A key driver of the nation’s democratic journey, the National Assembly’s expectation to deepen and stabilise governance has often suffered surprising setbacks. The latest is the alleged involvement of Honourable Lawan Farouk in a bribery scandal over the final probe report of the Reps Ad-Hoc Committee on Petroleum Subsidy Regime which he chaired. EDEGBE ODEMWINGIE in this report chronicles scandals and corruption tales that have now become typical of Nigeria’s House of Representatives from 1999 till date.
Nigeria has been here before, as a fact, severally. By miles, the National Assembly with particular focus on the House of Representatives has stunned Nigerians with somewhat routine scandals, corruption and bribery tales. The legislative arm of government, compared to the executive and judiciary, has top bragging rights when it comes to brazen corrupt shenanigans, many will agree.
A journalist, who reports the country’s parliament, says in sheer size and brazenness details of the latest bribery deal and the sting operation by the State Security Service (SSS) that nailed the Farouk Lawan-led ad-hoc panel investigating payments in the Federal Government’s petroleum subsidy regime. This would rate amongst some of the most startling in Nigeria’s history.
Oil tycoon, Femi Otedola, in an interview with a national newspaper last Monday, said Lawan and the Secretary of the committee, Mr. Boniface Emenalo, had collected $620,000 from him in a sting operation masterminded by security agencies.
“Farouk came in, sat by Otedola’s right. Then later, he collected the money and put some in his agbada trousers,” a monitored report cited visual details of the meeting.
That encounter will provide Mr. Lawan, at times an eccentric but well-respected ranking member of the House, a needed motivation to convince the House the next day of the innocence of Mr. Otedola’s two companies, IniEkott says in his online report published on June 11.
The total agreed bribes amounted to $3 million before details of the deal leaked.
On April 24, 2012, when federal lawmakers began debates on the widely indicting subsidy report, Lawan curiously requested the House to approve the acquittal of two oil marketers listed alongside 13 others alleged to have received government funding without importing fuel.
The House obliged under the chairmanship of the Deputy Speaker, Emeka Ihedioha. According to Lawan, the ad-hoc committee found out rather belatedly that two companies, Synopsis Enterprises Limited and Zenon Petroleum & Gas Limited did not participate in the subsidy. Zenon is owned by Otedola. The two companies were cleared of culpability over $284 million subsidy receipts between 2010 and 2011.
Reports state that Ihedioha, who presided over consideration of the report, was privy to the bribe and subsequent removal of the companies from the list of indicted coys. “That explains why he called on Farouk Lawan to speak on Item 29 during the consideration of the subsidy report,” a monitored report stated.
Item 29 detailed firms that obtained forex but failed to import petroleum products. For all it is worth, the Lower House insists on the implementation on the now tainted subsidy report.
“We hope that the executive will not, because of this allegation, abandon its commitment towards bringing to justice, the culprits already in the committee’s report,” the Lower House spokesperson, Zakari Muhammed, said on Saturday in swift reaction to the public disclosure of the bribery allegation.
The latest bribery scandal is all too familiar. When Chief OlusegunObasanjo held sway as Nigeria’s president, he accused senators and members of the House of Representatives of receiving money from ministers to pass their budgets.
The ex-president alleged that lawmakers demanded and received N55 million to pass or increase the proposals in the 2004 appropriation.
Nigeria’s first female Speaker of the House, Patricia Etteh, was forced to step down following allegations of inflation of contracts for renovation of the official residences of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker.
Less than six months after she was sworn in, Etteh was caught in a controversy of N628 million contract awarded for the renovation of her official residence.
Etteh’s successor, Dimeji Bankole’s travails from the apogee of Lower House to the EFCC gulags, arguably remain the most spectacular. It started with his failed re-election bid in the April general election, following factional tussle in the Ogun State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which ended up decimating the party’s ranks.
This culminated in a 16-count charge bordering on an inflation of N9 billion in contracts. Another unresolved issue is the case of a whopping N10 billion that Bankole reportedly, unilaterally sourced from a local commercial bank to finance jumbo increase in salaries and allowances of members of the House of Representatives, including some of the principal officers.
In what will probably go down as the most dramatic display of shame in the House yet, about 75 students from the City Royal Secondary School, Nyanya, Abuja on an excursion to the House to observe proceedings watched in horror as lawmakers engaged themselves in a free-for-all fight following allegations from some lawmakers that Bankole stole N9 billion between 2008 and 2009 through contract inflation and other methods.
To name a few, the Godwin Elumelu-led House Committee on Power bungled probe of primarily Obasanjo’s $13 billion Independent Power Project stands out. Members of the committee were indicted in a N5.2 billion Rural Electrification Agency scandal.
The Elumelu Committee report which indicted Obasanjo in the way and manner his administration executed the multi-billion dollar power project remains hidden till date.
Also, a Lower House sanctioned inquest into the near collapse of the country’s capital market suffered ill fate when a N44 million bribery allegation led to the disbandment of the Herman Hembe-led panel.
The Director General of the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), Arunma Oteh, who made that allegation also stated that SEC provided monies for Hembe and his deputy to embark on a foriegn trip to the Dominican Republican, a journey that was not made and monies not returned.
It would be recalled that the first major scandal that rocked the House was in 1999, when the then Speaker, Salisu Buhari, was exposed by The News magazine of certificate forgery and perjury; the allegation made him to resign and preempted his impeachment in the early life of the Fourth Republic.
As it stands, the numerous scandals have become a trademark of the House of Representatives. If federal lawmakers were to be charged to the court of public opinion, arguably, they will be slammed with capital punishment.