Hon. Farouk Lawan
Onwuka Nzeshi and Yemi Akinsuyi in Abuja
There is disquiet in the House of Representatives over the way its Ethics and Privileges Committee has handled the probe of the $3 million cash-for-clearance scandal involving the suspended Chairman, Ad hoc Committee on the Monitoring of Fuel Subsidy, Hon. Farouk Lawan, and Chairman, Zenon Oil and Gas, Mr. Femi Otedola.
The worry over the likelihood of the committee bungling the assignment became apparent Thursday during plenary when a member of the House, Hon. Simon Yakubu Arabo (PDP/Kaduna), raised the issue and criticised the conduct of the investigation by the committee.
Indications also emerged that the police may soon issue a warrant of arrest for the Chairman, House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, Hon. Adams Jagaba, over his alleged refusal to submit himself for questioning on the bribery saga.
Lawan, who collected $500,000 out of the $3 million from Otedola has on several occasions said he attached the money to a letter he wrote to Jagaba to inform him of the pressure mounted by Otedola to make him doctor the report of the ad hoc committee.
However, Jagaba, also, has repeatedly denied that he got any letter or cash from Lawan or any member of the committee.
Arabo, who raised the issue as a matter of privilege, expressed disgust at the method adopted by the committee in handling its assignment and reservations at the utterances of the committee regarding witnesses that had appeared before it.
He recalled the day Lawan appeared in camera before the committee and the comments of the chairman of the committee, Hon. Gambo Dan-Musa, that the witness gave satisfactory answers to the questions of the committee.
He also recalled the appearance of Otedola and the insistence of the committee to take his testimony behind closed doors and criticised Dan-Musa’s subsequent disparaging remarks about Otedola over his refusal to give his testimony secretly.
According to Arabo, the Ethics Committee ought not to have insisted on questioning Otedola in secret as the House would have lost nothing if the committee had conducted the exercise in the open.
He said the committee had done more harm than good to the image of the House since it commenced its investigation into the matter.
“The modus operandi that the Ethics and Privileges Committee has adopted in its assignment is bringing this House to disrepute. It is true that they took Lawan in camera but the House loses nothing if it had taken Otedola in an open session to demonstrate its readiness to be transparent.
“It is also wrong for the chairman of the committee to have described Otedola as stupid,” Arabo said.
Deputy Speaker of the House, Hon Emeka Ihedioha, who presided over the session, ruled out insinuations of bias against the committee.
He said as a tradition, the leadership of the House does not and would not interfere with the workings of the Ethics and Privileges Committee on the assignment.
He, however, directed the Chief Whip of the House, Hon Mohammed Isiaka Bawa, to interface with the committee to resolve the complaints.
Meanwhile, nearly three weeks after the police began questioning Lawan over the bribery scandal and the whereabouts of the $620,000 he and the clerk to the committee, Mr. Boniface Emenalo, collected from Otedola, the waiting game continued yesterday.
Police sources told THISDAY that Lawan, during his last visit to the police force headquarters in Abuja, restated his earlier claim that he forwarded the money to Jagaba when he reported the bribery incident to the House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes.
Lawan is expected to be at the police headquarters next Tuesday in continuation of the investigations by the police.
Although the police are also expecting Jagaba on the same day, they may be compelled to issue a warrant for his arrest if he fails to show up.