Mr. Femi Otedola
The battle between Chairman, Zenon Petroleum and Gas Company, Mr. Femi Otedola, and the House of Representatives following the probe of the management of fuel subsidy scheme has now shifted to the court.
Otedola, in a suit filed at an Abuja High Court, is seeking N250 billion in damages from House Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, and suspended Chairman of the House Ad hoc Committee on the Monitoring of Subsidy Regime, Hon. Farouk Lawan.
Otedola had earlier accused Lawan of demanding $3 million from him to remove Zenon Oil from the list of oil marketers indicted for buying foreign exchange from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) without importing fuel.
Lawan had collected $500,000 and the ad hoc committee Secretary, Mr. Boniface Emenalo, $120,000, totalling $620,000 in part payments, in what Otedola said was a sting operation to expose Lawan.
The dispute between the duo had led to the House and the police probing the allegations and counter-allegations between Otedola and Lawan.
However, the oil magnate, in the suit filed by his lawyer, Chief Babajide Koku (SAN), is asking the court to order Tambuwal and Lawan to pay him N250 billion as compensation for business losses he suffered by the action of the two defendants.
In the case he jointly filed along with his Zenon Petroleum and Gas Company, Otedola is claiming N100 billion as general damages for acts of intimidation, loss of goodwill and patronages occasioned by the acts of the speaker and Lawan.
He is also claiming another N150 billion against the defendants as exemplary damages for their alleged oppressive and arbitrary actions against him and his company.
He is also challenging the alleged moves by Lawan and Tambuwal to put back the name of his company on the list of oil firms indicted for allegedly defrauding the Federal Government through the fuel subsidy scheme.
In a 28-point statement of claim, Otedola averred that by the resolution of January 8, 2012, the House set up an ad hoc committee to verify and determine the actual subsidy amount made to oil companies and to monitor the implementation of the subsidy in the country.
He claimed that Lawan later contacted and informed him that his company was going to be indicted for purchasing foreign exchange from the CBN without importing fuel.
He averred that despite his explanations, Lawan demanded $3 million bribe to remove Zenon Oil from the list of indicted oil marketers.
He contended that Lawan resorted to persistent phone calls threatening him that his company would be included on the list of indicted oil importers and that the image and reputation of Zenon Oil would be damaged unless he paid the $3 million.
Faced with the unrelenting barrage of intimidating phone calls, the plaintiff claimed that he became distressed and reported the unlawful demands to security agencies.
He averred that he was advised by security agents to play along by giving marked money to Lawan with a view to gathering evidence for the nefarious activities.
Otedola alleged that the situation got to a peak on April 18 when the fuel subsidy probe report was submitted and it indicted Zenon Oil.
He claimed further that Lawan called and assured him that the company would be delisted, prompting him to give $620,000 marked money in two instalments with $500,000 to Lawan and another $120,000 to one Emenalo on the instruction of Lawan.
With the bribe paid him, the plaintiff averred that Lawan on April 24 moved the House to delist Zenon Oil but he was still persistent in demanding the balance of $2,380,000 prompting him to report the incident to the police.
The plaintiff asserted that despite the ongoing police investigation, the speaker and Lawan have allegedly conspired to put back the name of his company on the list of indicted companies to embarrass him and his business’ corporate image.
He claimed that the purpose of doing that was to force and intimidate him to drop his complaints against Lawan.
Otedola therefore asked the court to award him N250 billion for the grave injuries done to his reputation and business image resulting in the substantial loss of goodwill and patronage of the business built over the years.
However, Tambuwal and Lawan have filed an objection to the hearing of the suit, claiming that only the Federal High Court can adjudicate in such a matter.
The objection was filed by Mr. Kehinde Ogunuwuniju from the chamber of Chief Afe Babalola (SAN).
Justice Peter Kekemeke of the Abuja High Court, who began hearing in the suit yesterday, adjourned the case till November 23.