6 November 2012

Nigeria: Crackles in Cash-for-Clearance Scam

After months of suspense, the House of Representatives is set to receive the report of its internal investigation into one of the most scandalous corruption cases involving one of its members. The House verdict may yet turn into another scandal.

It was undoubtedly the most spicy scandal to smear the clean crisp image that Speaker Aminu Tambuwal had so much sought to build.

The narratives on television of a member of the House of Representatives discussing bribe with a subject under investigation shook the foundations of the parliament. Rep. Lawan Farouk, a four-term member of the House of Representatives was tasked with leading the House investigation into arguably the biggest fraud to be revealed in the supply of domestic fuel.

The fuel subsidy scam in which trillions of naira were fraudulently claimed by real and fictitious fuel importers shook the foundations of the country.

It was as such not surprising that the House of Representatives constituted an ad-hoc committee to investigate the scandal.

Lawan, an experienced lawmaker was given the assignment of leading the other members of the investigative panel.

While the public investigation lasted, many Nigerians hailed the inquisitive and probing gestures of the Lawan committee, which relentlessly harried the importers and others involved.

The findings and recommendations of the committee were damning of many stakeholders and government organizations. Remarkably, a number of principal officers of the agencies of government involved in the scam were let off the hook by the Lawan report.

That set some tongues wagging, but the issue was still muted given the rapturous endorsement of the activities of the committee during the hearings.

It was not until later when stories about the exchange of dollars for clearance began to circulate that members of the House of Representatives began to express doubt about the sincerity of the Lawan report.

The House leadership was bold to limit the damage once the allegation that Lawan and the committee clerk, Boniface Emenalo, collected $620,000 bribe to clear oil magnate and business man, Femi Otedola, distilled into the public space.

It immediately removed Lawan from the leadership of the ad-hoc committee and also stripped him of his position as chairman of the House committee on education.

The issue was further referred to the House Committee on Ethics for investigation.

Lawan and Otedola were invited to the investigation by the Ethics committee headed by Rep. Gambo Dan Musa.

The committee heard Lawan in camera and also insisted on hearing Otedola in camera, an invitation the businessman flatly rejected.

Upon his refusal to address the committee in camera, the committee chairman, Musa lashed out at Otedola in a language that reportedly seriously embarrassed the House and displeased the leadership.

"We did all that we could by explaining to him our power under the constitution and under our rules and.....further explained that nobody will dictate how we are going to conduct our meeting, yet Femi Otedola refused to answer questions and he said he could only do so when we do it in public" Musa said.

"You cannot make an allegation and when you are being asked to substantiate, you now refuse to substantiate.What are you hiding"? Honourable Dan Musa asked

"He has told us that we are hiding something that is why we don't want to do it in public, rather we told him, he is the one hiding something by refusing to talk, by refusing to make a substantiation of his allegations.

"He refused to say anything and he was just laughing. It was very stupid of him and we are not happy too" he said minutes after Otedola with his team of legal advisers left the committee hearing.

The question as to why the committee insisted on hearing Otedola and Lawan in secret remained a mystery.

Now after months of a closeted investigation indications that the committee has concluded its investigation and its report ready emerged last week ahead of the House resumption today.

Speaking to newsmen last week in the course of a press briefing by Rep. Zakari Mohammed House Committee Chairman on Media and Public Affairs and his Deputy, Rep. Victor Ogene, the latter had said that the report of the House investigations on Lawan would be presented after resumption.

"The findings of the committee would be made available as soon as the House resumes from its Sallah break," Ogene had been quoted as saying.

But Ogene was to issue a clarification the following day to clear impressions created in the media that the report would definitely be presented today.

In the statement issued last Friday, he said: "I have read several accounts of my interaction with the media at Thursday's weekly Press Briefing of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs and wish to make the following clarifications. To state categorically, therefore, that the Report will be laid next week is not only erroneous, but patently misleading."

What Ogene's clarification inevitably implied is that the report will arguably not be presented today, meaning that Nigerians may still have much time to wait for the House report on the cash for clearance scam.

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