The suspended Chairman of the House Ad-Hoc Committee on the Monitoring of Subsidy Regime, Hon. Farouk Lawan, yesterday opened his defence of the $620,000 bribery allegation levelled against him by the Chairman, Zenon Oil and Gas, Mr. Femi Otedola.
Lawan, who was interrogated behind closed doors by the House of Representatives Committee on Ethics and Privileges, which began investigation into the allegation yesterday, said what he collected was money and not a bribe.
Restating his earlier statement to the media, Lawan said he collected $500,000 from Otedola not as a bribe but as exhibit that he planned to use as evidence of the attempt by the oil marketer to influence the report of the subsidy probe.
Otedola, in his account of the transaction between the duo, had claimed that Lawan made repeated demands of him for money to stop the ad hoc committee from indicting his company, adding that he had to bring in security agents who advised him to play along with the lawmaker in a bid to nail him.
The security agents, he added, provided the serialised dollar bills that were given to Lawan, who collected the money without knowing that he was being recorded.
A source told THISDAY that Lawan appeared confident throughout his session with the Ethics Committee, but he was rather evasive when asked about the whereabouts of the money he admitted to have collected.
Unlike in the past when he claimed that the money was with the Chairman, House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, Hon. Adams Jagaba, Lawan said the security agencies would establish the whereabouts of the money during their investigations.
On his part, Jagaba in different letters to the House Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal and acting Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, had denied Lawan's claim.
THISDAY checks showed that besides his oral testimony, Lawan also tendered documents said to contain call logs obtained from a telecommunication service provider to substantiate his claim that Otedola initiated the transaction and not him.
It was learnt that the committee might recall Lawan to give further clarifications on his testimony as the investigation progresses.
Earlier, Lawan, who had arrived at the venue of the committee at 1.05 pm, expressed surprise at the heavy media presence. He expressed pleasantries with his colleagues and reporters before taking his seat.
Chairman, House Committee on Ethics and Privileges, Hon. Gambo Dan-Musa, gave a synopsis of the case under investigation and shortly after, ordered reporters to excuse the committee to enable it interrogate Lawan in camera.
Dan-Musa said the committee's mission was to establish the facts of the bribery allegation and after a series of meetings, it decided to invite Lawan, Otedola and other stakeholders involved in the matter to appear before it at different times.
"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. It is our belief that at the end of the day, our report will meet the expectations of the House and indeed that of the Nigerian public," Dan-Musa said.
Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Zakari Mohammed, who addressed reporters later, said the decision to conduct the investigation secretly was to create a conducive atmosphere for Lawan and others to give their testimonies freely and without distraction.
"You know that it is an investigative hearing and we want to avoid a situation where his (Lawan) presentation would bungle certain people's submissions.
"Of course, the police are doing their own investigations and they are doing that in camera. So we believe that this also should be done in camera to at least give everybody some protection and the freedom to say all that he or she knows.
"If you are sure there are cameras, there might be certain things witnesses might want to hide. So it is not as if we are trying to hide anything but we want to ensure that we do a thorough job of this investigation," Mohammed said.