Otedola insists on open hearing in bribery case against Lawan
A FRESH twist was introduced into the fuel subsidy bribery saga yesterday.
Businessman and chairman of Zenon Oil, Femi Otedola, did not say a word to the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges on how he allegedly staged a sting operation to nail Farouk Lawan in a ravaging $3million bribery scandal and the veracity of his allegation.
Specifically, Otedola appeared before the Gambo Dan-Musa led House panel yesterday but for one hour-twenty minutes, he kept mum, insisting that he would only speak at a hearing open to the public and the media.
Otedola was invited by the committee over his allegation of three million dollar bribe demand against former Chairman of the ad-hoc committee that investigated the management of the country’s fuel subsidy regime, Farouk Lawan. Lawan, it would be recalled appeared at a closed-door session before the Gambo Dan-Musa panel Thursday last week.
But the businessman, who stormed the venue with a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Babajide Koku, appeared in his usual all-white outfit in a press statement he issued before the commencement of the closed-door session launched a spirited protest against a close session with the panel yesterday.
Otedola arrived Meeting Room 349, venue of the investigative hearing at the National Assembly Complex yesterday 20 minutes ahead of the scheduled time of 2:00pm with Koku along with other eight persons suspected to be operatives of the State Security Services (SSS).
In a six-paragraph pre-session statement, Otedola stated in part: “Hon. Members, this is a matter that has generated a lot of public interest and controversy.
“The House of Representatives Committee on the Management of Fuel Subsidy headed by Hon. Farouk Lawan held all its sittings in public.“
According to him, “When this issue arose, the House of Representatives Committee on Ethics and Privileges publicly stated that its investigations will be held in public.
He added: “It is therefore surprising and curious that this committee has made a u-turn to hold its investigative sittings in-camera 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 have 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”.
Fielding questions after the session with the panel, Otedola’s counsel, Babajide Koku, accused Farouk Lawan of inconsistency.
He said: “First, he (Lawan) denied accepting money and later on turned around to admit that he collected money. He said he gave Adams Jagaba money but Jagaba denied receiving money. He said he has discussed the issue with the EFCC Chairman, the EFCC Chairman has denied. He said he collected $250,000 from… but that is not the position.
“The point to make today is that Mr. Otedola’s position is that, this is a matter that he does not feel he will deal with in camera. He will deal with it in public and he feels that any discussion on this matter must be held in public and that was his position to the Ethics Committee which, of course, they were not happy with and they did not accept.”
On whether Otedola will avail himself when invited again by the panel, he said: “ He (Otedola) is a law-abiding citizen and he has nothing to hide.”
Meanwhile, addressing journalists on the matter after meeting with Otedola, Chairman of the Committee, Dan-Musa expressed disappointment over the attitude of the oil businessman whom he said in spite of all entreaties to make him talk, insisted on speaking only at a public hearing.
He said the committee invited Otedola as one of the principal parties in the bribery allegation, and as a tradition of the House, nobody can dictate to it on how to run its businesses. Lawan had earlier admitted to collecting $620,000 of the bribe demanded, only to show an attempt to bribe his committee.
Dan-Musa said: “Unfortunately, he (Otedola) was misguided not to talk by whoever, we did not know. We did all we can by explaining our powers under the Constitution to him, but he refused to answer our questions. He insisted that he would talk only if the hearing was done in public.”
“He went further to insult us one way or the other,” the committee chairman stated as he said Otedola laughed off their threat of the consequences of his action, and simply said that Farouk Lawan had lied four times and on four different occasions over the bribery allegation.
He explained that the committee was helpless because it was an allegation of unethical behaviour against one member of the House, which had to be investigated and appropriate action taken. “How do you investigate this kind of case when he (Otedola) refused to substantiate his allegation?” the lawmaker said.
“All he was doing was to laugh at us. It was very stupid of him, and we are not happy,” Dan-Musa said.
“… Keep these things to yourself…”
BELOW is the transcript of the continuation of the recording of the purported exchange between Farouk Lawan and Femi Otedola as aired on Channels Television yesterday.
Lawan: It wasn’ t like my brother talking. That’s one. Secondly, please this thing that we are doing, keep it to yourself otherwise, you will make it difficult for us because somebody called me now and said that we said we are going to address it, So, so please keep it
Otedola: OK, I am now. Address what?
Lawan: Yea, because if it is already out that we are going to do something, then we do it, people will think that we are doing it because we had compromised. And you know that is something that…err and if my colleagues get to hear about it, I won’t be able to convince them. So keep it to yourself.
Lawan: Let it not be like anybody is aware of what is happening. If anybody asked you, simply explain that this thing.. you know from your records you have made a case to the committee. You have sent your documents to the committee
Otedola: Yea yea, ok
Lawan: Yea, it’s left for the committee…It’s left for the committee to decide what to do, Please keep it that way.
Otedola: God bless you
Lawan: Yea because the moment it gets out that we are going to correct it, then it means we have already haaa..so, let it be..
Otedola: Ok… ok
Lawan: I want to spring a surprise on the floor and that is the only credible way I can do this.
Otedola: God bless you…God bless you my brother. I have been crying. Anytime I hear your voice
Lawan: So, please please, yeah, please, yes, you know our sector. You know your sector is small. Everybody knows and people are already saying, somebody just called and said what happened? Haa, they said Femi has gotten his way round you guys and he has already succeeded.
Otedola: That is not true.
Lawan: No no no,I am saying it. No, no, I am saying it because this is what I heard.
Otedola: But let me also tell you one thing. You know me as a person People just get up
Lawan: It doesn’t have…I know..I don’t want…That makes it difficult, just, just whoever…you know…No I didn’t do this. I’m sure it must have been a mistake from the committee,but I have sent a letter to set the record straight. That’s all.
Otedola: Ok my brother. Great. Thank you.