Wednesday, June 13, 2012

N96m bribe: Reps abandon Lawan to his fate

Angry members of the House of Representatives on Tuesday insisted that one of their high-ranking members, Mr. Farouk Lawan, currently enmeshed in a $3m bribery allegation must carry his own cross.
A key member of the House confided in The PUNCH in Abuja that most members had reportedly analysed Lawan and Femi Otedola’s accounts of what transpired and were of the view that “our colleague did not act smart at all.”
The lawmaker, who is very close to the leadership of the House, disclosed that members were pained by the fact that it was Lawan who went to Otedola’s house to collect the money.
He noted, “Lawan must carry his cross; we have been discussing his conduct and most of us hold this view.
“The fact that he visited Otedola is enough to invalidate whatever he has to tell us. Let us assume that he did not collect the money; the fact that he went to the man (Otedola) diminished all he said. It is a total disgrace.”
The lawmaker, however, said that members were hoping that investigation would give Lawan a “watertight case, which for now is not what we are seeing.”
“We insist that whatever investigation is being done must be properly handled; all the facts must be laid bare”, he added.
The Chairman of an influential committee, which controls over 30 parastatals, also expressed sadness over the development, saying it was reasonable for members to keep Lawan at arm’s length in the interim.
According to the member, who pleaded anonymity, when a committee of the House is conducting an investigation, “the committee calls the shots, not the other way round.”
The lawmaker said, “Lawan is a fourth-timer who has been in the House since 1999. He should know more than anyone else that as an investigator, you hold the knife and the yam.
“Why did he go to the man’s house? If you wanted to expose him, what stopped you from asking him to come and meet you at your own location?”
Findings indicated that some members were seeking answers on why Lawan applied to remove Zenon Oil’s name from the list.
“Would it have been a coincidence? Otedola accused him of demanding the bribe to remove the name of his firm from the list of indicted firms. It turned out that while the report was being considered by the House, the same Lawan applied to remove Zenon from the list. We are disturbed over this development”, another embittered member told The PUNCH on Tuesday.
Investigations showed that Lawan’s explanation that he wrote the Chairman of the House Committee on Drugs/Narcotics and Financial Crimes, Mr. Adams Jagaba, and attached the bribe money reportedly did not convince some lawmakers.
“Why did he choose Jagaba and not the police or other security agencies?
“Our thinking is, perhaps, he has spent the marked money Otedola gave him; that is why he is refusing to release it”, one member observed.

Chairman of the House Committee on Civil Societies and Donor Agencies, Mr. Eseme Eyiboh, however argued that the bribery scandal was an individual issue and not a House matter.
Eyiboh suggested that the criminal justice system should be used to tackle the allegation.
He said, “We distinguish between the conduct of individuals and the institution (House).
“What is happening and which is now the subject of discussion in the public domain is within the purview of criminal justice and there are processes and procedures to resolving it.
“In this matter, neither the accuser nor the accused has so far said that any money was given to the House or its leadership. Nobody has also said that the transaction has undermined the credibility of the subsidy report.
“Moreover, it is still an allegation, which is outside the statutory responsibilities of the House. But, you rest assured that the leadership and members of the House of Representatives are alive to their constitutional responsibilities.”
Jagaba, whom Lawan said he handed over the bribery money for onward transmission to the leadership of the House, declined to comment on the issue on Tuesday.
The anti-graft committee chairman in the House had on Monday given The PUNCH an appointment for Tuesday, having rejected a telephone interview earlier on Monday night.
When he was approached on Tuesday, the lawmaker became hostile, dismissing our correspondent angrily.
“No comment, no comment; I have said no comment. For the first time, let me say no comment; or don’t I have the right to say no comment? I am not a member of the ad hoc committee”, Jagaba said angrily.
Unconfirmed accounts however indicated that Jagaba had confided in some of his colleagues that he did not receive any letter or bribery evidence from Lawan.
He was said to have vehemently disowned Lawan.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Zakari Mohammed, still maintained his stance that there was nothing the House could do about Lawan’s case before Tuesday next week.
“No decision can be taken before Tuesday; keep all enquiries till we resume on Tuesday next week”, he added.

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