Vanguard (Lagos)

15 June 2012

Nigeria: Farouk Lawan - the Unmaking of a Tragic Hero

Farouk Lawan, a man who donned the toga of integrity is brought to public spectacle in a sting operation centered around alleged $3 million bribe!

WHEN former President Olusegun Obasanjo on May 22, 2012, said, "today, rogues, armed robbers are in the state Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly," both the 'honourable and distinguished' lawmakers, were perhaps the only Nigerians that reacted to the contrary.

In unison the legislators rose to defend their integrity, which they claimed was being shredded by the ex-President.

"We actually feel that the former President would help the legislature and indeed also help Nigeria in the new spirit of transparency and openness by assisting the NASS by naming those that he knows in the NASS as either rogues or criminals. That would help us to be able to sanitise" senate spokesman Senator Enyinniya Abaribe said in his reaction.

Hardly had the dust raised by the insinuation settled than the Farouk Lawan affair begin to unravel.

Unlike, Obasanjo's alarm which allegedly indicted the majority of the legislators, the present scandal revolves around one man - Lawan, who ironically has all this while donned the cap of integrity. Lawan it would be remembered was the chairman of the Integrity Group, a group of legislators that famously claimed to be purists during the Patricia Etteh affair.

The alleged crime

Lawan, it is alleged, had in his capacity as the Chairman of the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee on fuel subsidy, demanded and received $620, 000, as part payment of a $3million bribe to exonerate Femi Otedola and his companies from indictment in the investigations into the subsidy scam perpetrated by oil importers.

Otedola, claimed that Lawan, and the Secretary of the committee, Mr. Boniface Emenalo, collected $620,000 from him in a sting operation masterminded by the security agencies. "When he (Lawan) demanded the bribe, I called the agencies. That is because I had nothing to hide. When the bribe was paid, why did he not call and report it to the agencies if he had nothing to," the Zenon boss claimed.

The surprise/confusion

However, for a people, who before now believed in Lawan's integrity exaltations having same man at the centre of this controversy, has remained a shocking development. Besides the public mood, this development has reportedly upset the leadership of the House, given that the man in the eye of the storm, had always been relied upon each time the integrity of the House is being questioned at the court of public opinion.

Thirteen years of rise and rise

Lawan it would be recalled won elections into the House of Representatives first in 1999. Whereas many have since fallen aside, Lawan has repeatedly won re-election and was before now, setting his sights on the Kano governorship.

He first came into the consciousness of Nigerians during the 1999 leadership election in the House and subsequently as Chairman of the House Committee on Information in 2002 when he gave the House voice during the Obasanjo impeachment saga.

Though he was one of the advocates that brought Etteh to power, he quickly turned against her for some yet undisclosed reasons and marshaled the Integrity Group that forced her out of office in October 2007. "I was elected to protect the interest of the Nigerian people and that is what I have been doing and will continue to do. I have nothing against the Speaker, but I was elected to protect the interest of people of Nigeria and that is what the issue bothers on," he said on his reasons for fighting Eteh.

And the general anger

Regardless of whatever credential he has claimed, the ensuing development has stirred general anger. Expressing his disgust, Publicity Secretary of Lagos State Chapter of the Action Congress of Nigeria,ACN, Mr. Joe Igbokwe, described the development as unfortunate, adding that Lawan had been the hope of the generality of Nigerians.

He said, "the situation portends a grave danger for democracy, because Farouk Lawan has been around for some time and we all looked up to him. The development has opened up a lot of can worms about the things going on in the National Assembly. What is happening is a reality of what Obasanjo said few weeks back. I can tell you that Obsanjo had background of what was on that was why he made that statement."

Still regretting that Lawan is at the centre of the controversy, Igbokwe, who is a leading voice of the opposition, said, "what is going on would have grave implications for the report on the fuel subsidy probe because, it is now a distraction for calls for the implementation of the report."

Not done, he suggested thus: "whatever that is happening now, the allegations against Farouk's committee is a call for the EFCC and other relevant agencies to get serious and bring, whoever that is culpable to book, because whether Farouk had integrity before now does not matter, what we need is a proper investigation. Farouk is just one person, we should be looking at the big picture on the matter."

Don't refer matter to ethics committee

Similarly, the Director General of Centre for Democratic Governance in Africa, Dr. Dafe Akpocha, described the development as a sad one for the nation and the House, adding that a proper investigation should be done to clear contentious issues.

"I wept from the bottom of my heart concerning Farouk Lawan, because he is one person among the legislators that the people respect so much. He is one of the people that Nigerians regard as different from the fold. We have been looking at him as among the few people, whose voices are respected among Nigerians," he noted.

"As far as he is concerned, "having confessed that he accepted the money, he should be investigated and the truth unearthed. there should not be any hiding place for lawbreakers. I am highly disappointed that somebody that we are holding in high esteem is being accused of financial irresponsibility."

Continuing, Akpocha said, "a thorough investigation should be carried out. We should use somebody as a scapegoat in this country, for how long should we keep regarding some people as sacred cows?? The integrity of the house is now at stake because of this shocking revelation. And the House should not for any reason refer this matter to its committee on ethics. We want to know the bottom root of this matter."

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