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Nigerian lawmaker and aide in bribery scandal

Farouk Lawan, who probed fuel subsidy fraud, is charged in Abuja court for allegedly bribing an oil executive.
Last Modified: 01 Feb 2013 19:55
The man the bribe was allegedly solicited from is an ally of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (pictured) [AFP]

A Nigerian legislator who led a probe into the nation's fuel subsidy programme that saw billions of dollars lost through fraud has been charged with allegedly soliciting a $3m bribe from someone targeted by the inquiry.

Farouk Lawan and his aide Emenalo Boniface pleaded not guilty on Friday to the charges they face in a Federal High Court in Nigeria's capital, Abuja.

Justice Mudashiru Oniyang ordered the two men to be held in prison until a bail hearing on February 8.

The allegations surrounding Lawan and Boniface stem from their investigation of Femi Otedola, the chairman of Zenon Petroleum and Gas.

Charging documents released by the court on Friday show that investigators claim the two men sought a $3m bribe from Otedola to remove his company from a list of firms suspected of stealing about $6.7bn from the government through the subsidy programme.

Prosecutors accused Lawan of receiving at least $500,000 of the demanded bribe, while Boniface received $120,000.

The alleged bribery scandal erupted when Nigerian newspapers published stories claiming Otedola and his associates filmed the encounters.

Subsidy programme

The films have not been released publicly, though Otedola co-operated with police in their investigation.

The bribery allegations quickly overshadowed the work of the House of Representatives, which launched a probe of the subsidy programme in the wake of a January 2012 nationwide strike over the removal of the fuel subsidies.

The subsidies, in theory, keep prices artificially low for buyers while paying companies for bringing in refined gasoline at a loss against the world market price.

Nigeria, despite producing about 2.4 million barrels of oil a day, has decrepit refineries unable to meet the nation's demand for gasoline due to years of mismanagement and sabotage.

However, gasoline importation licenses became a means of patronage, as the number of companies involved jumped from six in 2006 to 140 in 2011, according to the report.

In 2009, when there were 36 companies licensed to import, government officials once issued about $800m in 128 transactions in a 24-hour period without proper documentation, the report reads.

The probe ultimately called for $6.7bn to be repaid by importers, the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and other agencies.

Allegations of corruption continue to hound the subsidy programme, which eats away billions from Nigeria's federal budget. However, the comparatively low fuel prices as a result of the subsidy programme are one of the few benefits seen by the masses in Nigeria.

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