Tokunbo Adedoja in Abuja
Public hearing by the House of Representatives Adhoc Committee set-up to investigate the N141 billion debt deal struck between oil magnate, Mr. Femi Otedola, and the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) would hold in two weeks, the panel Chairman, Femi Gbajabiamila, has said.
Though the specific date for the hearing has not been officially announced, the panel chair told THISDAY that hearing would begin in two weeks time when all requested documents would have been received.
When asked what the committee had been doing since it was set up, Gbajabiamia, who is also the minority leader in the House, said his panel had been exchanging correspondence with all the affected parties.
"We have sent correspondence out for documents and people involved have been very cooperative. We have been receiving a lot of documents. It is after we have received all these documents that we will now hold public hearing and we are going to be very open," he said.
The lawmaker also faulted insinuations that the panel was raised in order to get at Otedola who is currently embroiled in a running battle with a prominent member of the House, Hon Farouk Lawan, over allegations of bribery in connection with fuel subsidy probe by the lower chamber.
Gbajabiamila said: "I am not investigating Otedola. I am not interested in an individual. Otedola has done nothing wrong for now, as far as I am concerned. It is AMCON that we are investigating to see whether it followed laid down process and complied with the existing law in stricking the deal."
He said, "As far as I am concerned, we may not even invite Otedola. It is AMCON we are looking at because this is tax-payers' money."
Using an analogy, Gbajabiamila said, "if you owe a bank N10 and its says come and pay back N5, does it mean you have done something wrong by paying N5?".
Waving aside insinuations that the work of the panel may be part of a hidden legislative agenda to nail Otedola at all cost over his face-off with Lawan, Gbajabiamila said: "This argument that you are going after people. Yes, people go after people. You should not do anything that will make people go after you.
Buttressing his point, the lawmaker said, "Let's assume it is a personal vendetta. Is that why we should ignore it and let it go. The same thing happened under President Olusegun Obasanjo when the EFCC was probing some people and they were raising issues about motive. The motive becomes irrelevant if the affected individual has violated the law".
He however said he had excellent relationship with the oil magnet, adding, "Otedola is my good friend and I have known him for years." He said was part of the disclosure he had made to his colleagues.
The House had last month set up an eight-man ad hoc committee to investigate the multibillion naira debt deal struck between Otedola and AMCON.
The panel was set up following a motion sponsored by Hon. Abimbola Daramola (PDP/Ekiti) and charged with the task of unraveling the circumstances surrounding the final settlement of debts totalling N140,999,620,395.80 owed AMCON by Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited and Forte Oil Plc, owned by Otedola.
The House had said it was disturbed that the sudden final settlement of this exposure by these organisations was shrouded in secrecy and established under a binding confidentiality agreement.
The multibillion naira deal came on the heels of the release of a debtors' list by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), in which the apex bank barred Otedola, Zenon and 112 other companies, as well as their principal shareholders and directors where outstanding value of the loans purchased by AMCON amounted to N5 billion or more, from taking further credit from banks, until full liquidation of their indebtedness.
The CBN list had put Otedola's bank loans at N192,422,889,943.56, which was acquired by AMCON at an agreed price of N140,999,620,395.80.
Though, the ad hoc committee was mandated to conduct a full-scale investigation into the transaction and report back to the House within one month, it is not likely to conclude its work before the end of the year because of the Christmas and new year holiday that are just weeks away.