The House Committee on Ethics and Privileges on Thursday grilled the removed chairman of the House of Representatives’ committee probe panel on fuel subsidy regime, Farouk Lawan, for several hours on the $620,000 bribe the lawmaker confessed to have received from businessman, Femi Otedola.
The questioning of the diminutive legislator from Kano State however was held behind closed doors, contrary to an earlier promise by the House to make the ethics committee sittings public.
Lawan walked into the venue at 1.07pm in company with the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Victor Ogene, who is also a member of the Committee on Ethics and Privileges.
Wearing a white flowing gown and a white cap to match, Lawan expressed surprise at sighting journalists when he walked into the venue.
He exclaimed, “Everyone is here; this is a full house, chairman (referring to the Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Gambo Musa).”
Musa went into the preliminaries of the $620,000 bribery scandal, and recalled that the House mandated the committee to investigate the issue and produce a report on it.
He explained that after a series for meetings by the committee, it fixed Thursday (yesterday) as the commencement date of the investigation.
Musa added that Lawan and Otedola had been invited to appear before the panel for the course of the investigation.
Otedola had alleged that he gave the bribe to Lawan under pressure, but the lawmaker said the businessman offered him the bribe in a bid to secure an acquittal for his firm, Zenon Oil and Gas Limited, which had been indicted by the subsidy probe panel.
In his opening remarks, Musa gave an assurance that his committee would be fair to all the parties in the bribery saga.
“We shall strive to be fair and just to all the parties involved and make our report public”, he said.
After his remarks, he ordered journalists out of the venue, saying that the session would be held behind closed doors.
When he was asked on why the House reneged on its promise to conduct the investigation in the open, the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Zakari Mohammed, replied that it was to allow the committee to “do a detailed and thorough work.”
He explained that the committee did not want a situation where the testimony of one witness would jeopardise another witness’ testimony.
Mohammed added, “You know that it is an investigative hearing as well 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 they know.”
Meanwhile, there were indications on Thursday that the Police had yet to invite the Chairman, House Committee on Drugs/Narcotics and Financial Crimes, Mr. Adams Jagaba, for interrogation.
Jagaba was the man Lawan, during the earlier part of his confession to police, named as being in possession of the bribe money.
The finding by our correspondent contradicted speculations that Jagaba had been given an ultimatum by the police to submit himself for interrogation.
“There is no such ultimatum; ultimatum how? There is no invitation to Jagaba from the police; there has been no direct contact between them and there can be no ultimatum”, a source monitoring the investigation disclosed to our correspondent in Abuja.
Lawan had told the police that he wrote Jagaba and attached the bribe money as evidence.
However, on June 19, Jagaba wrote the Speaker of the House, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal, denying ever seeing or receiving any bribe money from Lawan.
This was sequel to a directive by Tambuwal, asking Jagaba to clear the air on the $620,000.
Tambuwal’s action was a response to a letter from the Police Special Task Force investigating the bribery, urging him to retrieve the bribe money from Jagaba.
Investigations by our correspondent showed that after Jagaba’s letter to Tambuwal, the speaker in turn wrote to the police, saying that the bribe money was not in the custody of the lawmaker or any committee of the House.
“That was the closest contact between the police and Jagaba, which was indirect because the police letter was even addressed to the Speaker, not Jagaba,” the source said on condition of anonymity.
Jagaba on Thursday said that he was amazed at the speculation that the police had invited or given him an ultimatum.
He said, “If there is a claim that the police ever invited me, I want the proof of the invitation; where is the proof?
“I am here in my office; there is no police invitation, I have not seen any invitation.
“There is no invitation in my constituency office or my residence either; so all this rumour about ultimatum amazes me, really.”
The lawmaker added that the letter Lawan “purportedly” wrote to him, attaching the bribe money, was also not true.
He said, “I never received any letter from him (Lawan). Again, where is the proof of the acknowledgement of the letter? If you wrote a letter to me and I received it, there would be a copy of the acknowledgement, where is it?
“These are the issues and not mere speculation.”