Between Otedola and Lawan: Re-enacting the David and Goliath Epic? – By Dr. Ibrahim K. UsmanArticles, Columnists, House, Ibrahim K. Usman, Legislature, NNP Columnists Saturday, July 21st, 2012
By Dr. Ibrahim K. Usman | Benue, Nigeria | July 21, 2012 – In physical size and depth of pockets, Femi Otedola, the multi-millionaire chairman of Zenon Oil, is without doubt the Goliath in this ding-dong affair. Boyish-looking Farouk Lawan, a member of the House of Representatives (HOR) since 1999 and the deposed Chairman of the House’s ad hoc Committee on fuel subsidies is the David. For those not versed with biblical stories, David was a shepherd boy who volunteered to fight Goliath, an awe-inspiring giant from the Philistine, whose size alone had sent chills and fears among Israeli soldiers such that they froze in fear at his challenge for a fight. Despite the huge disparity in their sizes and experiences in the art of war, David, a mere shepherd boy, reportedly using only a catapult, was able to overwhelm the heavily armoured Goliath to secure victory for Israel. In real life however, the odds of a David beating a Goliath are one to 99 – unless of course there is a divine intervention. Whatever may be the truth in the surreal, sometimes macabre and moonlight-like tales between Otedola and Lawan, the chances of Lawan emerging triumphant are slim, very slim indeed. Unless of course there is divine intervention on his side!
But what is really at stake in the narratives and counter narratives? The danger of taking part in a rat race is that one remains a rat even if one emerges victorious. Both Otedola and Lawan have become diminished by the bribery saga – whoever wins. But what does it mean to win here?
My suspicion is that for Otedola, his quest for his version of events to prevail goes beyond the need to rubbish the report of the fuel subsidy committee. My impression is that Otedola is fighting for his commercial life because unless he can convince the general public that he is not just a liar and blackmailer but a victim of a corrupt investigative committee, he will be held in so much opprobrium that the government will be forced to scale down, if not stop altogether, the numerous supports extended to his businesses. It is thought that much of Otedola’s business empire depends on government patronage. For Lawan, if he fails to convince the general public that his version of events is the truth and nothing but the truth, there is the possibility of a jail term and the unravelling of a highly promising political career. Unlike Lawan, Otedola is not in danger of going to jail – however the case turns out.
Given what is at stake for both Otedola and Lawan, it is clear that the truth of what actually transpired between the two will continue to be subsumed and disguised within the sub-plots of the competing narratives. What are therefore thrown into the public space are media hypes and doctored stories in which the size of the combatants’ war-chests and intricate connections come into play, distorting the truth, which I strongly believe still remains hidden from the public.
A quick recap. It all started when the Lawan-led ad hoc committee on fuel subsidies unearthed mindboggling instances of unparalleled greed and thievery on a scale unimaginable to the majority of Nigerians. Among the frauds uncovered by the committee was the withdrawal of N999m a record 128 times within 24 hours! It was also discovered that some marketers obtained foreign currency to import fuel and simply diverted those money to funding a lascivious lifestyle. Overnight Lawan, who had featured in a number of populist fights in the past, became a folk hero of sorts. His ambition to become the Governor of Kano State has been an open secret.
A number of issues have been established in the alleged bribery saga: One, certain amount of money, in US dollars, exchanged hands. Two, both Otedola and Lawan have been long-term friends who visited each other at different times of the day, including at odd hours. Three, Otedola was largely instrumental to the success of the Lawan Committee by availing them of his insider knowledge of the industry, including guiding them on specific questions to ask those invited for questioning by the Committee.
The several contested issues in the competing narratives include: First, the exact amount that changed hands – $620,000 as claimed by Otedola or $500,000 as claimed by Farouk Lawan? Second, the initiator of the alleged bribe – Otedola as claimed by Lawan or Lawan as claimed by Otedola? Third, was the money really was meant as a bribe especially given that the money exchanged hands after the committee’s findings have become public? Fourth, did Lawan interact with Otedola as a friend or as a marketer during the committee’s investigation? Fifth, did Lawan move for Otedola’s companies to be removed from the list of marketers found culpable because of the alleged bribe he received or was it because he probably felt a pang of conscience that he ought to have reciprocated the gesture of a friend who helped his committee succeed in its work?
Sixth, did Lawan change some of his stories because he was goaded by those who allegedly set the trap for him as part of a premeditated attack on his credibility as he claims or were these conclusive evidence of his guilt? Seventh, was the denial of Adams Jagaba, the Chairman of the House’s Committee on Narcotics and Financial Crimes that Lawan wrote a letter to him informing him of attempts to bribe the Committee by Otedola and enclosing the said $500,000 he claimed to have collected from Otedola conclusive evidence that Lawan was lying or was Jagaba bought over by Lawan’s traducers as the camp of the latter insists? Eighth, are the police biased in the way they are handling the case – as claimed by the Lawan camp or are they doing their job as they ought to? Ninth, was there really a sting operation as claimed by Otedola, and if so why has the SSS remained silent on the issue, and why did they not arrest Lawan immediately? Tenth, is there really any reason why the government and the PDP should be interested in entrapping Lawan – as his camp claims or is he merely crying wolf?
As the duo intensify their fight for the hearts and minds of the general public, my instincts tell me that both men are not coming out very clean. My natural inclination however has always been to support the little guy against the big guy, the very weak against the strong, the one who appears to have all the advantages against the one who appears disadvantaged. It may be a rash and unscientific way of taking sides in a conflict but it does make me feel I am fighting for a cause – at least to defend the weak.
Dr Ibrahim K Shulwa,
Campaign for Peace and Reconciliation,
F40 Hudco Quarters
Northbank, Markurdi, Benue State
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