BY EMMANUEL AZIKEN, KINGSLEY OMONOBI, OKEY NDIRIBE & EMMAN OVUAKPORIE
LAGOS—The House of Representatives was, yesterday, recalled from break as the cash for clearance scandal widened with the Police disclosing that other oil industry interests besides Femi Otedola gave bribes in dollars, pounds and local currencies to the committee.
The revelation came as House members fought back, alleging a systematic attempt by the Presidency and other interested parties to damage the credibility of the report produced by the Farouk Lawan led ad-hoc committee that investigated the implementation of the Federal Government subsidy regime.
It also emerged, yesterday, that Speaker Aminu Tambuwal refused entreaties from the State Security Service, SSS to retrieve the bribe passed on to Lawan by Otedola. Tambuwal, it was learnt, insisted that his touching the money would mean tampering with the evidence.
The discovery that other oil interest groups allegedly paid bribes to the Lawan committee emerged from the work of the CP Ali Amodu-led Special Task Force investigating the scandal. There were also feelers from the Special Task Force that the $620, 000 bribe money admittedly received by Lawan may have been destroyed.
Lawan who has so far not formally appeared before the Police team investigating the scandal now has a deadline of tomorrow to appear before the Police or be declared wanted.
As a source said yesterday: “Lawan is to appear before the investigation team and say all he knows about the bribery allegations against him or risk the consequences as the Police is empowered by law to take such other lawful steps necessary to help with the investigations.”
Chairman of Zenon Oil, Chief Femi Otedola, who claimed to have given Rep. Farouk Lawan marked $620,000 as part payment of the $3m demanded from him as bribe appeared before the police panel on Tuesday during which he tendered both video and audio evidence of the transaction between him, (Otedola) and Lawan.
A senior Police source told Vanguard yesterday that the investigating team has enough evidence, including the call logs of the discussions between Farouk and Otedola on where, how and when the money will be collected, as well as the fact that Farouk went to Otedola’s house by 4 am to collect the money.
Giving more insight into how such bribery monies were collected from other marketers, the Police source said: “They (Marketers) were intimidated, threatened and coerced into parting with various sums of pounds, dollars and naira notes out of fear of attack on their property and investments by Nigerians who were angry over the subsidy removal and payment to a few that had been milking the country dry.
“It was as a result of our investigation into the discussions that transpired between Otedola and Farouk Lawan that we stumbled on other transactions with other oil marketers. The Otedola case was like the straw that broke the camel’s back because he told them he cannot be intimidated into joining others to bribe his way out of an offence he did not commit”.
Vanguard was made to understand that as part of the investigations, if Farouk and his committee members fail to own up, the investigating team may extend its work to find out exactly how much and in which currency other oil marketers paid bribes.
Fears over safety of bribe money
A senior Police officer expressed fear that the bribe money may have been destroyed which could put spanners into the works of the investigating team, pointing out that “Even with the video evidence, they may say what Otedola presented or handed over to them were books and not cash”.
The officer wondered “why the SSS who provided the marked money delayed in arresting both Farouk Lawan and the Secretary Boniface Emenalo immediately they collected the money from Chief Otedola or as soon as they stepped out of the house. If that was done we wouldn’t be moving back and forth over this matter”.
Meanwhile, the leadership of the House yesterday issued a notice for the House to reconvene tomorrow.
The notice issued by the Clerk of the House M.A. Sani Omolori, read thus: “This is to inform all Honourable members of the House of Representatives that the House would reconvene to hold a Plenary session on Friday June 15th, 2012 at 10am prompt. Honourable Members are advised to take note and attend promptly, please.”
Being that the House normally does not sit on Fridays for plenary, the House is expected to suspend its rules to allow the sitting to hold.
Speaker Tambuwal was last night meeting with other members of the House leadership and close associates on how to respond to the unfolding development.
One source disclosed, yesterday, that tomorrow’s session would follow the “rule of law” a description of what some said would make way for Lawan to step down from the chairmanship of the ad-hoc committee for the purpose of allowing unfettered investigation.
Meanwhile, there were insinuations yesterday that the evolving crisis was being directed towards causing instability in the House.
Sources in the House told Vanguard of how Speaker Tambuwal evaded what was described as a trap when he was invited to watch the video of Lawan receiving the bribe money by the SSS.
The speaker, it was claimed, was told to retrieve the bribe from Lawan but Tambuwal demurred insisting that he is a lawyer and would not want to tamper with the evidence and as such requested the SSS to collect the money directly from Lawan.
“When the speaker refused, they now urged and even pressed him to return the money through any of his aides, but the speaker again refused,” an associate of Speaker Tambuwal disclosed yesterday.
“This has now made us believe that they want to get him involved in the mess so that he could be said to have been involved in the whole scam,” the associate said yesterday.
It’s Presidency, oil marketers plot — Group
The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) in a similar vein yesterday pointed accusing fingers at both the executive arm of government and some fuel importers who, according to the CISLAC have never been comfortable with the way the present leadership of the House of Representatives conducts its legislative business.
According to the statement issued by its Executive Director, Auwal Musa: “An offence allegedly committed by an individual member should not be used as an excuse to create another crisis in the House of Representatives.
Human Rights Monitor, yesterday, alleged a plan by vested interests to undermine the implementation of the report by the Lawan committee. The group in a statement issued by its Executive Director, Festus Okoye said in part:
“The allegations of blackmail, extortion and bribery levelled against the Chairman of the said Committee by Mr. Femi Otedola and the counter allegations of inducement, threat to life and bribery by the Chairman of the said Committee Hon. Farouk Lawan are a case in point.
“We hasten to point out that irrespective of the merits of the allegations and counter allegations of bribery and corruption the report of the Fuel Subsidy Committee is already in the public domain.
Arewa youths react
Similarly, the President of the Arewa Youth Congress, in a similar statement urged Nigerians to push for the implementation of the report of the ad-hoc committee saying that the report should not be buried.
In the statement issued by its president, Comrade Ibrahim Abubakar, the AYC which is a coordinating platform for youth groups in the north said: ‘’We have studied the report of the Farouk Lawan-led ad hoc committee that probed the fuel subsidy issue and we are convinced that the panel did a good job. That is the reason we strongly believe that the recommendations of the committee should not be swept under the carpet,” Abubakar said.