$3m bribery scandal: Lawmakers distance themselves from Lawan Farouk

Emmanuel Aziken, Emma Ujah,
Okey Ndiribe & Emman Ovuakporie

11 June 2012, Sweetcrude, LAGOS—Embittered members of Nigeria’s House of Representatives have distanced themselves from Lawan Farouk, chairman of the House committee that probed fuel subisdy, over alleged $3 million bribe scam and are asking him to bear his cross alone.

Lawan Farouk, however, has vehemently denied the allegation.

The latest allegation notwithstanding, the House members, it was learnt, were determined to keep the issues emanating from the investigations in focus and are set to trigger what sources described as option B aimed at prosecuting beneficiaries of the illegal subsidy claims.

Meanwhile, Rep. Farouk Lawan, who is at the centre of the allegations, Sunday, denied collecting the bribe, saying that the accusation was long expected. At a press briefing last night, Lawan, a four-term member of the House of Representatives and Chairman of Integrity Group which forced out former Speaker Patricia Etteh from office in 2007, said that it was because of the pressures on him that he ran away from his residence for five days while preparing the report of the subsidy committee. Lawan is the chairman of the ad-hoc committee.

It has also emerged that Lawan had wanted to present the money on the floor of the House last Wednesday but was dissuaded by angry members who warned that it would defile the template of uprightness that the new leadership of the House has sought to portray.

The House member at the centre of the allegation had allegedly collected $600,000 as part payment of the $3 million bribe from an interested party in the investigations.

Members who spoke to Sweetcrude on Sunday expressed their disappointment on the action of the House official describing his recent explanations as “actions after the act.”

Especially scandalized it was learnt was Speaker Aminu Tambuwal who it was learnt has now faced the embarrassment of having the clean image he has otherwise cultivated tainted by the evolving development.

“The speaker is very disappointed but it is not as if he was totally surprised by the development and you know that is why some of his officials have continuously kept this man (suspect) at bay,” a close associate of the speaker told Sweetcrude.

Noting that it was the action of one man which cannot taint the image of the House, a key player in the House said the issue was for the indicted official to settle with the anti-corruption agencies.

“As for us this is an issue between him and the anti-corruption agencies, it is not for the House as there is no way that it can be proved that the House is connected to this mess,” the member said.

Irrespective of the bribery allegation, Sweetcude learnt of the determination of the House to press on with its charge against illegal beneficiaries of the subsidy scam with the instigation of a private prosecution of the alleged scammers.

“We are waiting for the executive to initiate action on the report but you know with their contradicting actions, it is now clear that nothing can come out from them, so we will activate our option B,” one member said.

Option B it was learnt would involve the House raising a team to instigate the private prosecution of those indicted by the report of the committee, the member said on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Also giving the determination of the House to wash its hands clean off the bribery allegation, another key player in the House told Sweetcrude yesterday that members were generally agreed that Lawan should be treated the same way as Rep. Herman Hembe, the embattled chairman of the House Committee on Capital Markets. Hembe is now facing prosecution in the hands of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC following allegations that he collected money to travel for a training workshop abroad but did not go.

“Just as Hembe we will leave Farouk to sort out his problems as it is not a problem for the House.”

It was further gathered that just before the House proceeded on break last week that Lawan had sought to table the alleged bribe on the table of the House as bribe offered him by interested stakeholders in the downstream sector but was rebuffed by House officials.

“Yes it is true but that was after the act. Why did he wait for weeks before telling anyone about the money,” one source in the House said on Sunday as it was revealed that the effort to table the money became an option following suspicion that the deal had leaked.

“Even if one of us is guilty let the person bear his cross, let it not rub off on the house because if this is allowed to happen, it would bear damaging consequences for other investigations the House is now focusing on,” the House official said.

Meanwhile, the House leadership it was learnt is leaning towards the constitution of a special investigative committee to unravel the mystery sorrounding the alleged scam.

The inclination of the House leadership, it was learnt was upon pressures from members of the Lawan led ad-hoc committee who were embittered that they had been smeared with the bribe allegation and wanted an open investigation to clear their names.

A principal officer in the House who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed that following the series of agitations by members of the Committee, the House leadership would meet this week to take a position on how best to address the matter.

According to him: “The truth is that most members of the committee now feel very bad. How would you react to a situation where only one member of the committee was alleged to be involved in bribery and corruption case and the whole members of the House are being dragged into it? Our colleagues are demanding that the matter be brought into the open and treated with the urgency it deserves. This is what we are going to consider and I can assure you that as usual the House will on its own conduct an independent investigation into the matter to determine the truth. I can also tell you that we will not hesitate to take appropriate action in line with our rules against whoever is found to be guilty in the investigation.”

Another member who also spoke off record called on the leadership to act fast to save the image of the House pointing out that the situation should be handled in such a way that would not create the impression that some members are bigger than others.

“What some of us are saying is that the House has only one rule and that rule must apply to all members equally and fairly too irrespective of whoever is involved” He said.

House spokesman, Zakari Mohammed while dissociating the House from the alleged bribe had at the weekend pledged the determination of the House not to cover up the corrupt deeds of anyone.

“While we await investigation into these weighty accusations, we wish to state without equivocation that this Honourable House will never take side with corruption and we will always stand on the side of the rule of law.

“The reason we inaugurated the ad hoc committee to look into the controversial subsidy regime in the first place was to expose corruption in the sector, as such, we cannot, for whatever reason, support any underhand dealing from any quarter”.