16 June 2012

Nigeria: Subsidy Report, U.S.$620,000 Bribe and the Bitter Exchanges That Should Rankle Us All


My point of entry into this bribe scandal rocking the House of Representatives, which promises to be the most sensational bribery allegation in the history of the National Assembly since 1999 is to first ask the question if all that we have heard thus far chips away at the soul of the report of the House committee that probed the oil subsidy regime in the country between 2009 and 2011? I'm referring to the outcome of the committee's investigation and the recommendations embodied in its report. Though we do not have a way of knowing whether the final report also drank from inducements offered by some other marketers as it may appear to have been shown in the case of Zenon Oil, but I think largely the spirit of the report stands and the recommendations ought to be implemented while we await the outcome of investigations into the matter.

Moving to the bribe scandal itself, it would seem the task, the job for which the $620,000 bribe was alleged to be solicited and given had been done. The chairman of the subsidy committee, Hon. Farouk Lawan, seems to have carried out the job already. A few days after the committee had submitted its report, which indicted Zenon Petroleum & Gas Limited, owned by the oil magnate, Femi Otedola, and Synopsis Enterprises Limited for obtaining foreign exchange without importing diesel, Lawan came back to the House to say that the committee had received more helpful information on the matter necessitating their names being struck out. Of the fifteen marketers indicted, the two companies were listed as numbers 5 and 6 in Recommendation 29. The recommendation was that the oil marketers who obtained foreign exchange without importing diesel be referred to the EFCC to explain the purpose for which the money had been used.

I watched the repeat of that sitting on television again on Wednesday night, and I saw Lawan in his petit frame and flowing babariga marshalling the point as to why the two companies should be exonerated with the Deputy Speaker Emeka Ihedioha who was presiding saying, "this is interesting coming from you". Lawan had told the House that since the submission of the report, "We have received further information that two of the companies are not in the Petroleum Subsidy Scheme and they should be delisted." Was the bribe at work then or House member Farouk was only carrying out an honest work based on additional information? The motion was proposed by the committee, seconded and passed by the House unanimously. The sound of the AYES was deafening and not a single NAYE could be heard.

Lawan who initially denied collecting any bribe later claimed he collected the bribe to use as exhibit against the oil magnate. Otedola said he had told Lawan's committee that his company was not part of the subsidy scheme and that Zenon did not and had never made claims for subsidy payments from the federal government. He said Lawan continued to approach him for bribe before the report of the committee was to be laid before the House.

But if Otedola had refused to comply before the report was prepared at all, what is the rationale in giving it after the report had been submitted and his company indicted. Was it just to implicate Lawan that Otedola acquiesced to giving the $620,000 bribe in four installments in a sting operation involving security agents, during which Lawan was allegedly given marked dollar bills? Or was it to pooh-pooh the entire oil subsidy report over which some in the authorities were ill at ease? For days there were exchanges between the House and Presidency over the receipt of the report and even after it confirmed receiving the report, the presidency has been foot-dragging about its' implementation. It appears to me Otedola acted like an agent provocateur. He seems to me to have acted as though he was sent to do a demolition job on the oil subsidy report. As said earlier the entire bribery saga is yet unfolding and it's yet too early to draw conclusions.

The security agents should spare no efforts in getting to the root of the scandal, which is threatening to wipe away the gains the House has achieved. But as an aside, where is the $620,000 cash? House member Lawan says he is keeping it as exhibit and it's the only claim he had to prove that an attempt was made to bribe him. Otedola says they are marked money and it was provided by the State Security Service. The other day, the House under former Speaker Ghali Na'Abba claimed the Executive then under President Obasanjo had bribed them, with some N44 million laid on the table as exhibits. We all saw it, though some claimed part of the paper bind for the money showed it was withdrawn from Kano. So, where is the bribe money at issue?

Take It or Leave It, Jonathan's Renaming

I had thought President Jonathan would go further last Tuesday June 12 to make further announcements in honour of the late acclaimed winner of the June 12 election, Bashorun MKO Abiola, as he did on Democracy Day May 29. I was earnestly waiting for another broadcast on that day to complement what he did on May 29. On May 29, as you well know, the President announced the renaming of the University of Lagos as Moshood Abiola University in honour of Bashorun Abiola. That gesture emerged the highpoint of his Democracy Day speech, though it attracted commendation and condemnation alike.

Commendation because for the first time since 1993, 19 solid years, a government had thought it fit to honour Abiola for his sacrifice for democracy to take root in the country, something not even the Balogun of Ota, General Obasanjo, who rode to power in 1999 on the back of Abiola and June 12 struggle, could bring himself down to so do. Criticism and disapproval because naming UNILAG as MAULAG after Abiola seems ill-advised. Both Abiola and UNILAG are different important brands, in my view. UNILAG has been there for over 50 years now and in its own way ensconced in our consciousness for what it represents while Abiola is an icon of democracy, for which he sacrificed his life. I had then argued thus: why don't we leave UNILAG alone with that brand and look for something, perhaps a strong democratic institution and honour Abiola with that?

As I was saying, there was no more broadcast, no further appreciation of Abiola's efforts by Jonathan on June 12 but take it or leave it, the President's action, renaming UNILAG as MAULAG has upped the ante for June 12. I think it was Bashorun Dele Momodu, the Ovation Publisher, who talked about Ori, the Yoruba word for head on THISDAY back page last Saturday, and concluded that Abiola's Ori has refused to sleep in heaven. His chi is strong indeed, as the Igbos would say. Truth is the frenzy of activities in honour of Abiola by South-west governors, politicians and so-called pro-democracy activists, who had earlier gone to sleep over June 12, all got their stimulus from the President's move.

South-west governors are now falling heads over heels trying to outdo each other in the frenzy to do something or say something about the late business mogul. Pray, how much honour did they accord the late politician in their states before now, for crying out loud? Some of them now want June 12 to be the real Democracy Day, to which I agree; some want him to be given the status of ex-president, declaring him president posthumously, which possibility I doubt; some even want him conferred with the highest honour in the land, the GCFR. It is well as we say in my household.

Action Upped the Ante for June 12

Unsigned Bill: Who Do We Believe Between Senate President and David Mark?

During the Democracy Day symposium on Monday, May 28, in Abuja, President Jonathan and House of Representatives Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal had some exchanges over bills that have stayed for too long in the in-tray of the Presidency. Tambuwal said Jonathan was shirking his constitutional responsibility by sitting on many bills passed by the National Assembly. Jonathan accused the lawmakers of "tearing" the budget bill and, also, for acting against the manifesto of the ruling PDP.

Two days later, Wednesday May 30, Senate President David Mark joined the fray, taking on the President over his failure to assent to some bills passed by the National Assembly. "A number of bills that would have changed a lot of things for this country have not been signed," Mark said at the opening of a public hearing by the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology on a bill to establish erosion control commission.

"So, my advice to the Executive is to dialogue with the Legislature in matters like these and find a common ground instead of shifting blames," he added.

Mark was represented by his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, on that occasion. Speaking for himself recently, Mark sang a new tune. He said there was no bill that the present National Assembly, the 7th Session of the Parliament, has sent to the President that he has not passed. He said the National Assembly could not override the President's veto because the bills that people were complaining about were passed by the previous session of the National Assembly and were no longer valid for presidential assent. Mark's views were also corroborated by the Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang, when he gave the score card of the 7th session of the Senate last week.

Methinks the Senate President, sorry Mark, spoke tongue-in-cheek. It was all political subterfuge. I believe the Senate President, when represented by Ekweremadu, more than the Senate President when he spoke for himself as David Mark. Yes, some of the bills were passed by the last session of the National Assembly of which Senate Mark also presided, why didn't the lawmakers override the President if those bills overstayed with him.

The rule is clear: if the National Assembly forwards a bill duly passed by them to the President for his assent and he fails to assent to it or fails to forward whatever reservations he has against the bill to the lawmakers within 30 days, the legislators can begin the process of overriding his assent. Assuming the bills were passed by the last session of the National Assembly, why weren't they re-introduced and revived by the parliament if they "would change a lot of things for this country" as Mark said when represented by Ekweremadu.

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