former lawmaker Farouk Lawan and Billionaire Femi Otedola

Binance Bribery Allegations: Two Occasions When Nigerian Lawmakers Demanded Bribe from Public Figures

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Those closely following the probe by Nigeria’s federal lawmakers will know that the recent bribery allegation the Binance CEO made against the House of Representatives House Committee on Financial Crimes, chaired by Ginger Onwusibe (LP, Abia), isn’t new.

Sadly, the majority of Nigerians, who commented on the rebuttal from the government, believed him over the counter rebuttal by the government.

Mr Femi Otedola made a similar allegation against Honourable Farouk Lawan aka Mr. Integrity and the billionaire was able to prove his case, which earned Lawan a five-year jail term.

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Secondly, the former DG of SEC Dr Arunma Oteh publicly accused Honourable Herman Hembe of asking N44 million bribe from her. The case was swept under the carpet.

It happened in the past and may not even be the last.

Background

Following the drama that ensued after Nigeria’s government claimed that a global cryptocurrency platform Binance was being used for trading manipulations and arrested two of Binance’s top executives, charged them with punishable offences, the Chief Executive Officer of Binance Richard Teng alleged that some House of Representatives demanded a $150m bribe to bury the criminal charge filed against the crypto exchange firm.

Lawmaker Mazi Dominic  Okafor named as the Nigerian official who demanded bribe from Binance
Photo source: Kayode Ogundamisi

Through its Ministry of Information, the federal government issued a counter-allegation, saying the crypto firm was engaging in blackmail aimed at bringing members of Nigeria’s National Assembly into disrepute.

Teng in a post published by the New York Times on Tuesday, May 7, 2024, allegedly that unknown persons made the bribe demand of a $150m bribe to settle the criminal charge filed against Binance, after meeting with lawmakers on January 8, 2024.

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The Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, in a statement on Wednesday, dismissed the claims as baseless and part of a wider attempt by Binance to evade accountability for alleged criminal activities.

In a statement published by Nigeria’s government on X (formerly Twitter), the majority of commenters believe the Teng’s story more than their government and it is difficult to blame them.

Here are the two instances when lawmakers probing allegations demanded and collected bribes from those they were probing:

Femi Otedola VS Farouk Lawan ($500, 000 bribe)

In January 2012, a four-time elected member of the House of Representatives Alhaji Farouk Lawan chaired a committee that investigated the Nigerian government’s $6.8billion fuel subsidies.

The committee under his leadership discovered that the local oil firms that were paid only collected the money without delivering the product as promised.

One of the indicted local oil companies was Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited, owned by billionaire Femi Otedola.

But in a move to sweep the findings of the committee under the carpet, Farouk Lawan popularly called Mr. Integrity approached the billionaire and asked for a $3 million bribe so that Zenon Oil would be removed from the list of indicted companies in the scandal.

When things fell apart between Otedola and Farouk, the former exposed him after Farouk had already collected $500,000 as part of the agreement.

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In 2018, Otedola told the court that:

“Lawan said he was going to exonerate my company after giving him the money. Security cameras were mounted in my living room to capture the exchange of money between me and the defendant. The video is with the DSS, the money was given to him in two tranches $250,000 each.”

Otedola proved his case beyond doubt, along with video and audio evidence, that the former lawmaker indeed collected $500,000 as advance payment to remove Otedola’s company from the implicated list of companies.

And by June 22, 2021, Justice Angela Otaluka of Federal Capital Territory High Court, sentenced the former federal lawmaker to seven years in prison for bribery and corruption.

Unsatisfied by the ruling and the affirmation by the Appeal Court, Farouk approached the Supreme Court on January 26, 2024. The ruling led by Justice Tijani Abubakar upheld the lower courts’ ruling, but only reduced it to five years in jail.

 Arunma Oteh Boss Vs Herman Hembe (N44m bribe)

A former Chairman, the Committee on Capital Market and Other Financial Institutions in the House of Representatives, Herman Iorwase Hembe was accused of demanding N39 million from Dr. Arunma Oteh, the Director General (DG) of the Security and Exchange Commission (2019-2015).

Prelude

After assuming office as DG of SEC, Oteh vowed to expose some powerful Nigerians who manipulated the capital market for their selfish interest. It backfired as some saboteurs worked against her leading to a near-collapse of the market.

In April 2012, the House of Reps stepped in to investigate her. In response, the lawmaker accused Oteh of mismanaging the affairs of SEC, including purchasing jeeps worth N32 million in violation of the Procurement Act and payment of millions of naira as accommodation expenses for the DG in Abuja 5-star hostel, where she stayed for eight months instead of the 28 days recommended by civil service rule.

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Countering all allegations by Hembe, Oteh asked the chairman of the committee to step down because he lacked the integrity to probe her, describing the constitution of the hearing as “Kangaroo Court”.

The former DG also accused Hembe, a trained lawyer, of demanding 5 Million from the SEC as travel expenses to the Dominican Republic to attend an Emerging market conference.

Hembe was said to have pocketed the N5,000,000 because he didn’t attend the conference and failed to return the money as stated by law.

Binance may have a proof against lawmaker

While Hembe’s case remains an allegation until it is proven otherwise by a court, Lawan’s case and jail term is a testament that lawmakers can be compromised in public hearings.

Many public hearings by lawmakers involving probes of officials who mismanaged funds have not seen the light of the day.

The case of a former NDDC boss, Prof Kemebradikumo Pondei, who fainted on July 21, 2020, when he was called to account for how he spent N81.5 billion is another instance of probing by federal lawmakers that has not seen the light of the day.

As such, the bribery allegation by Binance that lawmakers demanded money to sweep the case against the crypto firm under the carpet is another case of some questionable elements in the National Assembly.

Already, A public affairs analyst Kayode Ogundamisi tweeted that Mazi Dominic Okafor has been named as the Nigerian official who demanded the bribe from Binance.

There are people with integrity in the Assembly, but a few questionable ones can bring the integrity of Nigeria into disrepute. 

Binance is known to have evaded regulations in the United States, where its founder Changpeng Zhao was found guilty after pleading guilty and sentenced to a four-month jail term while the crypto firm agreed to pay $4.3 Billion for violating US anti-money laundering laws.

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