The big set up

THE country’s National Assembly which comprises the House of Senate and the House of Representatives has never amounted to anything in the estimation of average Nigerians. And very lately, the two Chambers have done very little to either erase this sordid impression or justify the need for the jumbo pay, the legislative office fetches.

Apart from the strings of scandals, scams and corrupt practices perpetrated on regular bases, a major avenue for fraud has been in the area of the chambers exercise of its oversight functions. This national assignment has given the two chambers unbridled access to acts of intimidation and blackmail, all in an effort to satisfy their high level of wanton greed.

Not very long ago the whole nation was appalled at disclosures made by the Director-General of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Ms.  Aruma Otteh against the chairman of the House Committee on Capital Market and Other Institutions, Mr. Herman Hembe during the committee’s unwarranted and belated probe of the Stock Market crash in 2008, that Hembe requested for a bribe of N44million in order to squash the probe.

The personality in the latest scandal turned out to be an unassuming and highly respected member of the lower House. He has been in the House since the inception of this democratic dispensation, and when the tide swept away his very close friend and associate, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Ghali Umar Na’Abba, Lawan had survived the storm, returned to the House and turned into a power broker.

Lawan led the Integrity Group, an alliance of Representatives opposed to the former Speaker of the Lower House, Mrs Olubunmi Etteh. He even effected her impeachment over corruption charges.

The task that has however put the diminutive sized man in an unsavourable lurch was his last assignment at the chairman, the House Ad hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy Regime.

Tall order
When the ad-hoc committee probing the fuel subsidy scandal rounded off its public sittings recently, the committee’s chair Farouk Lawan boasted that “our recommendations will certainly bring about the running of a better oil industry in Nigeria. Some of the recommendations will have judicial implications. Some will require prosecutions and so on”.

But if there is anyone that would be facing any manner of prosecution, it is likely to be Lawan himself as he had falling for one of the oldest tricks in the book; frame up.
As expected when the findings of the probe came out, there was so much upheaval not only within the oil and gas industry but also in the Presidency where many cronies of the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan were having a field day dealing in Petroleum subsidy. Not only the close aides of the President but many influential members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Heads of States were all neck deep in petroleum products racketeering.

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Early signs of the reluctance of the Presidency to involve itself in the probe was its lack of enthusiasm towards the outcome of the probe, forcing the Speaker of the House, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal to voice the need for independent prosecutors should the Federal Government agencies in charge of corrupt practices; the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); his Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC)  and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) refuse to follow up on the report.

Aside this stance, members of the House Committee probing the fuel subsidy were subjected to untold fears following disturbing approach of lobbyists on their trail. Besides endless telephone calls by faceless stakeholders, some of the lobbyists have reportedly approached relatives of the members to help influence the outcome of the probe.

Lawan even confessed that himself and other members were under intense pressure from lobbyists representing various interests, ranging from politics, business and even private. It was even gathered that some of the relatives of the members allegedly approached by such desperate lobbyists are said to be afraid of their lives.

Burdened by such development, it was gathered that some of the members had lodged serious complaints to the leadership of the National Assembly. Although assurances were given to such members and their immediate families, it was learnt, that the leadership of the House may have resolved to tighten security around such members and their relatives so that the probe would not be affected negatively.

“Nearly all the committee members have been approached. The intention of those trailing them is the same. They would like the lawmakers to protect one interest or the other as the investigation continues.

Huge amounts of money are daily being offered the lawmakers by these people. Political and business patronage were also dangled as carrots before them.

But most worrisome to the lawmakers, according to the complaint they made to the leadership of the House recently, was the fact that some of these people had also attempted to reach the committee members through their relatives. They fear this could prove negative should the lobbyists decide to apply force,” our source said.

Following the report, an emergency meeting was held between the committee and the body of principal officers led by Speaker Aminu Bello Tambuwal.

At the meeting, the Speaker reassured the members of the support of the entire house and urged them to continue their work without fear or favour.

It was also resolved that the House leadership should call certain individuals within and outside the ruling PDP to order over alleged acts of interference in the committee’s work.

It was also learnt that some committee members expressed fears over the safety of their immediate and extended families since some people have actually approached relatives of the lawmakers in their bid to get the attention of committee members.

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While promising to do something about the matter, the Speaker was said to have expressed his displeasure with the turn of events.
It was equally gathered that Farouk Lawan, was summoned by some top functionaries of the ruling party to discuss the probe. “There is even an allegation that some committee members were summoned to the villa at a point,” the source added.

Swan song
Eventually, the pressure worked as the main actor, Farouk Lawan caved in. He was lured into accepting $600,000 bribe as part payment for a $3million settlement.

It was gathered that Tambuwal had confronted Lawan over the issue in a meeting of Principal Officers of the House where the Chairman of the Adhoc Committee on Petroleum Subsidy was summoned to defend himself over the allegation.

Sources said that Hon. Lawan had initially denied the allegation when it was put to him by the Speaker but froze in shock when he was confronted with details of what transpired at the address where officials of an unnamed oil company had given him the huge amount of foreign currency which had been marked.

It was further gathered that unknown to Hon Lawan, the entire incident was recorded by video after which copies were sent to a former Head of State who handed it over to Tambuwal.

Already there are speculations that the EFCC may have invited Hon Lawan over the bribery allegation which sources say have already resulted in the Speaker of the House Hon. Aminu Tambuwal disowning the legislator over the messy incident.

Information showed that EFCC had interrogated the alleged ring leader of the bribery scandal who was said to have collected the $600,000 bribe directly from the house of a top player in the oil industry.

It was learnt that the top player was indicted by the subsidy probe for allegedly collecting foreign exchange, without using same to import fuel but that the oil magnate approached a member of the adhoc committee for succour.

A deal of $3million was said to have been struck, while the oil chief gave a cash of $600,000 for the job.
It was learnt that in fulfillment of the deal, the committee later removed the oil magnate’s name from the list of indicted companies in respect of alleged abuse of forex for oil imports.

Sources in the National Assembly confirmed that the  heat was turned on the adhoc committee man some days ago when he got wind that the State Security Services(SSS) has tapes of his receipt of the bribe from the oil magnate and that the service was ready to confront the leadership of the House with the details.

The affected Rep was then said to have moved to ensure that the money was displayed on the floor of the House last Thursday after allegedly handing over the cash money he got from the oil magnate.

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The plot, according to sources, was that the Rep wanted to claim that he got the money so as to play along with the bribery saga and that he was now sure the time was ripe to release the money.

Sources, however, said that the foreign currency handed over to the Rep were marked notes   and that the security agencies were on top of the probe.

“There was a frenzy in the House last Thursday when the affected Rep attempted to cause the committee on anti-Corruption to display the money as evidence of attempts to bribe him but members resisted the move on the claim that the line of argument cannot be pushed because the man had kept the money for more than two months.

Besides, the Reps who, opposed the bid, were said to have claimed that the request for which the money was given was carried out on the floor.

The total amount of fuel subsidy fraud perpetrated was $6.8 billion and the House Ad-Hoc Committee, headed by Mallam Farouk Lawan, had recommended that 121 oil marketers should be investigated by anti-graft agencies.

They are as follows:
17 marketers that did not obtain FOREX but claimed to have imported petroleum products.
15 marketers who obtained FOREX but did not import petroleum products.
71 oil marketers to face probe and refund N230.1billion
18 oil marketers for further probe
The report of the committee also faulted the management of the subsidy regime between 2009 and 2011 by thePetroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency(PPPRA) Board, which was led by Senator Ahmadu Ali (GCON, fss)
The committee also recommended sanctions for some staff of the PPPRA.

Ex-PPPRA Executive Secretaries, Mr. A. Ibikunle (August 2009 to February 2011) and Mr. Goddy Egbuji (February to August 2011) for further probe and trial by the EFCC, ICPC
PPPRA’s GM Field Services, ACDO/Supervisor-Ullage Team 1 and ACDO/Supervisor-Ullage Team 2
All staff in Procurement Unit of PPPRA between 2009 and 2011.

On the NNPC, the report said the accounts of the Corporation be audited to determine its accounts profits and solvency.

The House had, on January 8, 2012, instituted investigation into the management of oil subsidy over the years, during an emergency session held to discuss the removal of fuel subsidy on New Year’s Day by President Goodluck Jonathan.

Attempts to reach Hon. Lawan proved abortive. He did not also attempt to respond to the message sent to him on his MTNN mobile line.

National Daily.

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