By Ike Abonyi, Yemi Akinsuyi, Onwuka Nzeshi and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
Lawan shuns police invitation, risks arrest
The House of Representatives has cut short its recess for an emergency PLENARY SESSION tomorrow to consider the allegations of a $3 million cash for clearance scandal involving its chairman, Ad hoc Committee Monitoring the Fuel Subsidy, Hon. Farouk Lawan.
The lawmakers who have been on a one-week recess that would have ended next Tuesday are expected to be seated at the green chamber by 10 am, according to a statement by the Clerk of the House, Mr. Ataba Sani-Omolori.
Although the statement was silent on why the House leadership has cut short the recess, sources said the decision was prompted by the need to arrest the swirling controversy over Lawan’s alleged collection of $620,000 from the Chairman, Zenon Oil and Gas, Mr. Femi Otedola.
Lawan was purported to have taken the money to remove the company’s name from the list of oil marketers which bought foreign exchange but did not import petroleum products.
In addition, the House leadership is said to be worried that the scandal could degenerate beyond redemption by Tuesday when the lawmakers are supposed to resume plenary session.
However, Lawan who was expected at the police force headquarters yesterday did not show up, which might prompt the police to arrest him for obstructing investigations into the bribery scandal.
It was learnt that he was invited on June 5 to appear before a team of detectives, led by Commissioner of Police Ali Amodu with the $500,000, being part-payment of the $3 million, which he claimed to have collected to use as evidence against Otedola.
Lawan: I Collected $500,000 Bribe Offer
Sources hinted that tomorrow’s plenary might be preceded by a secret session to enable Lawan and members of the ad hoc committee to open up truthfully to their colleagues so that they can decide on how to tackle the crisis.
Already, there are speculations that the House might suspend Lawan from chairing the ad hoc committee that will take testimonies from 17 oil marketing firms which were directed to appear before the committee.
Alternatively, the House may set up a panel to probe the allegation against the embattled lawmaker.
THISDAY learnt that the leadership of the House decided to convene the special session in order to find a quick resolution of the crisis before the flames engulf the entire house.
The scandal has so far triggered speculations that more funds running into several billions of naira were extorted from other oil marketers and that some of the bribes may have been distributed to some select legislators, including the House leadership.
It was learnt that since security agencies may have been keeping tabs on some of the transactions and could close in on anyone linked to the subsidy probe bribes, there is need for the lawmakers to take proactive steps before it gets too late.
THISDAY learnt that detectives waited in vain until about 6 pm yesterday at the force headquarters in anticipation that Lawan might honour their invitation.
When THISDAY sought to know what would happen next, a police source said: “Let’s wait till tomorrow, lawmakers are now lawbreakers.”
The police confirmed that a letter of invitation was written to Lawan on June 5 to report on June 7, but up till 6 pm yesterday, he had failed to show up.
A member of the Special Task Force (STF) set up by the Inspector General of Police (IG) to handle the matter said: “I wonder who is advising him to ignore this invitation, and I hope they know they don’t have immunity.”
It was also gathered that when the police advised him to hand over the bribe money, he allegedly refused, saying it had to be legislated on.
The source said that the STF had obtained the IG’s nod to arrest him if after today, one week after he was supposed to have shown up, he fails to honour the invitation.
Meanwhile, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) has raised a red flag over a purported plot by outsiders to use the bribery scandal as the perfect ploy to impeach the House leadership.
A statement yesterday by CISLAC accused the presidency, which it said had been uncomfortable with the House leadership, and some fuel importers of being behind the plot to remove the leadership of the lower chamber.
CISLAC’s Executive Director, Mr. Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, who signed the statement, said it would be wrong to judge the House leadership based on an offence allegedly committed by a lawmaker.
“If indeed those agitating to use an individual’s alleged misdeed to oust the present leadership of the House are sincere, they might as well call for the resignation of President Goodluck Jonathan for overseeing an administration in which trillions of naira was siphoned in various scams, including the N1.7 trillion subsidy fraud.
“CISLAC suspects complicity on the part of the presidency in the current move to remove the current leadership by sponsoring some faceless groups to call for the resignation of the speaker,” he said.
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