The House of Representatives committee on Ethics and Privileges yesterday began investigating the U.S.$620,000 bribery scandal involving former chairman of the House subsidy probe panel Farouk Lawan and oil magnate Femi Otedola.
Lawan testified at the committee yesterday behind closed doors, contrary to the initial pronouncement that the sitting would be open to the public.
Though details of what happened during the secret session were not announced, Daily Trust learnt that Lawan told his colleagues that he never solicited bribe from Otedola.
A committee member who does not want to be named told Daily Trust at the end of the meeting that Lawan also "gave us documented evidence to prove his case."
But the lawmaker did not say specifically what documents were presented.
A source said the documents might have included the letters allegedly exchanged between Lawan, the Police and chairman of the House anti-corruption committee Adams Jagaba between April and May.
In those documents, which were published in the media weeks ago, Lawan said he was being pressured by Otedola to collect bribe to clear his oil companies of the subsidy fraud allegations against them.
Another committee member told the BBC Hausa last night that during the sitting, Lawal presented his "own side" of the story. He gave no specific details, but added that the panel would now hear from Otedola before reaching its conclusions.
Lawan was accused of collecting $620,000 bribe from Otedola in the wake of the consideration of the fuel subsidy report in April in what the oil trader called "sting operation" master minded by the security agencies.
Lawal denied receiving the bribe. The matter is being investigated by the Police.
When the House committee opened its investigation yesterday, its chairman Rep. Gambo Musa Dan Musa (CPC, Katsina) read out a brief speech and ordered journalists out of the meeting, saying, "We have to go into closed door now and interrogate him in camera."
"The committee is set to carry out its assignment with a very high sense of commitment. We shall strive to be fair and just to all parties involved," Dan Musa said.
Lawan arrived at the committee room at about 1pm smiling, and clad in a white caftan with a white cap to match.
Speaking to newsmen after the meeting, Dan Musa explained that Lawan had to be interrogated in camera to avoid jeopardising the committee's investigation.
Dan Musa also disclosed that Otedola will appear before the panel on July 3.
Responding to questions about the earlier promise by the House that the bribery probe would be transparent and televised live, House spokesman Zakari Mohammed said they had to change tactics in order to "avoid a situation his (Lawan's) presentation will bungle other people's presentations before the panel."
Jonathan urges patience on subsidy report
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday asked Nigerians to be patient as government was in the process of implementing the House of Representatives report on fuel subsidy probe.
Speaking to members of the Nigerian community in Brussels, Belgium, Jonathan said the report has been forwarded to anti-graft agencies for investigation and that could take some time.
"The EFCC is working on the report, so we must give them the chance to do their job. We have to build water-tight cases if we hope to get any conviction for any wrongdoing, and the law demands proof," he said.
Jonathan said it was better to do a good job than to lose the cases in court due to shoddy preparations.
"Law enforcement agents are carefully investigating the report, to establish water-tight cases against those who may have committed offences warranting being charged to court," he said.
He called on Nigerians especially the media to refrain from persistent negative reports about the country.
"We will continue to ensure our freedom of speech, but we should use it to build the country, not destroy," he said.