By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor & Emman Ovuakporie
Months after the House of Representatives promised to get to the root of the cash for clearance scam involving one of its most prominent members, Farouk Lawan, indications are that the investigation is being swallowed up in a web of intrigues.
The moral authority of the House to stand in defence of the people or to scrutinize the actions of the executive arm is at risk.
IT was undoubtedly the spiciest scandal to smear the clean crisp image that Speaker Aminu Tambuwal had so much sought to build.
The narratives on television of a member of the House of Representatives discussing bribe with a subject under investigation shook the foundations of the parliament.
Rep. Lawan Farouk, a four-term member of the House of Representatives was tasked with leading the House investigation into arguably the biggest fraud to be revealed in the supply of domestic fuel.
The fuel subsidy scam in which trillions of naira were fraudulently claimed by real and fictitious fuel importers shook the foundations of the country.
It was as such not surprising that the House of Representatives constituted an ad-hoc committee to investigate the scandal.
Lawan, an experienced lawmaker was given the assignment of leading the other members of the investigative panel.
While the public investigation lasted, many Nigerians hailed the inquisitive and probing gestures of the Lawan committee, which relentlessly harried the importers and others involved.
The findings and recommendations of the committee were damning. Many stakeholders and government organizations were found culpable. Remarkably, a number of principal officers of the agencies of government involved in the scam were let off the hook by the Lawan report.
That set some tongues wagging, but the issue was still muted given the rapturous endorsement of the activities of the committee during the hearings.
It was not until later when stories about the exchange of dollars for clearance began to circulate that members of the House of Representatives began to express doubt about the sincerity of the Lawan report.
The House leadership was bold to limit the damage once the allegation that Lawan and the committee clerk, Boniface Emenalo, collected $620,000 bribe to clear oil magnate Femi Otedola, distilled into the public space.
It immediately removed Lawan from the leadership of the ad-hoc committee and also stripped him of his position as chairman of the House committee on Education.
The issue was further referred to the House Committee on Ethics for investigation.
Lawan and Otedola were invited to the investigation by the Ethics committee headed by Rep. Gambo Dan Musa.
The committee heard Lawan in camera but the effort to also hear Otedola in camera, was flatly rejected by the businessman leading to an embarrassing altercation between the Ethics Committee and Otedola.
Upon his refusal to address the committee in camera, the committee chairman, Musa lashed out at Otedola in a language that reportedly embarrassed the House and displeased the leadership.
“You cannot make an allegation and when you are being asked to substantiate, you now refuse to substantiate. What are you hiding”? Honourable Dan Musa asked when he briefed newsmen after Otedola walked out on the committee.
“He has told us that we are hiding something that is why we don’t want to do it in public, rather we told him, he is the one hiding something by refusing to talk, by refusing to make a substantiation of his allegations.”
“He refused to say anything and he was just laughing. It was very stupid of him and we are not happy too” he said minutes after Otedola with his team of legal advisers left the committee hearing.
The question as to why the committee insisted on hearing Otedola and Lawan in secret remains a mystery and seriously eroded the confidence that many Nigerians had in the House committee. After months of the secret investigation it was announced few weeks ago that the committee has concluded its investigation and its report ready for the House.
Speaking to newsmen in the course of a press briefing by Rep. Zakari Mohammed House Committee Chairman on Media and Public Affairs and his Deputy, Rep. Victor Ogene, the latter had said that the report of the House investigations on Lawan would be presented after resumption.
“The findings of the committee would be made available as soon as the House resumes from its Sallah break,” Ogene had been quoted as saying.
The assertion had given the impression that the House would receive the report immediately after resumption from the Sallah break.
But Ogene was to issue a clarification the following day to clear impressions created in the media that the report would definitely be presented on the day of the House resumption.
In the statement the Friday preceding the November 6, 2012 resumption, he said: “I have read several accounts of my interaction with the media at Thursday’s weekly Press Briefing of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs and wish to make the following clarifications. To state categorically, therefore, that the Report will be laid next week is not only erroneous, but patently misleading.”
What Ogene’s clarification inevitably implied was that the report was no longer a priority for the House.
Given the dithering procrastination of the House in considering the report, the high regard for the Tambuwal leadership would almost certainly be reduced as many come to make comparisons between the House action on the Farouk-Otedola saga and other scandals that have smeared the House of Representatives in recent times.