By Rotimi Fasan
IN case you’re wondering about the title of this piece, worry no further. A part of it comes from a political character in Wole Soyinka’s long playing record, Unlimited Liability Company that was released to caricature the graft, sleaze and corrupt ways of politicians of Nigeria’s so-called Second Republic, especially the ruling National Party of Nigeria, in 1983.
In response to calls for probe of the rot that had entered the affairs of the country in those years of ‘austerity measures’, when the ports were jammed with cargoes of imported rice and Umaru Dikko reasoned that Nigerians were not poor as they were yet to start scavenging from waste dumps- in those days when Nigerian politicians managed to live on unearned wealth amidst crushing poverty across the country and there were calls for probe of corruption in high places, a character in the Soyinka LP, one who somehow lives in my imagination as a caricature of Umaru Dikko, the powerful Minister of Transport in the Shagari administration, responds with the promise that he would ‘probe and unrobe until they beg me to stop’.
He was ready to give Nigerians as many probes as they demand. This is yet another season of probes in our land and, not entirely out of character, our politicians have been probing- and some, it appears, are on the cusp of being ‘unrobed’, snared in the very trap with which they hoped to arrest the few who have turned our commonwealth into private estates.
In the wake of the oil ‘subsidy’ removal in January, a probe was initiated by the House of Representatives to know where lies the truth of the subsidy that government claims it pumps into the oil sector. A lot of damning revelations have been made with major oil marketers appearing to have been the sole beneficiaries of the so-called subsidy.
The report of the House Committee set up to investigate the rot in the oil sector has been hailed by Nigerians as a comprehensive indictment of the powerful forces fleecing the Nigerian people.
The chair of this ad-hoc committee, Farouk Lawan, for some time basked in the glare lights of the celebrated performance of his committee. This was the case until it emerged that he as well as some members of his committee might, after all, have soiled their hands in the course of their probe into the oil sector.
Femi Otedola, one of the major players in the oil sector, has accused Lawan of demanding and receiving bribes running into hundreds of thousands of dollars in return for delisting his company from the roll of oil companies that have turned Nigerians into cows whose milk must be sucked dry to fatten the greed of insatiable predators.
Otedola is not about cutting Lawan and his committee any slack- if anything, he is putting his money where his mouth is by providing both audio and video evidence to back his allegation about Lawan who, it is coming up, was caught on video receiving the alleged bribe, marked money supplied by the police, right in Otedola’s house in Abuja. While Lawan has denounced the video clip as a re-run of the phantom coup video of the Abacha years, he has not denied receipt of the money in question.
What he appears to be saying is that he is keeping the money as proof of Otedola’s attempt to compromise him. But we need to know how he got what is presently in his custody, if he claims that the video evidence is false. Well, anything can happen in this age of computers when images can and are easily manipulated for whatever purposes. But Nigerians can’t just dismiss a serious charge like this by some flimsy reference to a similar but false incidence in the past.
Let us for now leave out the role of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the unfolding scandal. Let us not talk of the time lag between when Lawan received the money and the time he reported it to the House- which was after Obasanjo and Otedola’s revelation and Aminu Tambuwal, House Speaker, had been apprised of the evidence.
Let us forget all of this and only remember that Lawan has failed twice to respond to and appears determined to keep the marked money which could be tampered with allegedly in the custody of the House.
What we may all also need to remember is that, although, the House might have initiated the probe of the oil sector that has led to the present scandal, members of the House on that panel of inquiry are not themselves immune to investigation if it is shown that they have abused their position.
David Cameron’s appearance last week before the Levenson Inquiry which his government set up to investigate the relationship between the media and politicians in the UK in the wake of the phone hacking scandal by Rupert Murdock’s media, demonstrates this point.
If Farouk Lawan has nothing to hide, he should be ready to stand toe to toe with Otedola in public, not run behind the walls of the House in a manner that suggests he wants to be shielded from any inquiry. Given the time he has been elected into the House to represent his Shanono Constituency in Kano State, Lawan is no doubt one of the most experienced representatives in Nigeria today.
Given the high level of sleaze, corruption and self-serving antics of our legislators, 13 years in that House is more than enough to make a sinner of the most pious saint. Which is not saying that Lawan is guilty of anything or that the report from his committee should be discarded.
Far from it, the report should be acted upon without prejudice to the personal conduct of individual or collective members of the committee that produced it.
This new scandal follows a pattern since the Obasanjo years in which probe panels set up to investigate corruption end up bogged down in allegations of corruption among their members. The Ndudi Elumelu probe of the N16 billion expended on the power sector is one such case.
Heralded with fanfare and publicity, with a final report that was considered bold in its indictment of powerful elements in the society, the whole inquiry ended on a note of shame for Elumelu who was found to have soiled his hands, only to be absolved by his colleagues in a so-called Ethics Committee.
Aminu Tambuwal, present Speaker of the House, is seen by some as one of those used to tear the Elumelu report into shreds. Is Lawan on the look-out for similar safe landing? Will his committee report go down with this scandal that threatens to but will not (because this is Nigeria) bring down this House of Deal Makers?