BY CHARLES ADINGUPU
Again, the tradings of tantrum between Farouk Lawan and oil magnate, Femi Otedola took a different twist this week, as the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges saddled with the tedious task of unraveling the veracity of the $3 million saga was treated to another Nollywood drama.
Farouk’s lawyer, Mike Ozekhome (SAN) who described the exercise as Act one: scene two, said: “I will describe the entire unfolding melodrama as Baba Sala’s Alawada’s historic comedy.
“It is nothing short of comedy. We are dealing with a serious national issue that involves mega money, moral and integrity and how to navigate direction of our democratic experimentation… we are talking about petrol matter that drove many Nigerians to demonstration in January this year over this oil subsidy brouhaha.
“We are talking of matters that has to do with democracy of the stomach and the common man. But unfortunately, we’re restricting it to ordinary theatre,” Ozekhome stated.
But Otedola who was reported to have appeared at Room 349, venue of the investigative hearing at the National Assembly complex twenty minutes ahead of the scheduled time of 2.00 pm, wore the armour of bravery to resist the committee’s tactics of cohesion and stood his ground with truth buckled around his waist, only summarised his mission thus: Eventually, the truth will emerge, nothing done in the dark that will not come to light.”
Although, the odyssey of the fuel subsidy bribery saga has become illusory just as what obtains in the theatre of the absurd. Much as a folk hero is yet to emerge.
According to one of the protagonist, the matter has already generated public interest and controversy and therefore any investigation into it must be done in public.
Lawyer to Otedola, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Babajide Koku stated unequivocally why the committee’s hearing should be made in public.
Koku said that Farouk has lied in four separate occasions. First, Farouk initially denied outrightly that he never collected any money but he later on turned around to say that he collected money. Also, Farouk said he gave Adams Jagaba but Adams has said he never collected any money from him. Again, Farouk claimed he discussed the issue with the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC). Yet, the EFCC chairman has also denied. More so, he said he collected two hundred and fifty thousand dollars but that was not true.
“The point he, Otedola has made today, is that any discussion on this matter must be held in public.”
But that was the position to the ethics committee which of course its members were unhappy with and bluntly refused to accept.
The crux of the matter
Available report shows that prior to the commencement of the committee’s sitting, it agreed that all hearings would be held in public. The sudden mercurial over its secret hearing has become the whirlwind that will expose the anus of mother hen.
It’s on clean record that no House Representatives committee avalanche of scandal hearings had never been held in closed door. So, why this? Too many questions over the authenticity of the report that will eventually emerged should he committee stuck to their guns on secret hearing.
Otedola who put up a spirited protest against a close session with the panel in a release issued before the hearing, recalled that “When this issue arose, the House of Representatives Committee on Ethic and Privileges publicly stated that its investigation will be held in public.”
The oil magnate, however, wondered why the committee has made a detour particularly in the light of unfolding events.
“I strongly believe that the interest of the public will not be best served if this investigation is held in camera. I’ve nothing to hide and will only speak on this issue when this investigation is conducted in a very transparent manner and the press as well as the general public are allowed to be present at the sittings of this committee from the beginning of its investigation to its conclusion,” Otedola declared with equanimity.
But the man in the eye of the storm, Farouk, former chairman of the now rested ad-hoc committee that investigated the management of the country’s fuel subsidy regime conducted all its sittings in public glare including present saga which has become a subject of whispering gossip for Nigerians.
Chairman, House Committee on Ethics and Privileges, Gambo Dan Musa said to hide the committee’s veil under the constitution was only a backwash.
“We did all we can by explaining our powers under the constitution to him but he refused to answer our question,” he said, he would talk only if the hearing was done in public.”
According to the chairman, Otedola went further to insult us and laughed at the threat of the consequences of his action, and simply said Farouk has lied four times on four different occasions over the bribery allegation.”
Otedola’s uncompromising posture, left the committee members hapless, more so, as it is a matter which deals purely on unethical behavour.
Against this backdrop, Gambo queries, “How do you investigate this kind of case when he (Otedola) refused to substantiate his allegation? All he was doing was to laugh at us. It was very stupid of him and we are not happy.”
But is that the crux of the matter? The fact that the committee has refused to hold its hearing in public has left the public postulating the outcome of its report.
Political pundits are of the opinion that any can of worms that would pose as a threat to the already battered integrity of the House would be doctored if not then why the insistence of the public hearing?
Again, to the chagrin of the Nigerian public, Gambo Dan-Musa has insisted that despite Otedola’s no comment stance, the committee will still proceed with its secret sitting by calling on others who will be willing to give evidence on the matter and eventually summit its report upon completion of the assignment.
This position of the committee’s chairman has again threw spanner in the works; on what will he, Gambo and others base their report? By extension therefore, Gambo and his team will surely produce half baked report, all because the committee and its honourable members may be too chicken hearted to hold its hearing in public podium.