House of Reps suspends Farouk Lawan, indicts Otedola

A severely-criticized House of Representatives on Friday removed disgraced member, Farouk Lawan, from two of its committees over allegations the lawmaker exonerated two fraudulent oil importing firms owned by billionaire, Femi Otedola, after receiving a $620,000 bribe.

Mr. Lawan was removed from his substantive position as chairman of the House Education committee, and his provisional position as chairman Ad hoc committee that investigated hundreds of oil marketers.

The subsidy committee will now be headed by John Enoh, chairman, House committee on Appropriation.

Mr. Lawan, is to be investigated by the House Ethics committee with a report expected in two weeks, the House ruled, while the committee’s former clerk, Boniface Emenalo, also accused of receiving bribe, is to be disciplined by the National Assembly management.

Also, Mr. Otedola’s companies – Zenon Oil and Synopsis Limited -earlier cleared, on Mr. Lawan’s advice,  of complicity in the fraudulent fuel scheme that fleeced the nation of more than N1 trillion, were indicted by the House during the session.

The House, stands by the subsidy report earlier passed, lawmakers added.

The resolutions climaxed a scandal that broke last week as the House commenced a two-week break, and has lurched through several details, increasingly taking a strong political dimension.

Mr. Lawan was on Thursday questioned by the police following Mr. Otedola’s earlier interrogation on Tuesday.

Both men have admitted the payment, which was secretly recorded by law enforcement agents on the cooperation of Mr. Otedola. They however claim they acted to expose the other for corruption.

At the extraordinary session Friday, the House said it was not embarrassed by the scandal, and insisted Mr. Lawan’s complicity did not represent the position of the entire House, and had no dent on the subsidy report it had earlier adopted.

“While we consider it preposterous and hasty to dismiss the current bribery allegations, pending the outcome of ongoing investigations, including our in-house investigation just instituted, we reject in totality insinuations being orchestrated in some media to the effect that the allegations have eroded the integrity of the resolutions of the House on the report and rendered same unworthy of implementation,” speaker Aminu Tambuwal said.

The emergency session provided a platform for Mr. Tambuwal, backed by a majority of the lawmakers, to issue what appeared a response to a scandal that at one point assumed political colouration, with the House leadership accused of having a hand in the incident, and asked to resign.

Since it broke more than a week ago, the controversy has witnessed veiled exchanges between the lawmakers and the executive, with each blaming the other for instigating the bribery saga.

Minority Whip, Samson Osagie, said at the session Friday that “some persons” had hoped to blackmail the institution through a “framed” operation.

“For us in the House of Reps, we refuse to be blackmailed,” Mr. Osagie announced to the ovation of a majority of the members.

In a statement on Thursday, the presidency denied any involvement in the incident.

Still, nongovernmental organizations, which the legislators say are backed by the presidency, have called for Mr. Tambuwal’s resignation. The lawmakers responded instead with a unanimous vote of confidence on the speaker, a message that proved lawmakers were not considering a change of leadership anytime soon.

Mr. Tambuwal himself denied the allegations he knew about the incident, and also declared that the House had not been “compromised and we shall never compromise our stand against corruption.”

He said the House stood by the report of the subsidy probe, and urged the executive to implement the contents that have indicted several key officials and cronies of government.

“May I, therefore, urge the Executive to match words with action in the implementation of these resolutions,” he said.


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