Members of the House of Representatives are divided over the need for a public hearing by their Committee on Ethics and Privileges on the $620,000 bribery scandal involving a member of the House, Mr. Farouk Lawan, and oil businessman, Mr. Femi Otedola in camera.
Findings by our correspondents on Saturday showed that although there was a move to nip in the bud the controversy generated by Otedola’s refusal to testify before the panel in camera, the House has been unable to reach a consensus on the matter
Investigations by our correspondent showed that the House was worried by the “wrong impression” created in certain quarters that lawmakers had something to hide when they insisted that the ethics committee must sit in camera.
A member of the Ad hoc committee, earlier summoned by the police, the House, disclosed that the House might make a formal statement on the matter this week.
It was learnt that the order of privilege raised by a member from Kaduna State, Mr. Simon Arabo, on the floor of the House Thursday last week, expressed the feeling of many lawmakers about the issue.
Arabo had protested the decision of the ethics committee to insist on hearing Otedola in camera.
It was gathered that the committee might sit this week to review the events of last week and take a position on whether to sit in the open, in the light of the alleged pressure on the House to throw the investigation open.
This means that Otedola may be re-invited to testify in the open if the committee decides to make the hearing public.
When contacted for comments, the Deputy Majority Leader of the House, Mr. Leo Ogor, said it was the “discretion” of every committee of the legislature to decide on how to conduct its assignment.
Ogor said, “Everything is at the discretion of the committee; they can sit in the open and they can sit in camera.
But, a member of ethics committee, Mr. Victor Ogene, is opposed to an open hearing.
He said, “The Nigerian Bar Association, the Nigerian Medical Association, among others have disciplinary committees to look into issues relating to the conduct of their members.
“The question I ask is, has the public ever been part of any investigation on disciplinary cases they conducted?”
He noted that Otedola was not on trial before the committee and reserved the right to say that he would not testify.
“But, what he cannot do is to dictate how the committee of the House of Representatives, will conduct itself.”
Asked whether the committee would reconsider its position in the light of the controversy generated by Otedola’s refusal to testify in camera, Ogene replied that only the panel’s chairman, Musa, could address that.
Efforts by our correspondent to reach Musa failed on Saturday as his mobile phone was permanently switched off.
In 2008, during the administration of a former Speaker, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, the Committee on Ethics and Privileges heard the testimony of a witness, Mr. Festus Keyamo, in the open.
Keyamo testified in the famous N2.3bn car purchase scam