This piece was first published in June 2012. Nine years later, the central actor: Farouk Lawan, was this week at the Federal Capital Territory High Court in Apo, Abuja sentenced to seven years imprisonment for taking bribes while serving as the Chairman of the defunct House of Representatives ad-hoc committee investigating the fraud around fuel subsidy regime in 2012. Angela Otaluka, the trial judge, handed down the verdict in a hours-long verdict on Tuesday. She found the former legislator guilty of all the three counts of bribery.
“When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die.” That was Jean-Paul Sartre’s summation in: “The Devil and the Good Lord.” Nigerians found themselves embroiled in yet another chapter of an endless, vexatious, and scandalous war. The war against greed. The war against this nation’s untreatable sickness. The war against aggressive hyper-corruption.
Yes, we may all be delirious with perfunctory rage, disappointment, and hopeless inaction, but Nigerians have their odd way of coping with official injustice and corruption.
Yes, we may complain in a wearyingly Pavlovian manner that Nigeria’s democracy is a hostage to corruption, but where are the brave hearts to rescue us from the captivity of plunderers. Diesel Femi Otedola is a fully signed up rich man. He has power, prosperity, and prestige. He epitomises the bottom-line, our cravings and the very opium of a Nigerian dream: being wealthy. His resume is not exactly the iconic rags to riches narrative. Dad once governed Lagos State. He began his rise to stardom early. At work, at play and at prayer he talked diesel. He charted that destiny with a single-minded purpose. Sell or die became his mantra. That is the acronym for diesel. Sell or die backward is diesel! Eureka!
Diesel Otedola is the kind of Homo erectus we love to adulate, glorify, and celebrate in our classrooms, business discussions, the Internet, homes and even amid enlightened, robust discourse. This tall, young, dark, handsome man is among Nigeria’s wealthiest 100. From childhood, the Nigerian society has bred into his bones its own belief in social and political mobility.
He has been taught that wealth attracts positive attention, universal respect, unmerited privileges, consideration, affection, friendship, and congratulation from the president.
Expectedly, Diesel Otedola has been pulling off uncanny feat of ambidexterity. On one hand, he is a diesel oligarch. As an oilman, he has been oiling the palms of politicians who may want to build a barricade against his graceless monopoly of the diesel business in Nigeria. He has been using his money to swoon off politicians to perpetual slumber.
He has been throwing away his dollars to switch off searchlights into his oil wells. Even Jonathan, the president of Nigeria, recognises the raw awe of his wealth. He courted the rich wisdom of Otedola during his campaign for the presidency. He also lapped up his dollars. In a nation like Nigeria, Diesel Otedola had to unfurl the ambidextrous talent of a calculating business mogul.
Then an upstart politician came into the loop. This nation brought Lawan from the soul killing obscurity and poverty of Boko Harammed Kano into political prominence. The artless simplicity of a baby-faced Farouk Lawan captivated the nation. He epitomises the bootstrap values of a promising son rising through diligence, integrity and hardwork. His flamboyant personality and soft voice charmed us. He charmed the House of Rep.
But the furnaces in which true leadership will be tried, tested, purified, and emerged triumphant is on the way. Suddenly, the petrol subsidy agitation began to animate the polity. A contemptuous rather than contrite Jonathan removed the subsidy on petrol. In that chill of despair when the spirit of most Nigerians has sunk below zero, calamity Jonathan pilled on more calamities.
Why the subsidy was removed is still beyond our mortal ken to understand. With the flourish and grace of a knight in shining armour, Lawan was elected the chair of an ad-hoc committee to probe the subsidy palaver. He rode in with the majestic hauteur of a man of integrity. He never knew that he faced the deadly hubris of high expectations. To assure the nation, he began with a hounding, persecuting and patriotic pitch.
The subsidy probe became his most splenetic lamentations as a politician. We extended our gesture of gratitude to his dogged patriotism. We thanked him for his fierce loyalty to the poor people of Nigeria. We declared him a hero for his stubborn refusal to accept bribe from rich and powerful marketers with hell bent reflexes to hijack the outcome of the subsidy findings.
However, the prophets could not discern that our diminutive, artless angel called Lawan is a fake. He is the deceiving devil manifesting as an angel of light and delight. He will soon disappoint. He will soon be swoon off into political death by a rich oil magnate. Otedola’s diesel will soon burn down the house of Lawan. It will be a slow, grisly, and greasy burning. The very character of a burning diesel!
All along Lawan was thought to be sharing in our pain and soothing us with hope. Nobody knew he was hiding behind a fictional cut-out. His ugly vice has been putting on a mask. A mask of dogged pretence! He has unmasked himself as part of the upstarts frequently usurping the highest places of trust in our democracy. The story of Lawan’s bribery indiscretion, like the slyness of a pick pocket is more deadly than the audacity of an armed robber. With almost manic steeplechase, he phoned Diesel Otedola 16 times to pay illegal money. His excessive uncivil zeal is far more gruesome than a Sophoclean tragedy.
With Lawan, there is no escaping such swings from adulation to despair, hope to sadness, expectation to ruin and prominence to oblivion. He has again proved to be a victim of his heritage and breeding. Our common heritage and breeding in Nigeria are corruption and looting. From the low born to the high born, we all share deep fondness for corruption and its romantic trappings.
Too many Nigerian politicians are being gibbeted up as common criminals because of the steadfast temptation of collecting easy money. They are being gibbeted up as enemies of our democracy because of their consuming, primordial catfight to pillage this nation’s resources and share the plunder. Diesel Otedola’s revelation of Lawan’s diurnal and nocturnal predatory instinct for easy dollar is a testament to the disdainful kind of politicians we breed in Nigeria.
It is a testament to an average politician’s aversion to probity, integrity, and public accountability. The evil effect of this is clear. The war against official corruption has remained, essentially, an impotent gesture in the hands of the very enemies of this nation masquerading as patriots of the realm – the politicians!
Diesel Otedola may have delighted us with a historical corruption scoop; he may have raised our eternal vigilance on politicians, but our collective triumph and vindication will be Lawan’s speedy resignation, persecution, and conviction for accepting bribe. Soon, the incriminating voice recording and marked notes lodged with the Police and EFCC will take on wings. The romantic rogues in both the pay of our Police, House of Rep and EFCC will subvert the course of justice. The probe panel will do another Lawanesque. Members will begin to pursue bribe both diurnally and nocturnally from the arraigned criminal – dishonourable Farouk Lawan. Read that with unpartisan passion.
All over again, we will exhibit to the world that we live in a cancerous, corrupting nation that is in the throes of a raw cry for massive bloody implosion. How much long can we continue to be amused by our corruption and the absconding, untouchable political scoundrels who sit in Aso Rock, National Assembly, and the House of Rep? Who will reclaim our convoluted, corrupting, and diluted democracy that hinges so much on corruption than the good of the public? These are my $500,000 questions.
That was the exact amount of money taken by a deadly Judas Farouk Lawan to betray his conscience. The dirty money he collected to betray our trust and our nation. The whole saga has its own quintessential moment. Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold. Vengeful Diesel Otedola marinated Lawan’s cold dish with a borrowing from James Hardly Chase’s thriller – screw the dumb with marked dollars.