The bribery scandal between oil magnate, Femi Otedola and Rep Farouk Lawan produced some comic relief last week, when the latter rebuffed entreaties from Honourable Gambo Musa, chairman of Ethics and Privileges Committee of the House to make his testimony in camera as against the open enquiry the House had promised. For Otedola, it may have felt good to deride and bring to disrepute the so-called honourables. He may also have been riding high that the videos (part one and two) of the bribe giving in action are already a box office hit, while many too have joined him to laugh at the lawmakers for hitting the ‘wrong’ target this time.
Beneath the laughter is the reality of a nation in a deep mess. A nation that is so damned to the extent that its president does not even give a damn about. If a case that borders on criminality can be so trivialised, then, the nation is in trouble. And as we all know, the only reason why Otedola is (mis)behaving this way, is because he has the backing of the president. Otherwise, why should he continue to associate with the president openly and still attends the National Economic Management Team? In other climes, Otedola will by now, distance himself from the president or the President will not touch him with a 10-foot-pole. But because this is Nigeria, where anything goes, Otedola brought to the open last week, what he and the president probably do in their closet or when they are alone and are discussing the fuel subsidy report.
Unfortunately for the committee members, especially, its chairman, they expressed their rage and anger and eventually veered off the main issue to rain insults on Otedola. Just like Lawan’s encounter with him (Otedola), it’s another bait to hit the lawmakers below the belt; a ploy that is targeted at tearing the subsidy report into shreds. The recourse to insults, as did the Committee in itself is a desperate measure that did not serve any meaningful purpose. Whether Otedola is misguided, disrespectful or an imbecile as Hon Gambo Musa said is immaterial. Responding to Otedola’s laughter with a direct insult even questions the leadership style of the honourable and it begs and belittles the case.
As things stand today, the House remains in danger of losing their credibility, due to the odium brought upon it by Lawan’s action and the manner in which they are handling the case. Because of this reputational deficiency on the part of the legislators, any recourse to grandstanding, as they seem to be doing will neither help to shore up their image, nor that of the country. Nigerians and friends of Nigeria want the House to act and reprimand one of their own first; so that when they come to equity with Otedola, people will not shout foul play. And reprimanding Lawan is simple: if the police would not come for him, his colleagues should hand him over to them; and let him prove his innocence in the law court.
The police as usual played a suspect role in the saga. Suddenly, they found their voice of “not just rushing to court for the fun of charging people to court” according to the deputy force spokesman, Frank Mba. The police are now quoting the laws; they are exercising caution and are following due process. Mba also said “the courts are congested and that is why we don’t make progress. It is unproductive; it is a waste of public resources’. Ha! Ha! Ha!. When did they realise this? When it came to the president’s friend? When it is politically expedient to do so? Were we not in this country when the then candidate Rotimi Ameachi was denied his victory because President Obasanjo declared that his candidature had “developed a K-leg”. He was later arrested and detained by the police. Or the case of former PDP chairman, Vincent Ogbulafor whose largely “unknown and alleged criminal past” was dusted up, owing to his comment that there was zoning in PDP, a comment seen as an affront to the president’s hidden ambition then.
We must also not lose sight of the judiciary’s reluctance to wade into the matter. If they are not in cahoots with the president, why did Muhammed Adoke, the minister of Justice not invoke his powers to bring Otedola and Lawal to justice and save the nation the embarrassment of harbouring corrupt people, even when they are caught with their hands in the till? Although the minister has said that they would not discard the House Committee report on subsidy and that culprits would be punished, is there any signal to that effect? Does he really have the will to do it?
The only logical answer is that, instead of taking cognisance of any offence and how it would impact negatively on the Nigerian society, we look at the personalities behind the offence: is he rich or poor, a blue blood or a commoner, in high or low office? This classification beclouds our judgement. And it’s a drawback for Nigeria’s anti-corruption crusade.