- Category: JIDEOFOR ADIBE
- Published on Thursday, 21 June 2012 23:32
- Written by Jideofor Adibe
I do not approve of corruption and do not mean it should be condoned. However while I concede that some of the allegations against Lawan Farouk, the four-time Member of the House of Representatives from Kano State are weighty, I will argue that we should ‘tactically forgive’ or overlook his alleged crimes and indiscretions . I shall
elaborate on this later.
To recap, the Lawan-led ad hoc committee on fuel subsidies uncovered monumental illegal payments to oil companies and marketers to the tune of $6 billion. According to the committee’s findings, 17 marketers did not obtain FOREX but claimed to have imported petroleum products, 15 marketers obtained FOREX but did not import petroleum products, 71 oil marketers were recommended to face probe and refund N230.1 billion while 18 oil marketers committed other infractions. The report also revealed that N127.8bn, split in tranches of N999 million, was paid 128 times to “unknown entities” within 24hours while some 15 purported fuel importers collected $337,842,663 in 2010 without importing any fuel!
Nigerians, who were heralded into the New Year with news of the removal of subsidies on petroleum products, were furious and wanted heads to roll. The government was hesitant in implementing the recommendations of the Committee amid pressure from the media, civil society groups and some legislators. Then out of the blues came what looked like a fight-back by what one newspaper called “oil thieves”: Malam Lawan, who had become a folk hero of sorts following the damning revelations against the subsidy cabal, was alleged to have demanded the sum of $3m from Femi Otedola, for his companies Zenon Oil and African Petroleum to be taken off the list of erring marketers. It was alleged that there are both video and audio recording of him accepting a bribe of $620,000 as part payment of the $3m demanded.
Both Otedola and Lawan had their versions of events. And each version had holes that ought to be seriously interrogated. What seemed fairly established is that money changed hands.
Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel, Goldfinger (1959), has a line that is very apt in this situation: The principal character in the novel Auric Goldfinger told James Bond: “‘Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: ‘Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time it’s enemy action.’”
How many times has the hunter become the hunted whenever there is a probe in which the high and the mighty are implicated? I can count at least four in recent times - more than the three the gangsters in the Chicago of the 1920s and 1930s would require to conclude it was an enemy action:
First, in 2008 following claims that the country spent $16 billion on an Integrated Power Project to enable it achieve 10,000 megawatts of electricity by 2007, a House of Representatives’ Committee headed by Godwin Ndudi Elumelu was mandated to investigate why so much money was spent without any noticeable improvement in electricity supply. The Committee indicted past leaders, ministers, government officials and many high-profile personalities. Suddenly the report got rubbished when Elumelu and others were arraigned for allegedly stealing N5.4bn meant for the Rural Electrification Agency.
Second, on October 12 2011 Senator Bukola Saraki, former Governor of Kwara State moved a motion for the investigation of the Fuel Subsidy Management fund. He noted that while the sum of N240bn was budgeted in 2011 for fuel subsidy by the end of August 2011 N931bn had been spent on fuel subsidies. Saraki’s motion was to unleash a number of events that led to the naming and shaming of the fuel subsidy cabal. His motion also probably influenced the House of Representatives’ decision to set up a committee to probe the fuel subsidy regime. However, not long after these events Saraki became a marked man. He was questioned by the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) over N8.5 billion loan granted by the defunct Intercontinental Bank Plc to some companies he is alleged to be a shareholder.
Third, there was also the Capital Markets probe chaired by Herman Hembe, who accused Ms Arunma Oteh, the then Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission of sundry financial improprieties including spending N42.5m to procure three Toyota vehicles without a tender’s board meeting in breach of the Public Procurement Act 2007 and of spending N850,000 on food in just one day and N85,000 on another day. Ms Oteh in turn alleged she was being unfairly treated by the Hembe Committee because she had refused to accede to their demand for a bribe of N44m. She also accused him of collecting an estacode and a business class ticket to attend an emerging market conference in the Dominican Republic without actually attending the conference or returning the money. The EFCC has since filed charges against Hembe and his deputy Ifeanyi Azubogu on the last allegation and the case is still in court.
There are at least three threads that run through the above instances. One, is the ease with which the hunter is turned into the hunted. Two, is that in each instance the law enforcement agencies are quick to swoop on the crusader as soon as there are allegations of malfeasance against him while they pretend to be deaf, dumb and blind at the revelations of the criminal wrong doings of the filthy rich, the powerful and the well-connected. Three, the pattern of a fight-back tends to be the same: raise questions about the character of the main crusader and then use the law enforcement agencies to utterly discredit and humiliate the person and by so doing raise questions about the integrity of the crusade.
My personal opinion is that unless the dark forces that are holding the country hostage are unmasked and neutralized nothing will ever come out of any probe. In fact their tactic ensures that anyone appointed to probe anything in which these dark forces have interest, will be forced to do deals with them or risk being rubbished because as they would say in my village, there is hardly anyone you go digging into his/her anus without encountering some faeces. The bribery allegations against Lawan - which are admittedly serious – appear to be a mere subplot in a complex story whose storyline is still unfolding to the rest of us but completely known to the dark forces that control this country. For this, I believe that ‘dealing’ with Farouk now is less urgent than unmasking and neutralising these dark forces. There is also a need to unearth the system dynamics that often turn otherwise good and principled people into compromised individuals. Additionally, the more Farouk is rubbished – rightly or wrongly – the more the integrity of the report produced by his committee is called into question. And this is exactly what those dark forces want.
There are several instances in our daily life in which the crimes of an individual are tactically overlooked in order not to allow such to get in the way of accomplishing a higher objective. For instance the government uses that principle to turn suspected criminals into State witnesses or in the granting of amnesty such as happened with the Niger Delta militants.
Chinua Achebe vividly illustrated this principle of ‘tactical forgiveness’ in his novel No Longer At Ease (1960). In the book, the main character Obi Okonkwo was an upright and principled man who was never swayed by prevailing norms and practices. For instance when he was sent to London by his village to go and study Law so he would come back and handle their land cases, he chose instead to follow his heart and read English. At a reception by his village to welcome him from England he attended the event wearing a simple shirt when he knew the expectations were for him to wear the best suit in town. He also addressed them in the ‘is’ and ‘was’ type of English when he knew the expectation was for him to bamboozle them with the ‘English that fills the mouth’. Though he was sponsored by his village to study in England, he refused to use his position in the civil service to influence the recruitment of members of his town or ethnic group into the service, regarding such as nepotism. Above all he married the woman he loved – an ‘osu’ (an untouchable) even though he knew such was an abomination by his people. A man with such a profile as Obi Okonkwo was the least you would expect to take bribe. Yet he did, overwhelmed by systemic pressures to do so and was caught the first time he tried it!
Despite being a huge disappointment to his kinsmen, his town union decided to rally behind him because he was their only ‘eye’ so to say in that scheme of things.
Though Farouk has not been found guilty, there is a need to rally behind him and pretend that he was either framed up or a mere victim of system dynamics which has a way of swallowing those that want to rapidly change the way it works. After the oil thieves have been dealt with, we can then call Malam Farouk aside and then demand explanations for what really happened between him and Otedola.