It is part of the tragedy of present day Nigeria that the oversight function of the legislature has become the source of embarrassing corruption. Nearly every public hearing into graft issues, especially by the House of Representatives, has ended up with its own scandals. From the Power sector probe to Capital Market inquiry and now fuel subsidy scam, it is as if our lawmakers cannot exercise their oversight responsibility without allegations of some form of shakedown. But the latest in this ever so frequent fest of shame takes the cake given the gravity of the issues involved.
Entrusted with the chairmanship of a committee to probe fuel subsidy payments, Hon Farouk Lawan allegedly received $600,000 (as bribe) from Mr. Femi Otedola, a key player in the oil industry. The fact that Otedola's Zenon Oil featured prominently in the preliminary indictments of the committee report only to be questionably exonerated makes the allegation plausible. At a special session on Friday, the House suspended Lawan as chairman of the Ad-hoc committee and also stripped him of his position as chairman of the education committee pending the outcome of the investigation into the bribery allegation. If proven, we consider the conduct of the lawmaker rather disgraceful and condemnable. We therefore ask for a thorough investigation devoid of politics and the prosecution of all the culprits in the unfortunate saga.
However, even more grave for our society is the implication of Otedola's conduct in this matter for the integrity of the private sector vis- a- vis the pitfalls of the political actors in acts which border on criminality and abuse of public trust. That the Police would be exchanging correspondences with Lawan or be sending emissaries to plead with him to part with the "bribe money" means they are merely acting after the fact. If it was their operation as claimed, Lawan would have been arrested with the money collected at the crime scene as evidence. It is even more curious that the video in question was taken to the police by Otedola which then confirms that he conducted the "sting operation" and not the security agency. Ordinarily this would not have been important if only to prove the charge of corruption against Lawan except that the bigger issue here is the motive: could it have been orchestrated with the intent of discrediting the damning fuel subsidy payments report?
For us therefore, the sordid drama notwithstanding, the gravity of findings in the subsidy payments report has not been diminished. In fact, public interest in the matter has only been sharpened while the questions raised in the course of the public hearing have become more pungent and demanding of urgent answers: Did PPPRA not say that 59 million litres of PMS were imported and subsidised daily instead of 33 million consumed locally? Did the CBN not admit releasing N1.7 trillion for subsidy payment in 2011 when N245 billion was appropriated by the National Assembly? Did Customs service not say that it was restrained by the Federal Ministry of Finance from inspecting ships bringing fuel to Nigeria ? Did CBN not disclose that many importers diverted millions of dollars meant for fuel importation?
It is noteworthy that President Goodluck Jonathan (who had earlier sent the report to the EFCC) has reiterated his resolve that "all those indicted in the report will be duly investigated and prosecuted if a prima facie case is established against them". No matter what happens to Lawan, a report which collated official reactions to several critical posers cannot be wished away on the ground that a member of the probe panel allegedly collected bribe from an influential member of the oil cartel.