By Emmanuel Aziken, Okey Ndiribe, Kingsley Omonobi, Emman Ovuakporle & Ben Agande
LAGOS — Chairman of the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee on fuel subsidy management, Hon. Farouk Lawan who is at the centre of the $3million bribe to clear indicted oil companies, was detained last night by the police.
Rep Lawan who voluntarily reported to the CP Ali Amodu-led police Special Task Force investigating the allegation at about 4.40pm yesterday was interrogated for several hours alongside the secretary of the ad-hoc committee, Boniface Emenalo. As at press time, his interrogators said the embattled lawmaker has failed to return the marked $620, 000 first installment he collected and he would not be allowed to go until he hands over the money.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives reconvenes in an extra-ordinary session this morning with the legislators weighing several options to diminish the damages accruing from the cash for clearance scam centred around Rep. Farouk Lawan.
The dimension of the crisis escalated, yesterday, with the Police claiming that as much as N11.3 billion might have been collected as bribe money by Rep. Lawan and some unnamed members of the ad-hoc committee on the investigation of fuel subsidy management.
Interested parties including former influential members of the House of Representatives on Wednesday night intervened during separate meetings with Speaker Aminu Tambuwal and Rep. Lawan over the brewing crisis at the Apo Legislative Quarters residence of Chief Halims Agoda.
Lawan visits Police task force
Before reporting to the Police, Lawan visited Speaker Tambuwal yesterday morning during which, it was learnt, the Speaker urged him to go to the police.
The unfolding crisis emerged following the allegation that Lawan demanded a $3 million bribe from oil magnet, Femi Otedola to clear him (Otedola) and his companies from culpability in the subsidy scam investigated by the ad-hoc committee.
Lawan had admitted collecting $620,000 (N96.1 million) out of the $3 million (N465 million) bribe from Otedola, saying that he intended to use it as evidence of the pressures from the oil companies and their associates to compromise his committee.
Among the options under consideration at today’s session, Vanguard learnt yesterday, is the suspension of Lawan from the House and the reconstitution of the ad-hoc committee. Multiple sources in the House nevertheless pointed at the unanimity of opinion that the rule of law must be adhered to in resolving the crisis.
While many members who were last night seething that the integrity of the House had been compromised by the scandal and were rooting for the suspension of Lawan, others were also cautious, insisting that the House must not run foul of its own rule of law mantra.
“We will apply our rules and the rule of law in this matter to the extent that the integrity of the House and its resolutions would not be compromised,” a leading member told Vanguard yesterday.
Another member said: “We are increasingly worried that this bribery allegation is unjustifiably affecting the image of the House. We can’t close our eyes to this unfortunate development”.
Order 10, Rule 71, sub 4 which may come into play today should those supportive of Lawan’s suspension prevail spells thus:
When a member is named by the Speaker, if the offence is a minor one, the Speaker may order the member to withdraw for the remainder of the legislative day, but if the matter appears to the Speaker to be of a more serious nature, the Speaker shall put the question on a motion being made, no amendment, adjournment or debate being allowed, “that such member be suspended from the service of the House,” such suspension being for any time stated in the motion not exceeding 14 legislative days.
To stave off a suspension there were speculations yesterday that Lawan may consider the option of a soft-landing through stepping down as Chairman of the Ad-hoc Committee. It was learnt that Lawan’s acceptance of this option would ensure he is not disgraced by his colleagues who have been furious over his alleged involvement in the scandal. Sources said if this option is adopted, the case would be referred to the Ethics and Privileges Committee of the House for further investigation. With the adoption of this option, Lawan may enjoy a temporary relief pending when the security agencies conclude their investigation.
Several caucuses were believed to be working on different strategies that would be deployed during today’s plenary session. One of the caucuses which is said to be mobilizing members for Lawan is led by a prominent principal officer in the House.
The involvement of the prominent principal officer was last night leading to insinuation that the bribery scam may have involved more than Rep. Lawan.
In addition to mobilizing members, the pro-Lawan group is also said to have rented protesters that would storm the National Assembly to demonstrate their support for the embattled lawmaker. In response to this plan it was also gathered that the anti-Lawan camp may have also mobilized protesters to storm the National Assembly today.
It was further gathered that some lawmakers may oppose any move to suspend Lawan. Apart from his associates from theKanoand Jigawa axis, there were indications that the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) House caucus could be opposed to the suspension of the embattled lawmaker.
Although, some ACN members in the House were outraged by the allegation and believe Lawan should be left to face the music, the leadership of the party’s caucus is also fearful of allowing the House to fall into the snare of oil marketers whose aim is to discredit the report
According to a member fromEkitiStatewho spoke on condition of anonymity:
“Some of my colleagues unfortunately do not think we should abandon Lawan at this time. I will not go with them because I will not associate with anything that has to do with bribery or corruption”.
He added: “At the end he may not be suspended but it would have been established that we acted in line with our conscience”.
Signals from the All Nigeria Peoples Party(ANPP) caucus in the House also indicated that it will kick against the suspension of Lawan. Some of them said they will prefer that the House waits till the end of Police investigation on the matter before taking a stand on Lawan and the ad hoc committee members.
Alagbaoso disowns Lawan
Rep. Jerry Alagbaoso who had been largely speculated to be one of the points men helping to douse the agitation against Lawan yesterday formally disowned him.
“I am neither a member of the Adhoc Committee on Oil Subsidy Investigation nor a front man to its Chairman… as written or implied by the Lawyers League and that the said publication is malicious and the handiwork of political traducers and detractors aimed at tarnishing my hard-earned reputation which was built over the years,” he said in a statement yesterday.
Police collates figures of Farouk committee bribe money
Meanwhile, the CP Amodu Police team it was learnt yesterday may have collated a total figure of N11. 3billion as the bribe money collected by the committee.
The huge amount according to Police sources was arrived at following the influx of information and petitions from oil marketers to the Special Task Force detailing how much was given to the probe panel in both foreign and local currencies.
The anger and frustration of the oil marketers in the manner they were treated according to the source, had become so unbearable that some of them even deposed to signed Court Affidavits, promising to appear as prosecution witness in court against members of House panel.
The source added that the impunity with which the committee went about collecting bribe money from oil marketers was so amazing that the investigation committee could hardly believe that the same House members which Nigerians adored were behind the acts.
“As I am talking to you now, many marketers
are still afraid to come out and spill the beans because they fear the consequences of giving bribe but we will get around that”, the source said.
Regarding the fear that the $620, 000 bribe money may have been tampered with or destroyed, the source said the Police already had overwhelming evidence against the Lawan committee.
For instance, the source noted that “if the Lawan Committee thinks they are smart and they tamper with the evidence, the Police will get the serial numbers of the money and trace the money. Aside that, the call logs of the discussions, negotiation and appreciation after collection and confirmation of the amount of money collected are unbeatable evidence.”
Ex-lawmakers wade in
Former prominent members of the House on Wednesday night waded into the crisis. The members who met at the residence of a former prominent member of the House, Chief Halims Agoda who served in the House between 1999 and 2011, met separately with Speaker Tambuwal and Lawan.
One time chief whip of the House, Alhaji Bawa Bwari disclosed that the meeting was to bring the wealth of experience of the former members in crisis management to bear on the issue.
Tambuwal according to multiple sources at the meeting narrated how he first got wind of the scam when he visited the Director General of the State Security Services, SSS. He narrated that the DG SSS requested his assistance in retrieving the bribe money from Lawan, a suggestion he, Tambuwal stoutly rebuffed. The former members were said to have congratulated Tambuwal for refusing the entreaty of the SSS saying that it was easily a plot to link him to the affair.
He was nevertheless admonished to keep the integrity of the House. At the end of the meeting with Tambuwal, he was urged not to protect anyone involved because the integrity of the House and the country should be of primary consideration.
He was also urged to move the House to come out to tell the country that the scandal would not affect the integrity of the report.
It was also suggested that areas of the Lawan report affected by the Lawan affair should be re-investigated.
The members also met with Lawan during which he recounted his claims as published in the media.
Among those present at the meeting were former ministers from the House of Representatives including Musa Elayo, Ndusse Essien, Abdullahi Musa and Isa Bio. Also present were Emeka Nwajuba, Lumumba Adeh, Acho Obioma, Mao Ohabunwa, Muhammed Kumaila, Major Stanley Ngada, Mercy Almona-Isei, Abdullahi Musa, Shehu Kagara, Babaginda Banki, Bolori Boni and Ehigie West-Idahosa among others.
NANS wants Otedola, Lawan tried
The National Association of Nigerian Students NANS on its part yesterday, expressed shock that Nigerian youths have been dealt a blow in their quest for role models.
The students’ body particularly expressed shock that Lawan whom they had looked up to as House Committee member on Education could be involved in the scandal.
In the statement issued by the NANS national president, Comrade Dauda Mohammed, the students body called for the quick trial of both Otedola and Lawan.
“We were shocked not only because of the conduct of Hon Lawan as an adhoc committee chairman but rather because of the regard we have in the past had for Hon. Lawan as the Chairman of the House committe on Education. There is no doubt that Nigerians were excited by the decision of the House of Rep to entrust such responsibility in the hands of a man who had always worn the toga of Integrity in the National Assembly.”
“With the revelations of the last few days concerning the alleged bribery of Hon Farouk Lawan by Business man Femi Otedola, we wish to state theNigeriahas been taken miles back in our quest for role modeling for the younger generation of Nigerians.”