Who cleanses Nigeria’s ‘House of Dregs’?

Nigeria’s House of Representatives’ ‘Integrity Group’ anchorman fell flat on the proverbial banana peel, cautiously veiled with a juicy US$3million bribe offered by an oil magnate. Just as scores of Nigerians were beginning to heave a sigh of relief, that peradventure with the inauguration of the 7th National Assembly (NASS) in June 2011, those distasteful, scandalous episodes which particularly characterised the erstwhile leaderships of the Lower House were over for good.

Nonetheless, it is not yet the glorious day in the current dispensation, at least against the backdrop of all manner of budget-padding and bribe-for-clearance shenanigans. The current NASS actually needs to re-invent itself, if it is to regain the fast fading confidence many Nigerians have had in the members following their investiture in Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT), last year.

Regrettably, embarrassing financial scandals have continued to dog the legislative sessions of the House, which several people now have contemptuously described as the ‘House of Dregs’. It would be recalled that the tenures of office of the trio: Alhaji Salisu Ibrahim, Mrs. Patricia Olubunmi Etteh and Mr. Dimeji Bankole – all former Speakers of the House, dishonourably ended in controversial circumstances.

Incidentally, 50-year-old Farouk Muhammad Lawan, a politician and four-term (since 1999) member of the House of Representatives for the Bagwai/Shanono Federal Constituency of Kano State, hitherto was widely reputed as the arrowhead of the ‘Integrity Group’, a clique of Rep members who reportedly championed the cause of ensuring the House’s strict adherence to the rule of law and due process when making laws for the good of the country over time. But he is in the news for wrong reasons in recent times.

This is in connection with the purported $3million bribe-for-clearance disgraceful affair, for which he carelessly tore his hypothetical integrity garb. Before his recent suspension over the bribery scandal, Lawan was the Chairman, House Ad-hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy Management which probed for months, the alleged gross misappropriation of the spicy subsidy fund to the tune of N1.070trillion.

Nevertheless, conscious of the fact that his group of companies might be indicted by the investigating House Committee in the end, Mr. Femi Otedola, Chairman of Zenon Oil Plc, expressly dangled whopping US$3million before Lawan. Sadly, the former ‘Integrity Group’ Coordinator in the House of Representatives, an apparently experienced lawmaker, who ought to be on the alert for any machinations at all simply caved in. Lawan reportedly started collecting his booty, in person, from Otedola in instalments of US$620,000 and US$500,000 respectively. The third instalment was said to have been collected from the Zenon Oil boss at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, by Lawan’s proxy.

Instead of acknowledging the fact that in all sincerity he collected and pocketed the hard currency as bribe in order to strike out Otedola’s companies from the report bearing list of fuel subsidy fraudsters, Lawan was economical with the truth. He rather, feebly acknowledged at the plenary of the House of Representatives when the subsidy report was tabled for adoption that truly, “there were some errors in the compilation of the subsidy scam report”: that Otedola’s companies were not supposed to be there. And the House leadership concurred to his deceptive alibi by striking out Zenon Oil from the list.

Curiously, were those belated observations truly factual “errors” or an attempt to doctor the report after painstaking compilation and eventual publication? Many have sneeringly asked: Why did hitherto outspoken and cherished Lawan make a sudden U-turn from his noted upright standpoint on his issues of national importance since 1999? Could his latest shabby action have been taken for want of more money or sheer greed? Leadership irresponsibility or outright failure? Or better still, a waning strength of character as a fallible human being after all? If he had been arrested by security operatives secretly detailed to keep watch over him when collecting the first two instalments of the bribe from Otedola, would he still have denied that he received bribe-for-clearance money from the Zenon boss right in Otedola’s house? The so-called ‘Mr. Integrity’ even replied to an earlier media enquiry that he never received any bribe from Otedola, at least not until the Zenon Oil Chairman told Nigerians that he is indeed in possession of a video evidence to that effect.

A game plan of some sort, having been videotaped and knowing full well that it is already over for Lawan and his hoity-toity posturing as an uncompromising, long-standing member of the House of Representatives, Otedola blew the lid off the bribe scandal. And Lawan simply started singing a different tune, saying he actually collected the bribe but notified the Police then, yet he has kept the money to himself. What a frail justification in the face of weighty video evidence?

In connection with the repeated bribery scandals rocking the House in recent times, let the truth be told: the leadership of the House must realise that fact that there is no amount of whitewash they can do to convince the average apprehensive Nigerian expecting a conscientious implementation of the subsidy scam report that there is nothing wrong with the tainted report after all. Of course, there is: it is the credibility of the contents!

If the distorted report is finally adopted for implementation by the relevant anti-corruption agencies, there is the likelihood that other firms so indicted in the same report may challenge the reliability of the contents in a court of competent jurisdiction. That is the fundamental reason why both the giver and the receiver(s) of the bribe must be investigated further, and if found guilty should be prosecuted accordingly.

It is highly disappointing, and irresponsible of some NASS members with a clear mandate to make good laws for the socio-economic and political well-being of Nigerians while carrying out other legitimate oversight functions, to have chosen to toe the line of dishonour by their repulsive actions of turning probes into activities of government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) into money-making ventures.

It is a national shame that a sizeable number of the present crop of federal legislators whom Nigerians, illusorily though, think would effect a marked departure from the previous corruption-infected trend in terms of doing what is right and improving the lot of Nigerians. This bribe-for clearance scandal involving Lawan and others in House of Representatives is not “a family affair”. It is generating international disgrace for the country. The entire House needs urgent internal cleansing. But who will bell the cart now?

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