Lagos, Nigeria (PANA) - The US$ 3 million bribery scam at the House of Representatives (the lower chamber of the National Assembly), given by multi-millionaire oil marketer Femi Otedola and received by the Chair of the House of Representatives Adhoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy Management, Farouk Lawan, was the main story this week in Nigeria.
Otedola had owned up to giving Lawan US$ 600,000 bribe, as part of a US$ 3 million deal to get his company, Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd., off the list of firms that purchased foreign exchange without importing the (petroleum) product.
However, Mr. Otedola said he involved the security agencies when he was making the payment to Lawan as well as committee secretary Boniface Emenalo, because his company was wrongfully accused.
Lawan, whose committee unearthed massive corrupt practices in the country's fuel subsidy management involving oil companies and government officials, initially denied collecting any money, and described the whole accusation as ''mudslinging'' and an attempt to destroy the report.
Mr. Otedola alleged that Lawan approached him for a bribe, just like some other oil marketers had allegedly done, so his company could be removed from the list of indicted oil firms.
The oil marketer said when he refused, he was shocked to find his company's name in the report, hence he decided to play ball but with the involvement of security agencies.
With the whistle now blown, heads are beginning to role as a result of the scam, the end of which no one can predict.
The Vanguard, which covered the unfolding drama with three stories, screamed "$3m BRIBERY SCANDAL: Reps removes Lawan, Emenalo".
The first story said The House of Representatives has removed Rep. Farouk Lawan (PDP-Kano) as Chairman the House Ad hoc Committee on fuel subsidy regime over alleged US$620,000 bribe. It also indicated that Mr. Boniface Emenalo, the Secretary of Committee, was also removed.
In the second story, with the headline "House probes: Reps to punish corrupt members", the Vanguard reported that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal, speaking at an emergency plenary session of the House to deliberate the alleged US$620,000 bribe, said that the House would not hesitate to punish any member using probes to enrich himself.
The speaker pledged that the House would continue to act responsibly by instituting probes when necessary. He said, “We shall insist on probity and fairness on the part of our members conducting such investigations.
“And we shall not hesitate to sanction anyone, who in the course of these investigations overreaches himself or uses the process to intimidate anyone or engages in corruption.’’
Tambuwal restated the commitment of the house to continue with the subsidy probe in spite of the allegation, saying that “An act of an individual cannot negate the work of the whole House, we shall not compromise our position. We shall investigate anything that needed to be investigated."
And in the third story, the Vanguard, addressing President Goodluck Jonathan's government, headlined its story "Reps urge Jonathan to implement subsidy report".
The paper said that the House of Representatives had called on the Federal Government to march words with actions by implementing the report of its adhoc committee on Subsidy Management.
Addressing members of the House during Friday’s plenary, the Speaker, Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal maintained that the reports of the adhoc committee remained valid and should be implemented to the later irrespective of bribery allegations levelled against members of the committee.
The Sun also dealt with the story with three headlines, one of which was "$3m bribery scandal: Police detain Farouk Lawan".
According to the paper, the US$3million bribery scam rocking the Ad-hoc Committee on fuel subsidy payments took a new dimension when its Chairman, Farouk Lawan, was detained by the police in Abuja after interrogation.
Sources told the paper that those who grilled Lawan wanted to take the lawmaker to the Ag. Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, but it was learnt that the police chief said the Special Task Force should conduct investigation and report its findings.
The police panel is made of a Deputy Commissioner of Police, an Assistant Commissioner, a Chief Superintendent and a Superintendent, headed by Police Commissioner Ali Amodu.
In another story on the incident, the Sun's headline was "$10,000 cash found in Farouk Lawan’s home" with the rider -- 'As police conduct search, seize his passport…To spend weekend in custody.'
The Sun said the police Friday began a hunt for the US$600,000 cash allegedly collected as bribe from Otedola by the embattled Lawan even as hope dimmed for his release from detention.
The Sun gathered that the decision to keep Lawan in custody followed his refusal to disclose to the team of police interrogators where the alleged bribe money was kept. His failure to disclose the whereabouts of the money was also said to have informed the decision to seach his Apo legislative quarters residence by police detectives for about two hours Friday. That search led to the seizure of his diplomatic passport and US$10,000 found in the house.
Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, said on Saturday that even though investigation was still ongoing, the legislator has not been denied any of his fundamental human rights as he is being allowed access to his lawyers, friends and family members who may want to visit him in custody.
Mba said "Farouk is still with us, he came in late Thursday and investigation is ongoing. This is weekend and you know that no court sits on weekend so we cannot take him to court, so he will have to remain with us till next week when we will charge him to court.
Writing under the headline, "Fresh N1.5 billion fraud rocks House of Reps", the Sun also said "Even as the dust raised by the alleged $3 million bribery scandal in the House of Representatives is yet to settle, another storm is already raging in the lower chamber of the National Assembly, as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has begun investigation into an alleged strange massive cash withdrawals running into 1.5 billion naira (about US$ 10 million) from the House accounts.
The paper said it exclusively gathered that the fresh scandal has already led to the invitation and interrogation of about four officials of the National Assembly. It was, however, gathered that the withdrawals were made before the present Speaker of the House, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, assumed office.
Quoting sources, the Sun reported that about four officials so far interrogated over the matter were allegedly used severally to pull out the cash from the House bank accounts “because the cheques were written in their names to cash the huge funds from some banks in Abuja.”
According to the sources, “the funds were actually withdrawn over a period of time, especially in the last quarter of 2010 and they were withdrawn by some officials in the speaker’s office in millions.
The Trust and the Tribune were not left out in the feast.
Earlier, President Jonathan had said there was no truth in widespread insinuation that his government was orchestrating the US$ 620,000 bribery scandal involving Lawan and Otedola.
There were also reports that the nation’s oil thieves have begun discreet moves to rubbish the report of the House of Representatives ad hoc committee on the management of fuel subsidy with intensified pressure on key elements in the government.
-0- PANA VAO 16June2012