President Goodluck Jonathan has denied instigating the $3 million bribery that has rocked the House of Representatives, denouncing media reports that have accused the presidency of staging the scandal as a cover to oust an apparently unfriendly House leadership.
The president said on Thursday, the allegations were “lame and diversionary” in what appears a prompt rebuttal that intends to reverse a public perception rapidly shaped by the media’s citing of the political undertone of the bribery.
The central figures in the episode, oil marketer Femi Otedola, and the chairman, House adhoc committee on fuel subsidy management, Farouk Lawan, have admitted their roles in offering and receiving a $620,000 kickback respectively.
Mr. Lawan, who led the investigation into how oil marketers defrauded the government of over a trillion naira in a sham fuel subsidy between 2009 and 2011, exonerated two companies belonging to Mr. Otedola, after receiving the money. The amount was an advance payment for $3 million.
Both men have however denied offering or taking bribe, claiming instead to have acted to expose the other. The payment was secretly videotaped by law enforcement agents, on the cooperation of Mr. Otedola, a major financier of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Mr. Otedola has been questioned by the police, and the House has announced an emergency session on Friday to discuss the incident.
In earlier reports highlighting the details and context of the operation, PREMIUM TIMES hinted at the government’s effort at determining possible partisan interest in the House investigation, and how the PDP scrambled to wade off a desperate legislative action when it became clear to the House leadership Mr. Lawan had been trapped.
The reports have fuelled media speculation that peaked on Thursday with allegations the sting operation received presidential and party blessings, and was targeted at roping in, and eventually removing a House leadership that has appeared defiant to party positions.
In a statement on Thursday evening, signed by Aso rock spokesperson, Reuben Abati, Mr. Jonathan denied acting personally or through a representative to initiate the scandal.
“For the benefit of unwary members of the public who may be deceived by the political innuendoes now being woven into the subsidy probe bribe affair, President Jonathan wishes to affirm that he has absolutely no reason or desire to meddle in the affairs of the House of Representatives and its leadership,” the president said.
The president said he was satisfied the House of Representatives has already recalled its members from recess for a special session to deliberate on the scandal and said he stood by his directive that the initial House report be re-investigated and those found guilty, punished.
“Recent developments notwithstanding, President Jonathan’s directive to the Attorney-General of the Federation on the report of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy, as adopted by the House of Representatives, subsists and he fully expects that all those indicted in the report will be duly investigated and prosecuted if a prima facie case is established against them,” the president said.