Mr. Femi Otedola
• Lawan may be grilled today
• Allegation should not displace probe report - NLC
Ike Abonyi, Onwuka Nzeshi and Yemi Akinsuyi
The police have waded into the $3 million bribery scandal involving the House of Representatives Ad hoc Committee Monitoring the Fuel Subsidy as one of the key actors, Chairman of Zenon Oil and Gas, Mr. Femi Otedola, appeared at the force headquarters, Abuja, yesterday to make a statement.
It was also learnt that the ad hoc committee chairman, Hon. Farouk Lawan, whom Otedola had accused of demanding $3 million bribe from him to keep his company’s name out of the panel’s report will appear before a team of top police officers today in Abuja to give his own version of the incident.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) nonetheless, has cautioned against diversion of attention from the implementation of the report of the ad hoc committee on the oil subsidy probe, stating that since the report has been submitted to the presidency, it should be investigated and those indicted should be prosecuted.
Otedola confirmed to THISDAY that he was at the Louis Edet House headquarters of the police to put his own side of the story down in writing.
Otedola, who entered the force headquarters at about 10 am, left an hour later after answering questions from a team of Special Task Force (STF) officials, set up by the Inspector General of Police (IG), M. D Abubakar, and headed by a Commissioner of Police, Ali Ahmadu.
He said he gave the police a graphic account of how Lawan and the secretary to the ad hoc committee, Mr. Boniface Emenalo, collected $620,000 from him in three instalments as part payment for the $3 million demanded from him to delist Zenon’s name from the panel’s report. Fuel Subsidy Probe: Otedola Confirms Bribe to Lawmakers
He said he told the police that he agreed to play along with the lawmaker based on the advice officials of some security agencies gave him after he had reported the matter to them.
Otedola referred the police to THISDAY lead report on Monday, which he said was a true account of how the incident started and how unknown to Lawan, he passed marked bills, provided by the security agencies to the lawmaker, who collected $500,000 in two instalments and Emenalo, who collected $120,000.
On whether he gave the police a copy of the video footage of Lawan and the committee secretary who allegedly collected the bribe, Otedola said he could not because the evidence was not in his custody.
Otedola, reacting to Lawan’s narration on Monday that he (Otedola) initiated the bribe, faulted the lawmaker’s account of what transpired between them, insisting that he never initiated or offered the bribe as alleged by Lawan.
“As my father used to say, an offence committed and denied, is twice committed. As for his (Lawan’s) account on the IGP, is a cock and bull story.
“He collected the money on April 24, but waited for 40 days to write the letter only after he discovered that the security agencies had the video and audio recordings of the transaction.
“He should go and face the full force of the law. I am also ready to submit myself to the law enforcement agencies if I am found wanting in anyway,” he told THISDAY after coming out from the police headquarters.
A police source told THISDAY yesterday that Lawan had been served an invitation to appear before the STF, but was yet to honour the invitation.
Although the source declined to state when Lawan was served the invitation, he said the police were still expecting him to come and give his own account of the story.
It was learnt that the police are investigating the matter instead of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as a deliberate tactic to avoid a clash between both agencies, since the EFCC is already handling the fuel subsidy report which credibility is being threatened by the bribery scandal.
President Goodluck Jonathan, through the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, had directed the EFCC to carry out a thorough investigation into the fuel subsidy report with a view to prosecuting those indicted, before the bribery scandal broke out.
Meanwhile, Lawan’s U-turn on Monday that he took $500,000 from Otedola elicited mixed reactions yesterday from his colleagues.
The embattled lawmaker, who initially denied collecting money from any marketer, finally admitted that he collected the money after Otedola had made him an offer to alter the probe report. Lawan: I Collected $500,000 Bribe Offer
A member of the House, who craved anonymity, described the bribery scandal as an embarrassment to the legislature and a dent on the image of the House.
Others said that the episode must be handled with caution, claiming that it might be a calculated attempt to tarnish the image of the House and its members.
Chairman, House Committee on Donor Agencies and Civil Societies, Hon. Eseme Eyiboh, said it had become imperative for Nigerians to look at the matter critically and draw a line between the conduct of an individual and the position of the House as an institution.
Eyiboh said that while he would not hold brief for anyone, the bribery remained in the realm of allegations until the security agencies have concluded their investigations and urged Nigerians to be fair in their comments.
“I think it is high time we begin to distinguish between the conduct of individuals and the institution. 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 so far, neither the accuser nor the accused has 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. We should be able to distinguish between the conduct of an individual and the institution.
“Moreover, it is still an allegation which is outside the statutory responsibilities of the House. But be rest assured that the leadership and members of the House of Representatives are alive to their constitutional responsibilities,” Eyiboh stated.
The NLC, also, has cautioned against diversion of attention from the implementation of the report of the committee due to the ongoing accusations and counter-accusations between Lawan and Otedola.
The NLC, in a statement signed by its acting president, Comrade Kiri Mohammed, said while it considers the allegations of bribery serious, it should be the burden of the EFCC and other appropriate agencies to investigate it.
The report which has since been submitted to the presidency should be investigated and those indicted should be prosecuted, the NLC added.
“Whether or not the chairman or the entire members of the ad hoc committee solicited for and received gratifications to compromise the outcome of the committee’s investigations, though quite disturbing, the final report of the committee still contains names and details sufficient for thorough and transparent investigation,” the statement read.
NLC added that the report confirms its position that subsidy does not exist in the petroleum sector, but rather has been used as a conduit by some cronies of successive governments to siphon public funds.