by Hauwa Gambo
There are new reports that Farouk Lawan, the embattled House of Representatives member accused of extorting and receiving a bribe from businessman Femi Otedola, has finally admitted culpability.
It will be recalled that as recently as yesterday he had vehemently denied the accusations. Daily Times is now reporting however that he is singing a different song.
Farouk Lawan, the Chairman, House of Representatives ad-hoc committee that probed the fuel subsidy fraud, on Monday, reversed his earlier statement and accepted that he collected $620,000 from the Chairman of Zenon Oil and Gas, Femi Otedola, to doctor the panel’s report.
Lawan, who had hitherto denied that neither he nor any member of the committee collected money from any of the oil marketers, told journalists in Abuja that he collected the money after Otedola had approached him; adding that he informed the police and his colleagues about it.
Lawan’s confession is however confusing as he had initially denied collecting the bribe when media reports revealed the issue.
Otedola, on his part, has agreed offering the bribe to Lawan; adding that it was part of a sting operation initiated by security agencies after he had reported that the committee demanded $3 million from him not to list his companies as part of those indicted in the report.
This latest development has reportedly upset the leadership of the House; who in making it clear that Lawan operated on his own, have decided to probe the matter when it resumes from recess on June 19.
Reacting to the issue, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, has promised that the federal government will take appropriate action when it receives the report of investigation into the allegation.
Lawan said he had informed the Chairman of the House Committee on Narcotic Drugs and Financial Crimes, Adams Jagaba, through a letter dated April 24, 2012 of Otedola’s alleged persistence to bribe him to influence the outcome of the investigation.
“The sum of five hundred thousand dollars only offered to me with another promise of two million, five hundred thousand dollars was attached to the letter,” he said.
However, Jagaba denied receiving any letter to that effect. “I am not part of the Ad Hoc Committee on Monitoring the Fuel Subsidy, and to the best of my knowledge, I did not receive any such letter of complaint about an attempt to bribe the subsidy committee,” he said. “I am not aware of anything concerning that transaction, and my committee is not in possession of such a letter.”
On why he did not raise the issue on the floor of the House, Lawan said he declined to do so as not to divert attention from the essence of the fuel subsidy probe. “I had considered bringing this issue as a matter of privilege on the floor of the House later today (April 24), but I am concerned that the controversy it will generate will dwarf the contents of the report, which needs public attention so that necessary reforms in the sector could be affected,” he said.
“Given the desperation of Mr Otedola, handling this matter in a firm but diplomatic manner is necessary as he has also made some veiled threats which put me and members of the committee in a delicate situation.”
He also said that the ad hoc committee’s secretary, Boniface Emenalo, whom Otedola had said collected $120,000 on his (Lawan’s) behalf informed him that Otedola offered him $100,000.
Lawan also stated that the police were aware of the offer of bribe as the Inspector-General of Police, in a letter dated May 9, directed the Task Force on Investigation to meet him.
According to him, the letter, with reference number CR:3000/IGP.SEC/STF/FHQ/ABJ/VOL 2/309, called Lawan’s attention to an interview he granted a national newspaper on April 28, 2012 and directed, “a discreet investigation into the matter.”
The letter was signed by the Commissioner of Police, Special Task Force, Ali Amodu.
He also said that in another letter dated May 16 with reference number CR:3000/IGP.SEC/STF/FHQ/ABJ/VOL 2/319, and signed by Amodu, the IG requested the money exhibit, names of witnesses and other material evidence from him.
According to him, the IG in a letter to the Speaker of the House, Aminu Tambuwal, dated June 4, 2012, stated that a detailed criminal investigation had been ordered into the matter.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said it had not been formally informed of the alleged bribery scandal, but would act once the report reaches them.