, according to him, would house the haemodialysis unit with eight haemodialysis machines.
He further explained that the first floor of the centre would house the surgical component where most of the sophisticated equipment for kidney transplant would be installed.
Aaron said Wike has released the funds required to build, equip the centre as well as for the training of personnel locally and internationally.

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Power Generation Falls 23% To 3,172MW

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Power supply in Nigeria has failed to improve on last week’s performance, as it fell by 22.9 per cent from peak generation of 4,115Megawatts on Saturday to 3,172.20MW as at 5pm, yesterday, latest data from the System Operator has shown.
According to the data, most power plants were operating far below capacity due to gas shortage with Olorunsogo Power Plant 335MW capacity; and Sapele Power Plant, 450MW capacity; completely out.
Egbin was generating at 746MW; Omoku 37.20; Omotosho (NIPP) at 105MW; while Afam was generating at 80MW.
The data showed that on the average power generation in the past seven days were 4,120.9MW on Sunday, June 6; 4,249.4 on Monday, June 7; 4,000.9MW on Tuesday, June 8; 3,720.7 on Wednesday, June 9; 3,517 on Thursday, June 10; 3,765MW on Friday, June 11; and 4,115MW on Saturday, June 12.
The International Oil Companies (IOCs), had last warned that despite Nigeria’s huge gas reserves a lot needs to be done to attract investment to the sector to develop gas reserves to boost power generation in the country.
Speaking at the just concluded Nigeria International Petroleum Summit, the Chair, Shell Companies in Nigeria/MD SPDC, Osagie Okunbor, said with 203trillion Cubic Feet of gas reserves, what was needed in the country is to deliver projects that would produce the gas.
“The challenge is not just growing the reserves but in producing these reserves for the benefits of our country. Essentially growing the reserves and delivering on the production is a function of two or three elements.
“I like to see infrastructure that is required for the development of these resources at two levels. Soft infrastructure is often the one that is more important than and that is the one that is actually drives most of what you see at site.”
“Soft infrastructure refers to the enabling environment and nothing pleases me as much seeing both the Senate President and the speaker of the house give very firm commitments about trying to pass the PIB this month.
“That is probably the big one of the enabling environment to provide the kind of stability we also need all sorts of other issues we need to that we have discussed severally in terms of sanctity of contract, stable policies and collaboration and I think we are well on our way there”, he added.

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