by Niyi Odebode and John Ameh
CHAIRMAN of the House of Representatives Committee on the probe of fuel subsidy mismanagement, Mr. Farouk Lawan, said on Sunday that the video purportedly showing him receiving a bribe from an oil marketer was doctored.
The Lawan committee, which discovered that subsidy thieves had stolen N1.7trn from government coffers as a direct consequence of malpractices in the oil sector, had been embroiled in bribery scandal since last week.
A video recording of the bribe deal between the oil marketer and the lawmaker is believed to be in the possession of the State Security Service.
However, Lawan said that the allegation that he collected $600,000 from the oil marketer to influence the report of the House probe panel was a ploy to divert attention from the recommendations of the committee.
The Rep at a press briefing in Abuja on Sunday said, “I categorically deny that I or any member of the committee demanded and received any bribe from anybody in connection with the fuel subsidy probe and I believe that this is evident from the thorough and in-depth manner the investigation was carried out.
“The present mudslinging is not unexpected in view of the calibre of people whose actions and inactions were found wanting in the report.
“I am aware that in their desperation to discredit the report and divert attention of the public from the real issues of large scale fraud in high places established in the report, a video footage displaying a caricature of my person allegedly having a dealing with a marketer, reminiscent of the military era when dignitaries were invited to the villa to watch a video clip of a phantom coup involving Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, is already in circulation.”
The Sunday briefing was Lawan’s first reaction to the alleged scam.
He recalled that he had cried out during the probe that there were pressures on the committee and that he alerted the public that a marketer “promised to fly in a jet loaded with dollars, which he intended to share among the House leadership and members of the ad hoc committee.”
“I did not go to Nnamdi Azikwe Airport or any other place to collect money from anybody. The allegation is diversionary,” he added.
But a source at the House on Sunday also told one of our correspondents that Lawan had confessed to his colleagues in the chamber that he indeed collected the said amount from a businessman but that he intended to tender same as a bribery evidence.
The source said the other lawmakers, however, did not buy Lawan’s explanation and declared that “since he collected the money without informing them until the lid was blown open on the deal, he would need to carry his cross.”
The source, a lawmaker also, said the businessman who is also a fuel marketer, had reportedly invited the lawmaker to his Lagos residence, “where the deal was struck.”
The businessman’s firms was indicted by the committee but he allegedly offered a $3m bribe to safeguard his business interests.
It was said that the businessman recorded the meeting between him and the lawmaker and later refused to pay the balance of the deal after paying the initial $600,000 instalment.
Another source in the House added that after the lid was blown off the deal, the leadership of the House summoned the lawmaker for interrogation, where he owned up to receiving the money.
The committee chairman was said to have declared only $300, 000 initially, unknown to the leadership that the actual part payment was $600, 000.
“It was after the evidence and facts of the issue were made bare to the leadership that he was summoned again and he admitted that indeed the money was $600, 000”, the second source confided in The PUNCH.
Chairman of an influential committee of the House confided in our correspondent that most members had rated the embattled lawmaker as “a smart man”, but were surprised that he allowed himself to be ridiculed in this manner.
He said, “The sad aspect was how he tried to trick even the leadership by declaring only half of the money at first. When the truth came out, he now wanted the House to assist him by requesting to present the money on the floor as evidence of bribery.
“But, the Speaker (Aminu Tambuwal) said ‘no’, having been aware of the facts that he (Lawan) went to the house of the businessman in Lagos to negotiate the bribe.
“How can you be probing somebody and you went to his house in Lagos to negotiate with him. We thought he was smarter than this.”
A principal officer of the House disclosed to The PUNCH on Sunday that there was no way the entire House would allow itself to be dragged down with the lawmaker if he failed to prove his innocence.
The officer said, “The House did not send any individual to go and engage himself in such illegality.
“Yes, it is true that we constituted an ad-hoc committee to investigate the fuel subsidy scam, but we did not say ‘go and commit illegality.’
“So, if he decided to use it as an opportunity to enrich himself, let him face the consequences, not the House. This House is not about any single individual or sacred cow.”
The SSS could not confirm on Sunday whether it was true that a video evidence was with it.
The SSS Deputy Director, Press Relations, Marylyn Ogar, did not pick calls to her mobile phone nor reply text message on the subject.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission said it had no record that the bibery scandal in the House was being investigated by it.
Spokesman for the anti-graft agency, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said, “I am not aware that the matter is being investigated by the EFCC.”
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