The on-going police investigation into the alleged bribery allegation against the suspended chairman of the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee on probe of the fuel subsidy regime, Hon Farouk Lawan, has obviously generated a lot of controversy. While there are fears that the case may go the way of similar investigations, the investigation may also be questioning the need for the existence of the EFCC and ICPC, writes CHIKA OTUCHIKERE.
The on-going investigation to determine the veracity of allegations of bribe taking leveled on Hon. Farouk Lawan, former chairman of a House of Representatives ad-hoc committee investigating N2.6 trillion fraudulent deals struck during the fuel subsidy regime by chairman of Zenon Oil, Mr. Femi Otedola may be bringing out the police in its true element.
Constitutionally, the Nigerian Police Force headed by an Inspector General, is empowered to embark on investigations bordering on corruption which includes bribe taking and giving leveled against persons in government or the corporate world.
This responsibility was however, delegated or better still extended to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, ICPC through Acts of the National Assembly.
Many stakeholders in the Nigerian project have averred that both commissions which eventually became known as the country’s financial crimes fighters only came into existence after it became apparent that the Police had abdicated one of their key responsibilities thereby giving corruption the leeway and vista to corrode every sector of the country, with the police branded as the most corrupt institution.
It well known that long before the coming of the EFCC and the ICPC, the police had its anti-fraud unit, which was the dread of most Nigerians who ventured into the ignoble trade of graft. With time, officers appointed to head the unit compromised and let suspected corrupt individuals get away with the loots as long as they were assured of their own cut. Corruption so permeated the NPF that a former Inspector General of Police Mr. Tafa Balogun was actually sent to jail for corrupt enrichment.
There is widespread belief that the EFCC and ICPC eventually turned out a mere duplication of the Police Anti-Fraud Unit. Moreover, many also feel that both agencies of government have failed woefully in their task of arresting and containing corruption in and out of government. This, they affirm, is substantiated by the dismal rating of the country as one of the places where corruption thrives most.
The critics of both commissions make reference to the low number of actual convictions so far won by both of them saying that the commissions from their inception did not set out to prosecute a war against what is seen as the greatest threat to the Nigeria’s greatness and even survival. They were perceived as tools for witch hunting of opponents of the government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who set them up.
They also make allusions to the number of former governors who were fingered in plundering of treasuries of the states they governed who are today distinguished members of the national assembly. These governors more or less have ‘escaped’ the long arm of the law due to what they term inefficiency of the commission and their compromising stance.
Apart from this, they also aver that many corruption cases involving some top executives in the private sector, especially the banking industry appear to have died a natural death. They also picked holes with the plea bargain arrangement entered into between the agencies and the suspected corrupt individuals. According to them plea bargain is another way of encouraging corrupt officials since they would still end with some of their loot.
LEADERSHIP learnt that the Hon Lawan Bribery scandal would be the litmus text for the police to redeem its image and present itself as the foremost fighter of corruption a police source disclosed that the police are close to tying up the investigation and would move to arraign all persons indicted in the bribery allegation.
According to the source, although the alleged bribe money seems to have disappeared into thin air, the police have gathered enough information to nail the culprits. All the claims and counter-claims are said to have been made under oath and would be used against the suspects in a law court.
The police have reportedly given an ultimatum to the members of the committee to make themselves available for interrogation.
The interrogation it is hope will determine the extent of involvement of other members of the committee and whether they should be included in the list of lawmakers to arraign in the bribery allegation.
It is also believed that Mr. Otedola who blew the whistle on Lawan has a case to answer. The argument against him is that, if actually he reported the bribery demands to the SSS as he claims and actually got Lawan videoed as he collected the $620,000, then the arrangement should have been a sting operation where the receiver of the bribe would be nabbed as soon as he laid hand on the money.
Mr. Lawan has denied the allegation that he was involved in bribery saying that he would eventually be vindicated. Lawan who spoke with journalists after attending his first plenary since the case began said some people were only out to smear the good image he as built as one of the longest serving lawmakers.
Nigerians are waiting with bated breath and hoping fervently that the Farouk Lawan case would not go the way so many investigations into alleged corruption by members of the House of Representatives have gone. They mentioned the Ndudi Elumelu power probe and the Hembe bribery scandal as two among many other scandals which have rocked the lower chamber of the national assembly.
The police have been accused of bungling similar cases which came under their purview in the past but the acting Inspector General of Police Mr. Mohammed Abubakar has pledged to restore the dignity and lost glory of the Nigerian Police.
This, he said includes ensuring that the police force would not abdicate its responsibility or allow so called sacred cows to go scot-free with felonies.