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26.01.2024 Explainer EXPLAINER: Why Otedola Walks Free After Paying $500,000 ‘Bribe’ to Convicted Farouk Lawan

Published 26th Jan, 2024

By Daniel Ojukwu

On Friday, the Supreme Court upheld a five-year jail term sentence the Appeal Court in Abuja handed to Farouk Lawan, a former member of the House of Representatives.

Lawan was sentenced on February 24, 2022, for accepting a $500,000 bribe from Femi Otedola, a businessman and chairman of Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited, to absolve the company of wrongdoing in a fuel subsidy corruption probe he was leading.

As reports of his conviction became public, some wondered why Otedola was not convicted as well, per Section 98 of Nigeria’s Criminal Code Act.

FIJ tracked the 12-year sequence of events that led up to Lawan’s conviction to explain why Otedola was not found guilty.

2012 PETROL SUBSIDY PROBE

Farouk Lawan led an ad hoc committee of the House of Representatives on the multi-billion-naira fraud in the federal government’s fuel subsidy scheme in 2012.

This committee accused Zenon Oil of obtaining $230 million foreign exchange from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to import petrol under the subsidy scheme and failing to use the money for that purpose.

Lawan then went to Otedola, telling him to pay him $3 million to make the allegation go away. This account of events was part of the testimony that led to his conviction.

READ MORE: Appeal Court Reduces Farouk Lawan’s Jail Term From Seven to Five Years

On April 24, 2012, after collecting $500,000 in an envelope delivered by Otedola, Lawan removed Zenon Oil from the probe. The FG filed charges against Lawan, and his legal troubles began.

HOW OTEDOLA HELPED NAIL LAWAN

The case was prosecuted by Adegboyega Awomolo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and Lawan recruited the help of Mike Ozekhome (SAN) to plead his defence.

In June 2021, Angela Otaluka, a judge at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Apo, Abuja, handed Lawan a seven-year sentence for collecting the bribe.

Before sentencing him, Otaluka heard Otedola’s testimony on what transpired between them. Lawan and Otedola agreed that money changed hands between them, but each party claimed they were trying to set the other up.

Testifying, Otedola said, “I eventually contacted the Department of the State Security (DSS) when he (Lawan) asked me for $3 million bribe.

“The DSS gave me the marked currencies and six operatives and gadgets, which we used to put him on tape. Lawan went on to remove my firm from the list of the indicted firms after receiving the $500,000 cash.

“After the early hours of April 24, 2012, (the time the money was paid), he left and removed the name of Zenon from the list of indicted companies.”

Reacting, Lawan claimed he collected the bribe in a bid to set Otedola up and catch him in the act, but Otaluka did not buy this account.

She said if Lawan’s intentions were as he claimed, he would have informed his fellow committee members or law enforcement, and he would not have removed Zenon Oil and Gas from the probe.

After receiving her sentence, Lawan filed an appeal. On February 24, 2022, this court upheld the high court’s ruling but reduced the term from seven to five years.

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Published 26th Jan, 2024

By Daniel Ojukwu

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