Abuja — Reverses self on Zenon, It's blackmail, says Otedola
The House of Representatives yesterday took the most decisive step yet since reports alleging that the chairman of its Ad-Hoc Committee Monitoring the Fuel Subsidy, Hon. Farouk Lawan, had demanded $3 million bribe from chairman of Zenon Oil & Gas, Mr. Femi Otedola, broke.
Otedola claimed that Lawan made the demand with a promise to facilitate the removal of Zenon Oil & Gas from the list of firms that bought foreign exchange from Central Bank of Nigeria without actually importing petroleum products.
At a special session on the scandal, the House suspended Lawan as chairman of the Ad-Hoc Committee. Otedola alleged that Lawan collected a total of $500,000 from him for that purpose.
With his suspension, chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Hon John Enoh has been named the new chairman of the Ad-Hoc Committee for the purpose of concluding the investigations into the fuel subsidy.
In a unanimous resolution yesterday, the lower chamber of the National Assembly pledged its support for the investigations already being undertaken by the Police and anti-corruption agencies.
The resolution was made after a motion sponsored by the Chief Whip of the House, Hon Isiaka Bawa expressing concern on the bribery allegation.
Lawan has also been stripped of his position as Chairman of the House Committee on Education pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation into the bribery allegations.
The lawmakers however insisted on the validity of the subsidy probe report on the grounds that the bribery allegation should not be an excuse to dump the report.
In an apparent move to restore credibility to the controversial report, the House reversed its resolution of Tuesday, April 24, in which Synopsis Enterprises Limited and Zenon Petroleum & Gas Limited were removed from the list of companies which obtained foreign exchange but did not import petroleum products.
By this resolution, the two companies have been referred to the relevant anti-corruption agencies with a view to verifying the purpose the foreign exchange was obtained.
But the Zenon boss has deplored the resolution in a statement. "I have stated the facts in my interview with THISDAY and nothing but the facts: That Farouk Lawan demanded $3 million from me and because I refused to oblige him he included the name of Zenon amongst those who bought forex without importing petroleum products.
"He did this without even asking Zenon to produce a single document of the forex transaction. He clearly wanted to extort money for an offence I did not commit.
"That is why I went to report to the security agencies. If I had anything to hide I wouldn't have gone to the agencies. There is an old adage that says 'people who live in glass houses should not throw stones,'" he said.
Otedola explained that it was impossible to purchase $232, 975,385.13 million from CBN without importing the product, adding that the total figure was not $232, 975,385.13 million as alleged, but $372, 207, 990 million.
"If people at my level who have worked hard to build their businesses can be blackmailed this way all in a bid to extort money from them, I pity people that are just starting out in business in this country. In all my business dealings I have always been above board and the records are there to prove.
"As far as I know Lawan could not have been working alone in this extortionist plot. A tree does not make a forest. Let me also state for the records that we are not in any way affiliated to Synopsis Enterprises Ltd also included in the report. Actions of today by the House is laughable, a mere celebration of corruption and a further indictment on their honorable member," he said.
Also suspended was the Clerk of the Committee, Mr Boniface Emenalo who was also implicated in the bribery scandal. Emenalo allegedly collected the sum of $120,000 from the Otedola.
The lawmakers also resolved that the bribery allegation be referred to the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges for thorough investigation.
The Ethics and Privileges Committee is expected to submit its findings to the House within two weeks upon resumption from the current recess.
The House's decision is a heavy blow for Lawan who would like spend the weekend in police custody. Lawan, whose house as well as Emenalo's was said to have been thoroughly searched yesterday morning by police detectives denied bail on self recognition as at Friday evening.
Confirming his continued detention by the police, Deputy Police Public Relations Officer, Mr. Frank Mba (a Chief Superintendent of Police), said the duo will remain in detention until investigation is complete.
Mba, who did not confirm if they would eventually be released next Monday, said they were still assisting the police in their investigations.
In the lead debate, Bawa expressed concern that the bribery allegation was a negation of the Legislative Agenda of the Seventh House of Representatives, particularly on its resolve to ensure probity, accountability and transparency in the conduct of its business.
In a veiled reference to the involvement of the state security apparatus in the sting operation that implicated Lawan, Minority Whip of the House, Hon. Samson Osagie condemned a situation where the government of the day would resort to setting-up members of parliament in a bid to tarnish the image of the National Assembly.
Speaker of the House, Hon Aminu Tambuwal thrice received standing ovations when he addressed the plenary at the end of the debate.
Speaker of the House Aminu Tambuwal said legislators, must continue to adhere to their legislative agenda and remain not only sensitive to the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians but also proactive on all matters of urgent national importance.
"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.
"When we elected to pursue the entrenchment of probity, accountability and transparency in the conduct of government business as a cardinal Legislative Agenda we advised ourselves never to expect that it will be an easy task. Accordingly I have had cause to occasionally sound a note of warning and reminder that our constitutional task is inescapably hazardous requiring total commitment, diligence, transparency; determination and sacrifice.
"The Constitution has given the parliament three broad duties which include Law Making, Representation and Oversight. It is interesting to note that of these three, it is that last function, which gives legislature the powers to conduct oversight, that has tended to cause conflict between the legislature and the Executive and remains the most controversial. Yet, it would have been impossible to conduct the other two functions successfully if the Constitution had not given the parliament oversight powers: the single most potent weapon that makers of the Constitution put in place to check abuse by those who execute its law."
He pledged that the House of Representatives would continue to act responsibly by ensuring that legislative investigations were instituted only when absolutely necessary.
"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 said.