Nine years after the scandal that rocked the House of Representatives investigation into fuel subsidy fraud, the chairman of the then ad-hoc investigating committee, Farouk Lawan, has been sentenced to seven years imprisonment for receiving bribe from billionaire oil magnate, Femi Otedola, the owner of one of the firms that were being investigated.
An FCT High Court sitting in Apo presided over on Tuesday by Justice Angela Otaluka found Lawan guilty of all the three counts that bordered around bribery in the case which had travelled to and from the Supreme Court since it began in 2012.
Credible sources said the former legislator has been moved to Kuje Prisons in the outskirt of Abuja.
A source at the prison who does not want to be named confirmed that Lawan was taken there shortly after he was convicted by the court.
“Yes, he was brought here (Kuje correctional facility) straight from the courtroom. From today, he has started serving his jail term and will continue until he finishes his sentence unless he appeals his case and wins the appeal at any point before he will be released,” he said.
While Lawan was convicted for his role in the bribery scandal, charges were however not filed against the giver of the alleged bribe, Otedola, a situation explained by lawyers as justified by law.
Otedola had himself said during the trial that the bribe money he gave to Lawan was given to him by the Department of State Services (DSS) as part of a sting operation.
The former lawmaker was prosecuted on charges of receiving a bribe of $500,000 from Otedola.
The money was part of the $3milllion Lawan requested to have the businessman’s firms removed from the list of companies indicted for fuel subsidy fraud.
While delivering judgment yesterday, the judge held that Lawan’s conduct had elements of corruption.
She held that from the pool of evidence before the court, the prosecuting lawyer, Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), had established a case of corrupt practices against the defendant in count one of the charge that borders on corruptly requesting a bribe of $3million.
“It is the duty of the defendant to produce materials upon which he places his defence,” she said.
She also said Lawan failed to call one Honourable Ribadu or any member of the house committee to buttress his claim of collecting the money to implicate Otedola, insisting that they were “vital witness” needed to prove his case.
“Count one of the charges is not based on suspicion but on credible evidence. The defendant (Lawan) corruptly asked for $3million and received a $500,000 bribe in two tranches from Femi Otedola,” the judge said.
The judge also dismissed Lawan’s claim that he received the $500,000 to obtain proof of moves by Otedola to induce him and members of his committee.
The judge thereafter sentenced the four-term former federal lawmaker from Kano State to seven years for counts one and two while he was sentenced to five years for count three. The sentences are to run concurrently.
Lawan was also asked to return the $500,000 collected from Otedola to the federal government.
Daily Trust reports that Justice Otaluka was the third judge that heard the case since Lawan’s first arraignment.
Two judges who earlier handled the matter could not conclude it as the first one was elevated to the Court of Appeal bench and the second withdrew after Lawan accused her of bias, the same allegation he earlier levelled against Justice Otaluka.
While Lawan was immediately taken into custody by officials of Nigerian Correctional Services believed to be from the Kuje centre and driven out of the court after the judgment, lawyers said he has a right to appeal the judgment of the court up to the Supreme Court and can also apply for post-conviction bail.
Efforts to know the next line of action from his lawyer, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), were not successful as of the time of filing this report.
The Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Dr Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, said that although it took a long time for Lawan to be convicted, it is a positive development that justice has been delivered at last.
“Farouk Lawan’s corrupt act was a betrayal of public trust reposed in him. His fall from his heights and his journey to prison should send a clear message to all that there are consequences for bad behaviour. CHRICED hopes that the Nigerian system will evolve to a point where more lawbreakers like Lawan would be made to account for their actions,” Zikirullahi said.