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Of Lawangate and reps’ secret probe
It is no longer news that the embattled Honourable Farouk Lawan has been suspended as chairman House ad-hoc Committee that probed the management of subsidy regime and Education committee he once chaired and call the shot because of the allegation of dollars for clearance levelled against him and the committee secretary, Mr Boniface Emenalo, by the oil magnate, Mr Femi Otedola.
Mr Otedola had accused both Mr Lawan and Mr Emenalo of receiving bribes totalling $620,000, being part payment of $3 million bribe demanded in order to remove his oil firm from the list of companies indicted for receiving forex from Central Bank of Nigeria, (CBN) and failing to import any product.
This weighty allegation, however, forced the leadership of the House to summon an emergency session where Mr Lawan was suspended and the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges tasked to probe the allegation against him, while the National Assembly management was asked to investigate Mr Emenalo.
On June 28, the committee started its probe on Mr Lawan who was grilled for some hours behind closed door, contrary to the earlier promise by the spokesperson of the House, Honourable Zakari Mohammed who had said that the whole hearing would be done in the open. The chairman of the Ethics and Privileges Committee, Honourable Gambo Musa Dan-Musa had said before grilling Lawan that “the committee is set to carry out its assignment with a very high sense of commitment. We shall strive to be fair and just to all parties involved. It is our belief that at the end of the day our report will meet the expectation of the House and indeed that of the Nigerian public”.
After reading the prepared text, Dan-Musa ordered the journalists present in the committee’s room to get out, saying, “this is not a public hearing”. This was to the amazement of everyone except the committee members.
Though, the man at the centre of the storm in person of Lawan did not complain about the modus operandi of the committee, but Mr Otedola, who spilled the beans of Mr Lawan’s alleged underhand dealings to the whole world, came with another shocker when he appeared before the committee on July 3 and insisted that he would only talk on the allegation when given coverage. Mr Otedola, who appeared before the committee in company of 10 aides including his lawyer, Mr Jide Koku, (SAN), was armed with a well prepared page, stating his reservation to the closed door probe.
Mr Otedola’s one page address to the committee read in part: “This is a matter that has generated a lot of public interest and controversy.The House of Representatives Committee on the Management of Fuel Subsidy headed by Honourable Farouk Lawan held all its sittings in public. When this issue (bribery allegation) arose, the House of Representatives Committee on Ethics and Privileges publicly stated that its investigations would be held in public.
It is therefore surprising and curious that this committee has made a u-turn to hold its investigative sittings in-camera particularly in the light of unfolding events.
“I strongly believe that the interest of the public will not be best served if this investigation is held in-camera.I have nothing to hide and will only speak on this issue when this investigation is conducted in a very transparent manner, and the press as well as the general public are allowed to be present at the sittings of this committee from the beginning of its investigation to its conclusion”, he concluded.
To this end, a member of the panel on the condition of anonymity told Tribune politics that after Mr Otedola had read his prepared text, he ignored all questions posed to him by the committee. This, the chairman of the committee later confirmed when he briefed newsmen. According to him, Mr Otedola failed to answer all the questions posed to him and that rather than answering the question, he was laughing at the lawmakers.
In his words: “Mr Otedola appeared before us in compliance with our invitation in order to get to the root of the bribery allegation levelled against one of our members, but unfortunately, he refused to answer all the questions posed to him. We even told him that he was not an accused before us today, but a witness against one of our members who was accused of a wrongdoing, but he refused to talk and was even laughing. He even insulted us; it is very stupid of him. All that he could tell us was that he was a businessman and that he could do his business outside the country, adding that he was not a hungry man. Are we hungry men? No, we are honourable members of the House of Representatives who are highly respected in the society”, he said.
The committee chairman however said that despite the refusal of Mr Otedola to answer the committee’s questions, the committee would still go ahead with the investigation and invite all other concerned parties in the ongoing bribery allegation probe. This development has now become yet another controversy just like the House subsidy report, the $3 million bribery allegation itself and now the closed door probe. Even some members of the House were said to be unhappy with the closed door probe and the foul language used freely on Mr Otedola by the chairman of the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges.
A member of the House, Honourable Simon Arabo, who was not happy with the development at the Thursday plenary session condemned the secret investigative hearing by the committee set up to investigate the bribery allegation leveled against the erstwhile subsidy probe chairman by Otedola.
Raising a point of order bordering on privilege, Honourable Arabo questioned the House Ethics chairman for his use of uncouth language in the verbal spat that followed Tuesday’s insistence by Otedola on a public hearing against the panel’s decision to hold the hearing in secret.
According to the lawmaker, the investigative method and verbal spat that followed was capable of rubbishing the credibility of the assignment before the ethics committee.
Honourable Arabo said: “In carrying out an assignment of such magnitude, you do not make such comments. The parliament does not stand to lose anything if the testimony of Otedola is taken in public,” the lawmaker stated at Thursday’s plenary.
Ruling on the point of order, the deputy speaker, Emeka Ihedioha who presided over the session, mandated the lower house chief whip, Ishiaka Bawa, to liaise with the Committee on Ethics and Privileges on the matter and report back to the House.
This development now seems to be compounding the whole controversies as another probe has now been introduced into the melo-drama that is currently playing out in piece meals and Nigerians are conscious of the whole game plan. When the whole drama is put a stop to, then Nigerians will now know the good, the bad and the ugly.Share