BARELY weeks after his committee gained attention for what many Nigerians saw as an audacious investigation into and revelation of the shenanigans of powerful interests in the downstream sector of the oil industry, particularly
as it affects the oil subsidy issue, the Chairman of the House Committee on Fuel Subsidy, Representative Farouk Lawan is denying that his committee was involved in a $600,000 bribery scheme allegedly to exculpate influential concerns, Zenon Petroleum & Gas Limited and Synopsis Enterprises Limited, from being indicted for corrupt practices.
The Farouk Lawan-led committee had gained nationwide attention and gratitude when on April 24 this year, it stunned witnesses to a live press conference with the revelation that up to a trillion naira had been siphoned from the federal purse by a group of 15 powerful conglomerates in the oil business between 2010 and 2011.
A twist to the story was added when, as the investigations proceeded, the House Committee announced that it made an error in announcing that Zenon and Synopsis were involved in the approximately $284 million deals in shady receipts for which they were initially fingered.
But even more bizarre is the latest revelation captured in a video allegedly making the rounds on the World Wide Web, where Mr. Lawan is alleged to have been captured soliciting and/or receiving monetary bribe to exonerate the companies involved in the oil subsidy scams.
The committee chairperson however denied the claim in a Sunday statement.
“I wish to categorically deny that I or any member of the committee demanded and received any bribe from anybody in connection with the fuel subsidy probe and I believe this is evident from the thorough and in-depth manner the investigation was carried out and the all-encompassing recommendations produced therefrom as approved by the whole House,” Mr. Lawan said in the Sunday statement.
In an indication that he has seen the video to which some select officials are privy, Mr. Lawan dismissed of the charges of corruption on his part, implying that someone acted his role in a staged act of corruption.
“Mudslinging is not unexpected in view of the caliber of people whose actions and inactions were found wanting in the report.”
“In particular, I wish to refer to the front page publication in the Leadership Weekend newspaper of 28th April 2012 captioned ‘Marketers offered subsidy committee plane-load of dollars’ where we alerted the public that a marketer promised to fly in a jet loaded with US Dollars which he intended to share to both the House leadership and members of the Adhoc Committee to influence the outcome of the report.”
The house leadership member also alleged diversionary tactics on the part of those behind the video clip, saying that there is no truth in the video.
“I am aware that in their desperation to discredit the report and divert the attention of the public from the real issues of large scale fraud in high places established in our report, a video footage displaying a caricature of my person allegedly having a dealing with a marketer reminiscent of the military era when dignitaries were invited to the villa to watch a video clip of a phantom coup involving Chief Olusegun Obasanjo is already in circulation.”
But owner and CEO of Zenon Oil and Gas, Mr. Femi Otedola reportedly confirmed to a national daily that he was indeed contacted by Mr. Lawan, who for a while called the latter’s bluff about Zenon being free from guilt of the accusations brought against it by the House Committee. Zenon had been the highest recipient of government pay outs in subsidies for its oil importations between 2010 and 2011, at a whooping $233 million – far in excess of the $51 million of what was paid to its runner-up Synopsis Energy.
The story is that Mr. Lawan eventually caved-in to corruption by assuring Mr. Otedola that his interests will be protected within the committee’s findings, so long as the latter is willing to part with up to 3 million US dollars, or 420 million in Naira.
According to sources willing to share account of this event with sharpedgenews.com, government had developed an interest in the case since the committee’s findings were made public in February, and thereafter deployed its resources to monitoring events surrounding the House committee’s investigations into the matter. This the government did to protect itself in the event that fifth columnists exploited the situation to cause problems for the Jonathan Administration.
Mr. Otedola was reportedly contacted by government security agents following his claim that he is being pressured to play ball, a collaboration that is now being touted as the source of the damaging video, allegedly of Mr. Lawan, involved in corrupt practices.
Mr. Soyinka is one, if not the only one, of the few civilians who have seen the video, according to sources. The respected Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka was said to have been shocked by the revelations captured in the video clip, having previously commended the work of the Farouk Lawan-led committee.
Mr. Lawan, a flamboyant veteran lawmaker long seen as incorruptible, now faces a major battle to defend himself against these recent claims against him as allegedly captured in the reported video clip.
“No amount of red-herring and cheap blackmail will affect our resolve to continue to act in the best interest of the country with all the available information at our disposal,” said Mr. Lawan in his statement. “No doubt, the last has not been heard.”