Police quiz, detain Lawan

THE PUNCH Newspaper

EMBATTLED Chairman of the fuel subsidy probe panel in the House of Representatives, Farouk Lawan, on Thursday surrendered himself to police for interrogation over the $620,000 bribe he had confessed to receiving from an oil marketer, Femi Otedola.

The lawmaker was subsequently interrogated and detained along with the Clerk of his committee, Boniface Emenalo.

Lawan arrived at the office of the police Special Task Force at the Louis Edet House Force headquarters about 4pm, in company with Emenalo and five lawyers.

The lawmaker was detained briefly before he was taken to the interrogation room where detectives, led by the Commissioner of Police in charge of the STF, Ali Ahmadu, quizzed him four several hours.

As of the time of filing this report, the diminutive legislator was still undergoing questioning.

The police on Wednesday had hinted that they would declare the lawmaker wanted if he refused to give himself up for interrogation on the bribery scandal

Otedoda had claimed that Lawan demanded and received the money, being part of a $3m bribe deal, in order to remove his Zenon Oil from the list of those indicted in a N1.7trn subsidy rot.

The businessman said Lawan collected $500,000 in two tranches of $250,000 while he sent Emenalo to collect $120,000 at a later date.

However, on Monday Lawan, who had denied receiving the bribe, confessed to have received the bribe but that he only did so to expose Otedola.

Police sources told our correspondent that immediately the lawmaker showed up at the STF office on the first floor of the police headquarters, Ahmadu promptly went to the office of the Acting Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, on the 7th floor to brief him and take directives.

Two other senior officers, namely the Assistant Inspector-General of Police in charge of Intelligence, Solomon Arase; and the DIG, Intelligence, Peter Gana, also joined the STF boss in an emergency meeting with the Acting IG where the strategies on the interrogation were said to have been discussed.

Abubakar, who initiated the investigation into the bribery scandal, left his office around 6pm and later came back apparently to get an immediate report on the interrogation of Lawan and Emenalo.

Otedola had appeared before the STF on Tuesday, where he was said to have written a detailed statement on his encounter with the lawmaker and how he gave the bribe to him.

Meanwhile, barring last minute changes, the House will at its emergency meeting on Friday (today) mandate its Committee on Ethics and Privileges to probe the $3m bribery allegation against Lawan. The lawmakers may also ask Lawan to step down from his committee chairmanship position in the House.

Competent House sources confided in The PUNCH on Thursday that during today’s emergency session, the House would ask the committee to investigate the allegation and produce a report within two weeks.

“We are going to be fast and decisive about this whole issue of bribery allegation. We have to act fast to douse the unnecessary tension and the distraction this development has caused our legislative focus”, a senior member of the House disclosed to one of our correspondents in Abuja.

The lawmaker, who was privy to the deliberations of the leadership of the House on the matter, explained that Lawan’s case would be raised as “a matter of privilege” by members, following which it would be referred to the committee for investigation.

An unconfirmed account said that about 150, out of the 360 members of the House, were however pushing for the suspension of Lawan, while some were advising against a “hasty penalty.”

There were those who suggested that the matter be investigated first in the spirit of fair hearing.

There were indications also that two other resolutions might be reached today by the House.

One o f the resolutions would be for Lawan to step down from any chairmanship position he holds in the House. Members are also said to have agreed to pass a resolution that anti-graft agencies should investigate “all corruption allegations against Lawan in this respect” and proceed to prosecute him and any accomplice if they are found wanting.

Findings indicated that some lawmakers had suggested that an ad hoc committee should conduct the investigation, but the majority of the members favoured the Committee on Ethics and Privileges.

“The committee is a standing committee of the House; this is the purpose it was set up.

“It was put in place to look into any issue touching the individual or collective privileges of members of the House”, the senior legislator who spoke with one of our correspondents, added.

When reminded that Lawan said he hinted the Chairman of the House Committee on Drugs/Narcotics and Financial Crimes, Mr. Adams Jagaba, of the bribe, the senior lawmaker described Lawan’s action as an “afterthought.”

He added, “Lawan will step down honourably (as chairman) but he may not be suspended from the House yet. The principle of fair hearing demands that he will be given the opportunity to defend himself.

“He should have reported to the House immediately he collected the money. It is true that we asked him to investigate the utilisation of fuel subsidy funds, but his mandate did not include taking money from anybody.”

Meanwhile, The PUNCH learnt on Thursday that a private television station in the country had been contracted to air today’s proceedings live.

A source privy to the arrangement told one of our correspondents that this was to discourage further speculation on “what the House did or did not do.”

Deputy House Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, said today’s proceedings would be “transparent because we have nothing to hide.”


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