It all began in the 7th Assembly when allegations of graft in the fuel subsidy regime first made the rounds. In the beginning, information filtering in was like a mere rumour. In time, it would gather momentum.
Billions of dollars, the House later learnt through credible intelligence, were being lifted like oil from the national coffers by certain companies engaged in the downstream sector.
Of course, the companies were owned by certain powerful Nigerians who were obviously close to the Jonathan government.
Our blood boiled, stirring a rare patriotic fervour, as most lawmakers thought of how much of that money frittered away as a result of the subsidy regime could be saved for the benefit of the Nigerian people.
In every 12, there is a Judas, the saying goes. Accordingly, there may even have been some amongst us as events later demonstrated who only dreamt of raking in hay through the probe. But how could mortal men who could not have seen tomorrow as Nastradamus did know of such intention?
Outside the Legislature, particularly within the Executive arm, there was an uproar. There were those who thought that the Aminu Tambuwal leadership had been hijacked by enemies of the Jonathan administration. There were equally conspiracy theories of an evil ploy by the Northern establishment to set up the president that hailed from the South South who abnitio was never in support of Tambuwal’s rise as Speaker.
Nonetheless, the 7th Legislature against odds which were visible set out to clear the mess; and fight corruption as we all generally believed; in order to set the record straight, or earn a pride of place for the watchdog that the institution of the National Assembly truly is.
It is however interesting to observe corruption simply came fighting back! Somehow, the 7th Legislature got stuck in the mud even before it had a chance to commence the journey.
Lawan Farouk was one of the most experienced and loved national lawmakers at the time our paths crossed in the Green Chamber. He had earned my admiration even before I had the opportunity of ever meeting him in flesh and blood.
Across the country, Farouk had somehow become a household name and one of those regular faces either on television or the newspaper with respectable viewpoints.
He was outspoken, very persuasive, jovial, rational, cerebral, reasonable and accommodating. He had style and was not one to be intimidated.
It was even rumoured in certain quarters that the one who was neither as tall as Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso nor as hefty as Governor Ganduje was eyeing the Kano State Government House.
It would appear what Lawan lacked in size like Ratnitz, the billionaire in a Chase novel, he made up through his voice. He didn’t have what some would easily describe as the infantry voice. But he had a resonating voice, the gift of oratory, a captivating smile and a boyish frame that didn’t portray how many years he had enjoyed on earth for a man his age.
As a ranked member, Lawan was one of those whose seats in the House were reserved upfront. So, it is right to say Lawan had paid his dues in the Legislature.
Those of us who were new to the Green Chamber at the time hoped someday we would grow up to be like the “old brooms” which are famed to know “all the corners of the house.” For better or for worse, these front – row – lawmakers in parliament are indeed the first – among – equals. They are like SANs in a court room who sit on the front bench. It is an honour that senior lawyers, drawn to SANhood, who have distinguished themselves in practice, do not share with the uninitiated who may be called to Bar on the same day they left law school.
Nature fathoms just about everything there is. It detetmines heights that men conquer. It probably has nothing to do with how much a man struggles through life if the gods like Achebe wrote in “Things Fall Apart” have chosen not to crack your palm kernel. This may explain why it is said that if wishes were to be horses men would fly.
For some who arrived the House when I did years ago, that dream to be ranked has been realized. For others too, others like me, it has been a mission impossible.
James Hadley Chase, an author and novelist would say as he did in one of his novels, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.
Talking about cookies and the way they crumble, I saw video clips of Lawan in court after he received a 7-year jail term. He looked calm and collected as he arrived the court. He even looked calm and collected, without any visible sign of emotion, as he took a ride to prison after the verdict was read.
I wondered about his feelings, thought of what was going on through his mind at that moment, and imagined what he would have felt when no lawmaker stepped forward to testify in his favour as he took his seat in a vehicle owned by the prison authorities.
It is possible that as a devout Muslim, he had accepted the will of Allah, the Magnificent and his place in history as a corrupt lawmaker.
Channels Television, ever efficient in its chronicle of events, repeatedly played back Lawan’s infamous conversation with Otedola.
It was obviously the strongest evidence brought in court against the once powerful lawmaker who claimed his intention was to expose Otedola who allegedly dared to offer a bribe. I remember the mood in the House the day Lawan ‘s bribery scandal came to light. Members of the Ad hoc Committee that he led as well as the House were in shock. Nobody appeared to be aware of the move that Lawan made. The existence of the recorded chat between Otedola and Lawan which Channels gleefully played again and again had made matters worse at the time for the lawmaker and his fans even on the floor of the House who could have sworn he was incapable of such an act.
But Lawan stuck with his side of the story, stressed his side of the story and pushed his side of the story in form of arguments formulated by defence lawyers in court .
Whereas Otedola authored a tape of a Lawan who demanded a bribe, Lawan had no tape of Otedola offering a bribe. Whereas Otedola had something that came across as convincing evidence, our dear Lawan had none.
If the lawmaker had set up a sting operation of his own to catch a cheat and a supposed subvert as he told his colleagues the day the matter came to the floor, everything simply went wrong. Lawan ended up on his own. It was clear from its body language that the House led by Aminu Tambuwal as Speaker was embarrassed by the bribery scandal. Also embarrassed was the Integrity Group. That group had Lawan as a member. That group had worked tirelessly to bring Tambuwal to power as Speaker.
Did nature have any hand in all that played out?
Did nature intend to insulate members of the House Committee, Petroleum Downstream, from embarrassment?
I recall that the Committee on Petroleum Downstream headed at the time by Dakuku Peterside was initially penciled down by the House to undertake the investigation. The matter obviously fell within the purview of the Committee.
But as they say, politics is conspiracy. The House was persuaded to think otherwise. That is how the idea of an Ad hoc Committee was hatched, perfected and delivered. An ad hoc Committee headed by Lawan Farouk was thus announced.
It is safe to postulate that those who hatched the latter day plan to constitute an Ad hoc Committee worked unwittingly with fate to alter the influence of the stars and orbiting planets which shape destiny against what was the bright future of Lawan the Lawmaker.
It is also possible to assume that the intervention seen as a slight to a House Committee which was duly equipped to conduct the investigation may have shielded persons whose future may have been tarnished if given the opportunity, they had chosen to walk the path that Lawan stormed past in pursuit of pieces of silver.
I am pained that what began as an innocent and patriotic quest by the House to salvage Nigeria from wasteful spending was literarily shot down in the court of public opinion.
Speaker Tambuwal who enjoys my respect to this day rallied the troops.
Zenon Petroleum which had all along insisted that its inclusion in the list of renegade companies was a mistake was exonerated by the House.
The one who claimed he was on a mission to fish out bribers who corrupt men was left to carry the shotgun that fired an unwanted bullet, which was draped in controversy, that was targeted at the sense of morality of the House. He was allowed to take his fight, never to be seen while the House is duly constituted until he has cleansed himself of the allegation against him.
As I reflect, it was a classic case of corruption’s fight back and Lawan who may not have consulted anyone about his intentions only added fuel to it.
To this day, issues pertaining to petroluem subsidy remain despite claims to the contrary.
I was not aware of Muhammadu Buhari’s postulation relating to corruption at the time. The man under whose watch Lawan is currently paying a huge price for corruption was nowhere near the corridors of power when the roof was brought down.
Buhari’s ambition, despite controlling 11 million votes which he has wrapped around his big thumb throughout his political career, had been defeated in battle by the PDP in such a manner that the “redeemer” from Katsina is said to have shed tears.
It is amazing how we manage to live with deceit, how we are able to explain the huge expenditure of funds by MDAs which do not go through due processes of appropriation.
Under our laws, the business of appropriation is that of parliament. So whatever parliament has not appropriated; which includes any expenditure not known to parliament; cannot be incurred.
“We go dey say yes-yes”, Fela Anukulakpo Kuti sang in one of his songs. Fela may be dead, but he never sang about anything that has not come to pass. Infact, our “suffering and smiling” continues while men who have necks “like ostritch” and “big fat stomachs” say “ameni, ameni, ameni”
We need at this point to acknowledge the intractable resilience of corruption which has become a way of life in Nigeria. Fighting corruption in Nigeria despite what may seem as the effort of the EFCC and the determination of the Buhari administration has become a near mission impossible.
In doing so, let me acknowledge the sound decision of the Aminu Tambuwal led 7th Legislature for its posture at the time. It had insisted in all fairness after it heard Lawan’s claim that the burden of proof was his alone and not that of the house.
The trial judge was indeed right when he noted that no one lawmaker or the institution that Lawan was part of had stepped forward to testify in his favour.
It is thus a confirmation of the fact that the National Assembly as we know it is not citadel of corruption as many would think. It is a system vested with self righting processes which ensure that the institution no matter the ideosyncracies of individuals who serve in it, remains on target on issues of national concern.
Yet, a man who built a fine reputation in lawmaking, whose resonating voice on the floor of parliament was respected everywhere, has gone down.
Men are downed by weaknesses of all kind. Some are brought down by glamorous and beautiful women. Others by the hunt for power. Alcohol and drugs have done the job in other instances.
In the case of our dear Lawan, it is money and what many see as his ambition to acquire it at all cost which has brought him crashing down and sent him to prison.
The fight to extricate Lawan Farouk from the thrash can of history would go on after the first round of trial. His lawyers have said so already. His lawyers would fight to prove, if ever there would be another round of legal battles up to the Supreme Court, that Lawan was more like a spy catcher who set out to unveil the operations of a spy network.
They would try to prove that in adopting the approach and language of the corrupt, Lawan sought to lure out Otedola.
Otedola must be having the last laugh at this time. His testimony buttressed by a taped conversation has put Lawan on the spot.
I still wonder how Lawan could have asked for a bribe of three million dollars in order to remove Zenon Petroleum from a list of ‘perverse’ companies that were allegedly raping Nigeria.
Why he did it, if he did can only be explained by he alone.The rest is history.
What has transpired leaves us with one lesson. The fact that greed, avarice and want is perhaps mortal ‘s chiefest enemy.
In all, we may need to revisit the Nigerian maxim which appears to support the view that men would climb to no heights if they have no money to dispense.
Faced by sharp criticisms that he had acquired wealth in a manner which contradicts his socialist credentials, Chief Obafemi Awolowo had averred that in order to fight the capitalist establishment to a standstill, there was a strong need to possess one of its most effective and potent tools.
Karl Max had described religion as the opium of the poor. In Nigeria, the quest for amassing stupofying wealth has become the new opium. See how the hunt for “bread” has turned us into a nation of kidnappers, bandits, insurrectionists, militants and separatists.
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