An intervention by the top echelon of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) halted a planned inquiry into the USD620,000 bribery scam involving oil billionaire, Femi Otedola, and chairman, House of Representatives ad hoc committee on fuel subsidy management, Farouk Lawan, lawmakers familiar with the matter said Tuesday.
It also disrupted plans to exhibit the $620,000 cash on the floor of the House during plenary.
The mediation came after Mr. Lawan intimated the leadership of the scandal, and a possible legislative investigation was considered more than a month after the exchange took place, the members told PREMIUM TIMES.
The party hierachy reportedly warned against any move by the House that would “embarrass” Mr. Otedola, a well-known PDP financier with links running throughout the governing party’s leadership structure and the Federal Government.
Our sources said after Mr. Lawan received intelligence that he had been trapped, he tried hard to move ahead of the Otedola camp by tabling the cash before plenary, in what some sources describe as a last gasp effort to save his integrity.
On the last day of plenary, before the House went on recess, the embattled lawmaker reportedly begged the leadership of the House to allow him raise a motion detailing how he was offered bribe by Mr. Otedola, and how he received the cash to demonstrate to Nigerians that his committee came under tremendous pressure during its assignment.
Mr. Lawan, those close to him say, had also planned to tell his colleagues that he kept quiet for a while about the bribe because he envisaged a controversy which might overshadow the significance of his committee’s report.
Our sources said the PDP chairman, Bamanga Tukur, got wind of Mr. Lawan’s plan, and he quickly contacted him and the leadership of the House, requesting them not to do anything that would bring the ruling party and one of its major donors into disrepute.
Mr. Lawan was assured the party would wade into the matter and resolve it in a manner that would be satisfactory to all parties.
The ad hoc committee chairman agreed, but discreetly tried to leak the matter to the media, our sources say.
The Otedola camp, which enjoys the support of the State Security Service and the presidency, soon became aware of Mr. Lawan’s plan. It moved very fast, leaking the story to select newspapers ahead of the embattled lawmaker.
Farouk Lawan’s regrets
“One thing Farouk Lawan regrets very seriously today is that he listened to the PDP and failed to lay the bribe before the House as planned,” a top official of the House said. “He regrets listening to the party and sees that obedience as his major undoing. He feels the PDP colluded with Otedola to undo him, placing him on the defence.”
The PDP’s intervention and directive seems to underline the claim by some Nigerians that the ruling party tolerate corruption especially with its name featuring in some of the major corruption scams in Nigeria’s history.
However, on Tuesday, the party responded swiftly denying it played any role in Farouk Lawan bribery scandal.
“No such thing ever happened,” spokesperson, Olisa Metuh, told PREMIUM TIMES.”The party is not aware of that, and the party does not condone corruption.”
The blame game
The claim by the lawmakers and the party’s denial, appears a continuation of the regime of blame and counter blame that have characterized the scandal since it broke last week.
Mr. Lawan and Mr. Otedola have accused each other of being the initiator of the bribery scheme, while they view their own roles as merely helping to expose fraud.
Mr. Lawan has denied seeking or receiving gratification to exonerate Mr. Otedola’s oil firm, Zenon Petroleum & Gas Ltd, amongst the list of indicted companies marked for a likely government’s criminal action.
He maintained the same position in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES on Monday.
The lawmaker however admits receiving the USD600,000 from Mr. Otedola, not as “bribe”, but as an evidence that the committee came under intense pressure, and also to buttress his claim that the business tycoon had sought to influence the committee’s findings with bribe.
In details earlier made available to the media, Mr. Lawan said he reported the matter to the Inspector General of Police, Muhammed Abubakar, and the chairman, House committee on Financial Crimes and Narcotics, Adams Jagaba.
Questions, questions and more questions
That explanation claims the amount received from Mr. Otedola – USD620,000 – was sent to Mr. Jagaba as an “attachment” to a letter explaining the businessman’s fraudulent move.
Not minding the weighty allegation, Mr. Jagaba, a second term member, repeatedly turned down media requests for comments.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted him on Tuesday afternoon, he was polite, but again declined to respond to our questions.
“I am sorry, I respect PREMIUM TIMES, but I cannot say anything on this,” he said before discontinuing the call.
In part, the shock and the scale of the scandal, and lawmakers’ frustration at its damning effect on the House, have seen many members avoiding comments, and where they speak, they do so anonymously. Those who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES refused to be named.
After being headlined for series of corruption cases, the latest crisis has ignited fury and many lawmakers are said to view Mr. Lawan’s purported reaction after receiving the money naively under video glare, as an afterthought initiated in the wake of realizing he had been nailed.
“A principal officer who watched the video said the content will make anyone be ashamed to be a lawmaker,” one member said.
Concerns have been about receiving the cash in person at the house of someone Mr. Lawan said “pressurized” his committee to pay bribe.
Questions have also been raised on why it took long for the incident to be reported as indicated on the letters, and why the money had been lodged with an individual – Mr. Jagaba, instead of a law enforcement agency or the Central Bank.
Mr. Tambuwal’s sealed lips
The money exchanges took place between April 21 and 24, 2012. Mr. Lawan said his letter to the police was on May 9, although he contacted Mr. Jagaba on April 24.
Our sources however say when the leadership was eventually informed, and a probe planned, the effort was blocked by the party which ordered against hurting Mr. Otedola’s interest since he supported the party, PREMIUM TIMES was informed in separate interviews.
Imam Imam, who speaks for the speaker of the House, declined comments on whether the speaker was in the know about the deal. House spokesperson, Zakari Muhammed, too could not be reached. His phones failed to connect calls.
The party’s role in the matter seems to back this website’s earlier report citing security sources who disclosure the political underlines of the bribery, and how Mr. Otedola may have represented government’s interest.
Known to have close ties with President Goodluck Jonathan, Mr. Otedola made huge donations for the president’s 2011 election campaign, and has been accused of being one of the major beneficiaries of a largely fraudulent fuel subsidy scheme, although he has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
The PDP however said while it backed the House in its “oversight” functions, it did not mean it supported corruption.
“Farouk Lawan is trying to explain itself. The party will wait for the findings of the National Assembly and the law enforcement on the matter. The party does not condone corruption,” party spokesperson, Mr. Metuh said.