By Dele Momodu
“Beware of those who seek to take care of your need Lest your caretakers become your jailers”
-Jim Rohn, The Treasury of Quotes
Fellow Nigerians, if you grew up in my generation or much earlier, you are likely to have come across the novels of one of the best thriller writers of all times, James Hadley Chase. I was a voracious reader of his books and that of Ian Fleming, who authored the James Bond series, as well as the amazing works of Nick Carter, Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Mario Gianluigi Puzo, Robert Ludlum, James Clavell, James Michener, Joan Collins, Leslie Charteris, Denise Robbins, Barbara Cartland, Agatha Christie and other authors of romance and thrillers. The reason was very simple; James Hadley chase was easily the master of the game. He was fast-paced and extremely pleasurable to follow and digest. His characters were so vivid that you could almost walk into them in a crowd. His language was modern and lucid. And his plots covered every sphere of human endeavour. He had the incredible power of narration and description and took us on a tour de force of exotic locations and transported us effortlessly to places of our dreams.
One of his most powerful novels I read, and fell in love with, was The Paw in the Bottle. It was in this riveting novel I read how they catch monkeys in Brazil. I used to see monkeys at the then University of Ife, which was proudly renamed Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, but I didn’t know how greedy an animal it was until I read the awesome description by James Hadley Chase, the British writer whose real name was Rene Brabazon Raymond, the son of a British Colonel. Please, enjoy his narrative:
“Have you ever heard how they catch monkeys in Brazil Julie?” Let me tell you. They put a nut in a bottle, and tie the bottle to a tree. The monkey grasps the nut, but the neck of the bottle is too narrow for the monkey to withdraw its paw and the nut. You would think the monkey would let go of the nut and escape, wouldn’t you? But it never does. It is so greedy it never releases the nut and is always captured. Remember that story, Julie. Greed is a dangerous thing. If you give way to it, sooner or later you will be caught.”
I don’t know if the fictional character, Julie, forgot that important warning, but I remembered it immediately the news broke out that our dear Brother, Honourable Farouk Lawan, a respected member of Nigeria’s House of Representatives had visited Femi Otedola, the effervescent Al Capone of the diesel cartel in Nigeria, and demanded $3million as bribe from him, and actually got a few instalments totalling about $620,000 in cash already.
The story was indeed stranger than fiction. Had Hon. Lawan read James Hadley Chase, he would probably have learnt how to be a wary transgressor. If Lawan had kept his ears to the ground, he would have understood the way the cookie crumbles. If Lawan truly believed and trusted Femi Otedola like the fox that he is, he would believe anything and later get the shock treatment. Possibly unknown to Lawan, Femi is not a man to monkey with because he is a first class student of the Machiavelli school of Life.
As someone who has followed and chronicled the lifestyle of the rich, famous, and the not-so-famous Africans for some time, I have known and studied Femi Otedola very closely for upwards of 22 years when I first noticed him at one of those gigs of the Afro-Juju rave, Sir Shina Peters. Even if he had little money at that time, he already portrayed the carriage, confidence and grace of a man who could feel and see a bright future ahead. His inner circle of friends knew him as an extremely loyal person if in love with you. But the caveat was always added that stepping on Femi’s toes was as good as touching the tiger by the tail. Femi is an extremist that knows no middle of the road in his dealings with people. For him, the opposite of love is enmity. You could not borrow from him and expect to run away with it because you were friends. He had a clear principle on business and friendship and would never mix the two no matter how close you were.
It is always good to know people’s background for you to decipher how to handle or deal with them. Femi started making his cash as a money-lender. He was so good at it that he became legendary. As fate would have it, he had the heart of a gambler who took many risks, and fortune and fame beckoned at him. In one of his audacious moments, he had asked his dad to enter the gubernatorial race in Lagos state at a time the old man had no chance on earth of becoming Governor. At a stage Femi’s dad expressed exasperation at the burden Femi had placed on him because he had lost the little money he kept for the rainy day on what looked like a total misadventure. To make matters worse, most of Femi’s friends who could have supported the bid practically chickened out because by all accounts and permutations it was mission impossible. Femi would later tell his friends how one man stood out among his peers and supported them with some good money at the time. That man is the one and only Guru of telecoms, the Tsar of oil and gas, and the silent Power House, Dr Michael Adeniyi Agbolade Isola Adenuga.
Miraculously, Femi’s dad, Sir Michael Otedola stole victory from his cantankerous opponents who were at daggers-drawn with themselves and thus recorded a miraculous win. That development, and the contacts Femi later made, would change his life beyond belief. Femi took serious advantage of the opportunity and from there on one thing led to another. Femi seized the one in a lifetime chance, made money and grew himself into an octopus and major player in the Nigerian capital market. His company, Zenon became a near monopoly in a country totally dependent on diesel for most things. He would later acquire substantial shares in African Petroleum Plc. Femi also expanded into Chevron Texaco, Zenon Properties, F.O Transport and Atlas Shipping.
Femi loves to hold the four aces and keeps his joker in the pack. He enjoys the whiff of money and knows how to hit his competitors where it hurts. He would usually ask what’s better than money and try to authenticate the truism that there’s always a price tag on most people if not everyone. This, I believe, must have been the reason he took on the risky power-game of setting up and shooting down one of the brightest hopes of Nigeria, Hon. Farouk Lawan, and he has effortlessly succeeded in denting his image, at least pending the time we get his own side of the deal. The tragedy is not that Hon. Lawan fell like a pack of cards but that he walked into Femi’s sucker punch and got himself knocked out even before the tournament started.
No one would have expected Lawan to waltz himself into such a cheap scandal. The man who sought to arrest the tiger must never close his eyes in the zoo. It remains to be seen how he talked himself into this deadly trap and how Femi managed to hypnotise him to pick such amount of cash, personally, from a man under investigation. This must have been the height of greed and indiscretion. Without jumping to conclusions, Hon. Lawan’s tactical blunder has become a major source of revulsion and depression for those of us who genuinely believed in the crusade to stop the oil Mafia in their barefaced stealing of our commonwealth.
This saga has thus thrown up too many questions begging for answers from both parties. Let’s begin from the House of Representatives. In retrospect, what has ever come out from the cacophony of the committees probing this and that in the National Assembly? Is it not curious that there was so much hype and grandstanding about the Farouk Lawan’s Committee on the fuel subsidy scam while the Magnus Abe Committee in the Senate seemed to have melted into the Abuja Triangle because it probably understood the PDP game better than the loquacious Reps? Could the insinuation in official quarters be true that these committees were feverishly set up for publicity stunts as well as to extort money from both innocent and fraudulent companies and government agencies?
How come Hon. Lawan collected the Otedola dollars since April and we are just hearing about it at this late hour?
At what stage did the bubble burst and the relationship broke down between the giver and the taker of bribes? Where’s the money collected by Lawan and his partner, Hon.Boniface Emenalo, and was it ever sent to the Police or the House leadership as exhibit or evidence? Who originated this unholy deal that has snowballed into one of the biggest scandals ever to rock Nigeria’s National Assembly?
Why is the Nigerian Police more interested in a bribery allegation of $620,000 than the fuel subsidy scam running into over $10billion? How come no one has been detained or investigated by the Police over the can of worms in the Ministry of Petroleum and its subsidiaries? How come the President that pretended not to be affected by the fuel subsidy saga is suddenly issuing statements on the bribery disaster?
Let’s now walk across to the Zenon Chairman and ask some pertinent questions raised by some of the people I spoke to about this ugly situation? Why did Femi entertain Lawan’s bribery overture if indeed he had no case to answer? Why did he not leave the battle to be fought by those who had an issue with the Committee? Why did he have to resort to act as policeman or private detective to expose the Chairman of the Committee if he had no hidden agenda? Could it be that Femi was representing higher interests that want to discredit the probe report and cast aspersions on committee members? Who stands to gain if the Committee’s report is guillotined and the entire effort aimed at unveiling the masquerades milking us dry in the petroleum sector is aborted? Why has the Presidency suddenly taken a keen interest in this dirty peculiar mess (Penkelemesi! a la Adelabu?). What does the Nigerian Law say about a bribe giver, whether in reality or as a melodrama?
My strong view is that our ruling government has resorted to using its security apparatus to hunt, haunt and intimidate anyone who tries to take it on or attempt to install a new order in Nigeria. A party that has been in government and power since 1999, by hook and by crook, will never give up power without fighting with everything at its disposal. What we are witnessing is only a dress rehearsal of what is to come as we move towards 2015. The opposition must expect anything as events continue to unfold.
Unfortunately, Hon Farouk Lawan attempted to rock the boat of his own party without understanding the score. He should have known that nothing irritates the Mafia than an ungrateful godson. There were too many examples to learn from but Hon. Lawan was too naïve for his own good and definitely not for our collective interests.
This can only be a prologue.