BY JOHN BULUS
There seems to be no ending to the series of allegations of bribery in the National Assembly. The latest 3 million USD bribery scandal involving Farouk Lawan of the House of Representatives who hitherto was dubbed “Mr. Integrity” has thrown up questions of integrity and maturity of the members even as aspersions are being cast on the House. Saturday Vanguard’s JOHN BULUS in this special report chronicles major corruption cases that have unfortunately come to define the parliament.
There appears to be this persistent stench oozing from the House of Representatives in every given legislative year. In fact, it is such that since the return of democratic rule in 1999, no dispensation has successfully ended without an awful event breaking out from the green chambers. Worst is that the events are not palatable. If it does not bother on issues of certificate forgery, it is a bribery scandal or outright embezzlement of public funds which never got investigated beyond news breaks.
Undoubtedly, those issues have continued to raise questions about the integrity and or maturity of those elected as lawmakers. Consequently, this calls to mind some unfortunate incidences which have dotted the Parliament since the dawn of democracy.
In 1999, hardly had the House been formally inaugurated that the case of certificate forgery by the then Speaker, Alhaji Salisu Buhari erupted. For some time, the issue dragged on until the Speaker was pushed out. From then henceforth, Buhari grew cold and lost his voice. To some extent, it was not only his constituency that was brutally assaulted and embarrassed.
The integrity of the House was also affected. For one, there came questions on the moral standing of the lawmaker to continue to enact laws “in hallowed” chambers of the House. Till date, that question has continued to be the dilemma the House.
Not too long afterwards in 2007, the House boiled again, this time, featuring a woman protagonist. Despite making history as the first female Nigerian Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs. Patricia Olubumi Etteh was enmeshed in a high profile fund embezzlement scandal to the tune of N68 million Naira which later caused her and her deputy, Alhaji Babangida Ngurije their respective portfolios in the House. Like, Buhari the two personalities went cold that throughout the life of that Assembly, much was not heard from them in terms of contributing to debates in the House. It was not until the twilight of that administration that Etteh briefly made headlines. She was purportedly cleared of the albatross on her neck. But then, that did not stamp any appreciable impact.
Having been impeached, Alhajis Oladimeji Bankole and Usman Bayero Nafada reigned as both Speaker and Deputy Speaker in their stead. Almost in quick succession, another corruption saga broke out.
A member of the House then, Dino Melaye accused Speaker Bankole of siphoning the funds of the House. To the chagrin of all, the allegation generated a heavy dust that there were exchange of physical blows and verbal fisticuffs in the House amongst the members. Notedly, the end of that tenure however saw Bankole and
Nafada behind bars as they were arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and prosecuted later. Though Bankole and Nafada issue appeared controversial in the face of the ensued discrepancy between the EFCC and the court over their discharge and acquittal, most Nigerians still think that the duo will have to do more to erase the feelings of guilt and shame from the subconscious.
Similarly, Nigerians are yet to forget the circle of bribery scandal that rocked the House of Representatives in 2009 when the House set up a Committee to probe the nation’s Power sector. The Committee, headed by Ndudi Godwin Elumelu returned a damning verdict that about $16 billion spent on the sector by the federal government actually went down the drain and called for a cleansing of the sector. The Report was about to be debated when Elumelu was caught in the web of a N6 billion supplementary budget padding scam.
Elumelu and Senator Nicholas Ugba, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Power were eventually dragged to court after a brief detention by the EFCC. Again, the public odium that emanated from the scandal virtually sealed the lips of Elumelu who appears not to be in any haste to discuss public issues. Just very recently, another member of the House of Representatives, Herman Hembe set out in their usual over-sight function to investigate the “death” of stock exchange. But surprisingly, a well intended and fact-finding probe ended up boomeranging on the lawmaker who was accused of being part of the rot in the system for allegedly demanding a bribe of N5 million from the now suspended Director-General of the Security Exchange Commission, SEC, Ms. Aruma Oteh.
The Committee quickly wound up while Hembe, a lawyer and “honourble” member of the Parliament from Benue State was taken by EFCC which is now prosecuting him in court.
Hembe’s scandal had hardly died down when what seems to be the mother of all bribery scandals in the National Assembly came hitting the House . Like other dubious national Lawmakers, the news that the latest bribery scam involves Mr. Farouk Lawan, who is otherwise called “Mr. Integrity”, was one development that was extremely difficult for many people to believe. Farouk Lawan , a man whose tiny voice smacks innocence and honesty was allegedly discovered to be the supreme “tax collector” in the House.
Indeed, sitting glued to one’s television set, watching or reading the accounts of the subsidy probes by the House Ad-hoc Committee chaired by Farouk Lawan last month left no one in doubt that Mr. Integrity did a marvelous job especially with the gory revelations of how some Nigerians ripped the country off. For one, most Nigerians were happy that Lawan was bold to name most dubious characters in the system who were milking the oil sector of the economy dry.
There were applauses. There were commendations. By noonday, he sat before the television cameras reading figures and accusing both individual and cooperate bodies of financial irregularities but in the night, he allegedly sneaked out for his banana split. However , Femi Otedola, one of the oil magnates and owner of Zenon Petroleum & Gas Ltd decided to let the lid open over what transpired between him and Lawan’s committee.
Initially, his company was amongst those black-listed to have illicitly dealt with the NNPC. But within a split of seconds, the company’s name got deleted from “the Black Book” and was cleared of all allegations by the Probes Panel. It was later to be known that a bribe of 3 million USD did the magic.
Hear Otedola: “When this happened, I was very angry and reminded him that Zenon has never participated in the subsidy scheme and that it would be criminal to rope in the company for something it did not do.
But Lawan responded, stating that several other marketers were playing ball and had offered the members of the Committee large sums of money to ensure that their companies’ names were not published in the report.
“A day before the Report was to be submitted, Lawan called again, informing me that Zenon’s name had been included in the report. I, of course, was very angry and asked him to desist from his course of action, but Lawan insisted that I must pay up as other oil marketers had done before me. I reminded him that the amount ascribed to Zenon was wrong as what the company bought was over $400 million for importation of products through the banks – Zenith, UBA and GTB and that under Sanusi (CBN governor), there was no way anyone could have bought that quantity of foreign exchange and not import the products having filled the Form M.
“I screamed at him, demanding to know why he was doing this to me. All he said was that other marketers were paying up to keep their names out of the Report, so I should do likewise.
“As a law-abiding citizen, I decided to involve the security agencies and they advised me to play along, which prompted me to offer to pay part of the money with the promise that I would pay the balance when my company’s name had been removed from the report. On Tuesday, at 9am, just before the House commenced sitting, Boniface came and collected another $120,000.He (Lawan) now asked for the balance of $2.5 million, but when I told him that I had no money now that the money was in Lagos, he suggested that I should charter a plane to fly the money from Lagos to Abuja.
“If you have information that an armed robber has come to raid your home, won’t you notify the police? So, that was the purpose of the sting operation.
“Besides, my integrity is paramount to me. I started selling petroleum products 14 years ago in drums and somebody who has never run a petrol station is trying to blackmail and extort money from me.If others (marketers) have paid money, maybe they are guilty. But I did not do anything wrong, so why should they extort money from me? As a law-abiding citizen, I had to involve the security agencies. Indeed, I’m very disappointed because I have worked hard to build my business”.
But Farouk Lawan denied these allegations. He was later to agree that he received 620million USD from Otedola, insisting he was bribed against his wish when the pressure came in torrents. Almost unbearable.
Meanwhile, it could be recalled that the week before the incident, ex-President Olusegun had stirred the honest’s net when he said that the National Assembly and the Judiciary were populated by rogues and criminals. The utterance was one development that startled the members of both chambers of the national assembly. While the Senate through its spokesman, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe dismissed the claims as mere insinuation and urged Obasanjo to name names, the House of Representatives got infuriated and later decided to summon Obasanjo to the floor of the House for making such a statement. As a matter of fact, Obasanjo was due to honour the invitation on June 28 when his prediction came into fulfillment.
Hear Obasanjo: “Integrity is necessary for systems and institutions to be strong. Today, rogues and armed robbers are in the state Houses ofAssembly and the National Assembly. What sort of laws will they make? The judiciary is also corrupt. During my tenure, many of the corrupt judges were removed, some are still there”.
Speaking with Saturday Vanguard on the issue, the former National Chairman of All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, Chief Chekwas Okorie said, “Definitely, the integrity of the National Assembly has been very seriously dented although it is more pronounced in the House of Reps than in the senate. The Farouk’s scandal is one scandal too many and therefore, I suggest that more serious attention be paid on that House and its members in fighting against corruption”
Undoubtedly, the financial web which caught Lawan has exposed and put him more on the public gallery. Lawan has been a member of the House of Representatives since 1999. He was instrumental to the pulling down of former Speaker, Patricia Etteh down with his Integrity Group.
and replaced him with Dimeji Bankole. He was also the arrow head of the group of whistle blower that exposed the certificate scandal of Salisu Buhari, the first Speaker of the House. The lawmaker who was born in 1962 has been representing Bagwai/Shanono Federal Constituency of Kano State. Lawan is a graduate of Bayero University in Kano. He is married with four children. The better part of his legislative duties in House of Representative has seen him chairing many committees which included Finance, Education, Appropriation and Subsidy Probes. Some say, those were compensatory measures to the roles he played on the installation of any given Speaker since the time of Speaker Bello Masari. To say that he has his eyes on the governorship seat of his home state, Kano in 2015 will is an understatement. In fact, some sources say he is one of those who may want to throw in their hat in the ring for a presidential contest in 2015.
Meanwhile, unless the House of Representatives rises to launder itself of the avalanche of stench and live above aboard, the faroukgate will continue to cast aspersions on the reputation of the members of House of Representatives, nay every political leader which will definitely affect the corruption fight. Moreso, when next, former President Obasanjo makes a statement about those within the corridors of power, not a few Nigerians will regard him as an informed mind Vanguard Nigeria