Mr. Femi Otedola, chairman of Zenon Petroleum and Gas, yesterday appeared before the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges to defend his bribery allegations against the former chairman of the ad-hoc committee investigating the management of fuel subsidy funds but refused to make any presentation.
The closed-door meeting, which lasted about an hour and 30 minutes, was however fruitless as Otedola refused to testify before the committee unless its proceedings were done in the full glare of the public.
A smiling Otedola, clad in his traditional all white attire, backed by his team of lawyers led by his legal adviser, Jide Koku, SAN, emerged from the venue of the hearing to a barrage of questions by reporters, followed by angry lawmakers who were of the opinion that he had no right to appear with his lawyers and to speak to the press on what transpired in the closed-door session.
Jide, who spoke on behalf of Otedola, queried the decision of the lawmakers to renege on their earlier stand to make the hearing public, maintaining that he (Otedola) would not speak or make any presentations until it is made open.
A press release signed by the businessman to that effect stated: “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. When the issue arose, the House of Representatives Committee on Ethics and Privileges publicly stated that its investigations would be held in public.
“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.”
Expressing its displeasure after the meeting, the Committee on Ethics and Privileges led by its chairman, Hon Gambo Dan Musa, described the attitude of Otedola as “stupid”.
He said that as a standing committee of the House of Representatives, it reserves the right to choose the method with which it will conduct its proceedings in line with the provisions of the constitution and Standing Orders of the House.
The lawmaker said, “the tradition of the committee is to hold its meetings in-camera”.
He added, “He (Otedola) came with lawyers and other paraphernalia and we still allowed them because we wanted to show that we are a committee that wants the truth.”
He said the decision to “insult them and not answer their questions was a misguided step. “He was misguided either by his lawyers or by whoever is advising him because it is one thing to agree to come and another to refuse to talk. We did all that was within our power yet, Femi Otedola refused to answer our questions and said we should make it public unless he won’t talk.
“We didn’t find it funny and he went further to insult us one way or the other, but we still exercised patience with him. You can’t make an allegation and, when asked to substantiate, refuse to”.
Going further, he lamented, “ he told us we had something to hide by holding it in camera but we told him that, rather, he had something to hide by refusing to substantiate his claims”.
According to the chairman, the businessman also told them that Farouk lied four times during his presentation to the committee and that “all that was submitted to us were not genuine as if he had seen them”.
“We asked him to produce what he said he had submitted to the police and SSS, that we would admit it as evidence but he refused. Ladies and gentlemen, how do you investigate a matter of this nature when someone says he has given out something but refuses to talk?”
Although he claimed he wasn’t angry, the lawmaker who was visibly livid said: “He was just laughing. It was very stupid of him and we are not finding it funny. ....He told us he is a businessman and he is not hungry. Do we look hungry to you? It is important to note that our position is that we have done all we were supposed to do.”
Bribery: TV station airs second audio conversation between Otedola, Lawan
In a related development, a Lagos based television station, Channels Television, yesterday aired what it termed the second audio conversation between the suspended Chairman of the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee probing the subsidy regime in the petroleum sector, Mr. Farouk Lawan, and a businessman, Mr. Femi Otedola.
The one-minute, 52 seconds long conversation formed part of the 5pm news bulletin of the station tagged, “News At Five”, where the two spoke about the need to make their dealing secret and confidential.
Second tape is full of comedy - Farouk
Meanwhile, Lawan’s lawyer has denounced the so-called Part 2 of the alleged conversation between him and Otedola in the case of the $620, 000 bribery allegation played on Channels TV.
Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), Lawan’s lead lawyer, said he was portrayed in the said conversation as an unyielding, talkative, bellicose and eager person who was hurriedly urging Mr Otedola not to tell anyone that the names of his companies would be removed from the indicted list, because if he went about telling people that “in an oil sector that is a small world where everyone knows the other, it will be difficult to remove his companies from the list of indicted ones”.
In a statement issued by Ozekhome, the lawyer said the tape reminded him of Baba Sala’s “Alawada Keri Keri” histrionics and comedy, adding: “It is even more obfuscating and labyrinthine. In William Shakespeare’s immortal words: It is nothing but a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
“Mr Lawan is also said to have uttered that it is left to the committee to know what to do as he will spring it as a surprise on the floor of the House! It would be recalled that in the so-called Part 1 of the alleged conversation between the duo aired Monday on Channels TV, Mr. Lawan was portrayed as an incoherent, stammering, unsure and sluggish speaker, who could hardly get out his carefully weighed words.
“This second part has, more than ever before, confirmed Lawan’s worst fears that the entire audio playback is a doctored, edited piece of animated voice that does not belong to him and which only forensic evidence can unravel. He believes that the motives behind the audio are invidious, insidious and that the entire audio playback of Monday and Tuesday is of dubious and questionable pedigree,” Ozekhome said.
CJ Yets To Assign Otedola’s Suit To A Judge
Meanwhile, the chief judge of an Abuja High Court, Justice Lawan Gumi, is yet to assign the suit filed by Otedola asking the court to order Lawan and three others to pay him N250bn in damages.
According to a source close to an Abuja High Court who confided in LEADERSHIP, the file for the suit number FCT /3839/2012 and filed on June 28 was, up until the noon of yesterday, pending on the CJ’s table. The source added that the CJ is very likely to either assign it to himself or another Abuja high court judge to handle.
As a matter of routine, it is after it is assigned that the defendants are served and expected to respond. In addition, the defendants would be informed of the date to commence hearing of the case.
Otedola, who is suing along with Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited as the first plaintiff, had listed Lawan, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, the National Assembly and its clerk as co-defendants in the suit.
The N250 billion, Otedola said, would compensate him for the loss of patronage he has suffered as a result of an alleged intimidation by the National Assembly.
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