Mr. Femi Otedola and Hon. Farouk Lawan
By Ike Abonyi and Onwuka Nzeshi
Snippets of the conversation between the suspended Chairman of the House of Representatives Ad hoc Committee on the Monitoring of the Fuel Subsidy Scheme, Hon. Farouk Lawan, and Zenon Oil and Gas Chairman, Mr. Femi Otedola, over the $3million cash-for-clearance scandal were laid bare Monday.
A transcript of the recorded conversation between the duo, which was obtained by THISDAY, revealed how Lawan, who had earlier collected $500,000 out of the $3 million bribe, set out to collect the balance of $2.5 million.
THISDAY, however, could not independently verify the authenticity of the audio recording, which was also played repeatedly on Channels Television station Monday.
But Lawan’s lawyer, Mr. Mike Ozekhome, in an immediate reaction to the broadcast of the audio tape described it as “infertile, vague, puerile and inadmissible as evidence by any court of law or tribunal.”
Part of the conversation between the duo came out a day after Lawan’s lawyers challenged the “State Security Service, the police, Mr. Otedola or any other person for that matter, to produce for public viewing the video or film and call logs of the conversation between him (Lawan) and Mr. Otedola unedited and undoctored.”
THISDAY learnt that the audio recording now in the public domain, is part of 19 tapes and six video recordings of what transpired between Lawan and Otedola.
Otedola, on his part, is expected to appear before the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges Tuesday, less than a week after Lawan defended his conduct before the same committee.
The committee is meant to probe allegations that the lawmaker collected $620,000 out of the $3 million to remove the name of Zenon Oil from the list of companies that bought foreign exchange from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) without importing fuel.
Part of the conversation between the duo is as follows:
Lawan: (Apparently enquiring on where to collect the money) your house?
Otedola: I don’t want to bring it to my house. It is a lot of money.
Lawan: Oh, yes. So, where because I’m hastening to the ...(the rest is inaudible). You are in the airport now?
Otedola: Yes, at the airport in an aircraft.
Lawan: (Beginning of response inaudible).. and before they can come over now; unless I send somebody to the airport. I can’t leave by the time they come. I will be in the chambers. I have a lot of things to do myself.
Otedola: Is there anybody you can trust that I can give it to? Or maybe I should just postpone my travelling to China till tomorrow?
Lawan: No, no, no. In fact, I will arrange with someone. Let me give you his number.
Lawan: His number is 080...
Otedola: Hold on, hold on, hold on. 080..
Otedola: What is the name?
Lawan: TJ (presumably an abbreviation for Tijani).
Otedola: So, I will give him the balance. That is $2.5 million.
Lawan: That is right. Just hold on. I am calling him to be sure his phone is through.
Otedola: Where will I meet him?
Lawan: Hold on, hold on. Just hold on, just hold on. Don’t quick send...(conversation fades out).
Repeated calls by THISDAY to TJ’s number did not go through as the service provider said the number is “currently switched off, please try again later.”
Ozekhome, in a statement, said after listening to and watching the audio recording with Lawan, the question that arose was: “Where is the visual of the audio?”
He said the question arose because Otedola had said he used the State Security Service (SSS) “to carry out a so-called ‘Sting Operation’, which showed Farouk Lawan not only pocketing the sum of $500,000, but also putting some under his cap, in Mr. Otedola’s Lagos home (sic).”
According to him, in the absence of the video tape of the transaction between the duo, the audio tape in the public is “highly doctored, manipulated and incomprehensible voices purported to be his and Lawan’s.”
Ozekhome noted that professionally, Channels did make the vital point that the audio was “purported” to be the voice of both men, but demanded to know where the video recording was to back Otedola’s claim.
“Recall that Mr Otedola had told the whole world that he used the SSS to carry out a so called ‘Sting Operation’, which showed Farouk Lawan not only pocketing the sum of N500,000 US Dollars (sic), but also putting some under his cap, in Mr. Otedola’s Lagos home (sic).
“On Farouk’s instructions, we had debunked this allegation and challenged Mr. Otedola, or the police and SSS to produce this complete audio video, unedited and undoctored,” Ozekhome charged.
He added that Otedola had the opportunity of doing this through Channels TV, but he did not.
“Rather, he brought highly doctored, manipulated and incomprehensible voices purported to be his and Lawan’s.
“He will certainly require forensic evidence to prove this to be true in this highly technologised world of manipulative evidence that can easily turn a man into a woman.
“Certainly, the audio was a sorry anti-climax to what Nigerians had been expecting.
“Even at that, let us take the audio ‘evidence’ itself for whatever it is worth. The conversation started somewhere in the middle, not from the beginning and ended abruptly.
“Our client hereby still challenges Mr. Otedola to air the entire audio visual (sic) and also the complete video for Nigerians to see the setting and environment in which the alleged bribe took place, who said what, to whom and for what," he said.
He added that his client believes that the entire footage was devilish, satanic, luciferous, mischievous and completely taken out of context, adding, “Even then the audio shows that it is Mr Otedola offering to pay the balance of the alleged bribe of N2.5 million US Dollars (sic), not Mr. Farouk Lawan.”
Ozekhome observed that from the conversation that transpired, “there was no mention of the purpose of the alleged balance of $2.5 million, or any mention of Mr. Otedola’s indicted companies, Zenon Oil and AP Petroleum (sic), whose desired removal from the committee’s indicted companies list allegedly formed the fulcrum of the bribe itself.
“If it was actually a ‘sting operation’, why is it Mr. Otedola and not the SSS that is officially releasing it on Channels TV? The audio (recording) has raised more questions and doubts than answers. Mr. Farouk Lawan says it is a doctored anti-climax."
But as Lawan and his lawyers scramble to salvage whatever is left of the lawmaker’s battered reputation, Otedola is expected to appear before the House Committee on Ethics and Privilege Tuesday in furtherance of its investigations into the scandal.
The clerk to the committee, Mr. James Obot, confirmed to THISDAY last night that Otedola would be appearing before the committee at 2 pm Tuesday to substantiate his allegations against Lawan.
It was, however, not clear whether Otedola would give his testimony in camera, as Lawan did when he appeared last Thursday.
In addition to his verbal testimony, Lawan also tendered documents said to contain call logs obtained from a telecommunications operator. The call logs, THISDAY learnt, are meant to substantiate his claims that it was Otedola who initiated the transaction and not vice versa.
However, contrary to the claims by Lawan’s lawyers in their petition to the acting Inspector General of Police (IG), Mohammed Dikko Abubakar, that their client reported the alleged attempt to bribe him to the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, THISDAY has learnt that no such report was made to the commission.
Sources in the commission said that although Lawan visited the commission, he did not mention anything concerning Otedola or that he collected money from him or somebody else.
“He visited the chairman but he never mentioned anything about his collecting any money from anybody. He only talked about the pressure they faced during the investigation,” the source said.
The source wondered how the lawyers came about the claim that Lamorde detailed the EFCC’s Director of Operations to be on standby in case Otedola called again.