Hon. Farouk Lawan
•To return bribe money on Tuesday
From Ike Abonyi, Onwuka Nzeshi and Yemi Akinsuyi in Abuja
There was reprieve of some sort Saturday for the embattled chairman of the House of Representatives ad hoc committee on fuel subsidy probe, Hon. Farouk Lawan, and clerk of the committee, Mr. Boniface Emanelo, who had been in police custody since Thursday for allegedly collecting a $620, 000 bribe from oil magnate and chairman of Zenon Oil and Gas Company, Mr. Femi Otedola.
Lawan and Emenalo were detained following allegations by Otedola that they had demanded and collected $620, 000 from him in order to remove his company, Zenon Petroleum & Gas Limited, from the list of 15 companies, which the committee indicted in their report released in April for receiving about N2 trillion from the government as subsidy for petrol imports that they never did. Otedola claimed he had wire and video recordings of the deal, which he said he agreed to do as an undercover operation with the knowledge of the security agencies.
But Lawan and Emenalo were released on bail yesterday with stringent conditions. Lawan signed an undertaking to surrender the $620,000 bribe he allegedly collected from Otedola to the police on Tuesday.
Lawan was left off the hook around 6 pm after his lawyers, led by Ricky Tarfa, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), met the bail conditions, which included two sureties each for the two detained men who must be well known Nigerians without any criminal record, persons of impeccable character, and owners of landed property in Abuja who must surrender the Certificates of Occupancy of their land in the Federal Capital Territory.
It was learnt that Lawan had claimed that the bribe money was with the ethics committee of the House, which will present it to the House on Tuesday.
He is, however, to report to the police everyday.
Deputy police spokesman Frank Mbah, who confirmed the release, gave no further details.
Lawan’s release came just as Integrity Group, a pro-transparency group of lawmakers that he belongs to, threw its weight behind last Friday's resolution of the House on the bribery allegation.
Police sources told THISDAY that Lawan promised to return $500,000, which he claimed to be his share of the loot, from the House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes on Tuesday when the legislature resumes plenary, and to surrender same to the police.
Lawan had in one of the interviews he granted before his detention said he reported the bribery incident and transmitted the money he collected from Otedola to the House Committee on Drugs Narcotics and Financial Crimes. However, chairman of the committee, Hon Jagaba Adams Jagaba, said he neither received a report about the underhand deal nor took delivery of the allegedly marked dollar bills from Lawan, as he claimed.
Sources close to the Police Force Headquarters said Lawan was at first not willing to cooperate with the team of policemen detailed to grill him, hence his detention beyond 24 hours.
The House of Representatives had at an emergency session on Friday suspended Lawan indefinitely and also replaced him with Hon. John Enoh as chairman of the ad hoc committee on fuel subsidy. The House returned Zenon Petroleum & Gas Limited and Synopsis Enterprises Limited to the list of companies it had indicted in the dodgy fuel deals.
But Otedola Otedola dismissed the decision of the House to reverse itself on the indictment of his company as a laughable blackmail.
Meanwhile, the Integrity Group yesterday hailed Friday's resolution of the House distancing itself from the bribery scandal. The group urged Lawan to take steps to clear his name from the mess and avoid a situation where the scandal would smear the credibility of the Integrity Group and the image of the House.
A key member of the group and chairman, House Committee on Public Service Matters, Hon. Andrew Uchendu, said though Lawan had been its leader, the House did the right thing by drawing a line between the conduct of an individual lawmaker and the parliament as an institution.
Uchendu described Lawan’s present ordeal as unfortunate, insisting that Integrity Group has always had probity and accountability as its cardinal principles. According to Uchendu, any member of the group and the House who fell foul of these principles would be treated as an individual and must not be treated as representative of the group's character.
“I am quite impressed by the action of the House because we wouldn't want the activities of any member to rub off negatively on the House as an institution.
“We must at all times, ensure that the image of the House and, indeed, of ourselves are not brought to question. I would, therefore, urge our dear colleague who is embroiled in the bribery allegation to do everything possible to clear his name.
“This explanation has become necessary because there could be some presumption in some quarters that the current travails of Hon Farouk Lawan bring to death the Integrity Group. As a matter of fact, with the current situation members of the group will be further energised to stand by these fundamental principles and objectives of guaranteeing fairness, justice, probity and accountability in all our engagements within and outside the House of Representatives,” Uchendu said.