Recently, Zenon Oil chairman, Chief Femi Otedola, refused to testify before the House of Representatives Committee on Ethics and Privileges at a closed door session over the $3 million bribery allegation against Hon. Farouk Lawan, erstwhile chairman of the subsidy management probe.
A member of the committee, Hon. Ibrahim Bello, representing Igabi federal constituency of Kaduna state on the platform of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), told PHILIP NYAM that Otedola was wrong in his action, just as he blamed the perennial crisis in Kaduna on the state government.
Kaduna, Zaria bomb attacks
It is very unfortunate. In the last two weeks now we have been interacting with the governor relating to the issue. Because one of the most stubborn areas is the Gonin Gora route, which everybody going to the northern part of the country from Abuja must follow. Many have become targets, and sometimes people are maimed and injured. But in my opinion, there are a lot of security lapses and carelessness on the part of the state government. During the Makarfi (ex-governor Ahmed) administration, we had some points where the government built huts with military personnel stationed there. So, the mere presence of these military men covered a lot of problems. But after the Makarfi administration, successive governments in the state neglected their services and it is these same points that this crisis have continued to happen. So the government of the state has no option than to face reality. The military personnel are there and are willing to help.
Secondly, one of the ways we can have relief in Kaduna state is for the state government to hold local government elections. People are not happy with the self acclaimed local government chairmen imposed by the governor. So, the government should allow for local government election as done in other states. We have seen it in Lagos, Akwa Ibom and many other states, so why not Kaduna state?
The third one is unemployment. We have a high number of youths from various local governments that are unemployed. They are abandoned and neglected, hence they become readily available as political touts among other illegalities. There is no government programme to affect those sensitive areas, so these youths will continue growing since there are no opportunities. This is a great challenge. So, that is why whenever there is a rumour in Kaduna within the next thirty minutes what happens is of monumental proportion.
So the state government is very far away from the grassroots, and they don’t go to the people. All the people surrounding the executive are sycophants. Even when they are benefiting from the government, they do not go to the grassroots to meet with the people. Whenever there is a problem in Kaduna state in form of bomb blast, killings and in a democracy, one would expect the chief security officer to visit such places. The people there would have a sense of belonging. But sadly, they will never go. Even if a message is sent, it never gets delivered. So when you don’t touch the lives of the common man, you see the negative impact. You claim that you have been elected by these people then, I challenge you to go to your people. Look at what happened, after 24 hours curfew the following day it was lifted for an hour then it became aggravated. This is to tell you that people are not happy with the government. These are the hard facts.
It’s sad that the government is watching people kill themselves for no reason. You cannot change my religion neither can I change yours. Constitutionally, everybody has the right to his own religion. Even if you are worshiping a cow, the constitution tells me that I should not bother about your cow, I should mind my own business, simple and we all know about it. But what is obtainable now is that whatever happens is quickly related to religion. But I tell you that the events in Kaduna are not predicated on religion because you cannot temper with anybody’s faith. So, poverty, neglect, and unemployment are the problem of the state, nothing more.
Nobody can come and bend our rules. We don’t have any business with Otedola. I said it before the chairman. Who told him (Otedola) not to answer our questions? He was only a witness before us and this, we told him categorically. We are about ten lawyers on the committee. But he came with a SAN who sat beside him and told him not to answer our questions. He didn’t know that Otedola was only a witness before us and we told him categorically.
But the position of the Nigerian law as at today, is that he who gives graft and he who receives are both culprits. You are not a member of the parliament and you alleged to have given one of us something which is illicit, then you are the best person to tell us the true position of what transpired before you and him. This issue is unique because it involves somebody who gave and somebody who took. The allegation is that somebody who is not a parliamentarian gave to a parliamentarian. And we, in the parliament want to ascertain the veracity of the claim. Are we going to import a demon to come and find out what transpired between Femi Otedola and Farouk Lawan?
When we asked him (Otedola) about the video clip, he told us to even summon the media house and ask them how they came about the video. He categorically denied the video and said he had not discussed with anybody. He is in our own record. He denied the video clip. All he said at the meeting was that Farouk Lawan lied four times and that’s all. What I am saying is on record and we have it. So, it’s a matter whereby the onus is on Chief Femi Otedola to come before us and give us justification testifying to the fact that truly he gave Farouk graft because he is an accused person too by virtue of our laws. So, can you see fallacy in this country? We don’t know who is protecting the accused person here.
He (Farouk) came and we interrogated him for almost four hours after giving his testimony he left, with the arrangement that whenever we need his presence he would come back. Now he (Otedola) is insisting that we should go into a public hearing. But let me tell you, there is a difference between a public hearing and a committee sitting. In a public hearing each and every Nigerian has the right to come and witness the sitting as long as such a person will maintain peace. But in a committee sitting of this nature, it is strictly restricted to members of the House only, especially as it concerned the conduct of a member of the parliament, hence we had to meet in privacy, because we are not a court neither are we a tribunal to give a verdict. He doesn’t know that we cannot give verdict, we are just to analyse by law, our own findings and take back to the House. That is our limit. We cannot punish Farouk nor Otedola.
And we do not have any provisions within our standing rules where we can compel Otedola to give any testimony. But the law of this country provides that he who asserts must prove beyond reasonable doubt. So, what is beyond reasonable doubt here? In as much as Femi Otedola was the nominal complainant in this allegation, he declined in giving statement. So, what do you want us to recommend to the House? To punish Farouk Lawan? Because we are not a court. But we are challenging his conduct, and the only way we will know whether he had done that is for you to testify. He said, he won’t talk because he is a business man, and the testimony he gave the SSS (State Security Service) and police was okay for him. We said okay. We even asked him to give us a copy so that we can allow him to go.
SSS and ‘sting operation’
You see, this is the beginning of this exercise. We summoned Farouk Lawan and he was there with us. And we now summoned Otedola and other people who we are told were involved to come and give their own testimony. But the truth is that the issue of the police or SSS does not matter. We are Nigerians, if you claim that somebody stole my money, the onus is on you to come and tell us at this level so that we can have clarity but he declined. So, tell me what machinery we will you use in trapping our member over your allegation.
So, what we did was to protect Otedola to come and tell us exactly his own side of the story in the committee. Because the matter is not going to court, he has the privilege. Our duty is to take it to the House as our own findings and is debatable among the 360 members of the parliament.
We are not hiding anything and we are not protecting anybody. We have been cautioned. Any of our members who goes extra mile to do anything that is abominable is on his own. Every member is assumed to be responsible and reasonable. That is why we are going to do our work without fear or favour. Be it Farouk or Otedola, we will do our work diligently and report back to the House.
We in the seventh Assembly want to give our contribution to the integrity of legislative business in this country. I know we have done a lot within these thirteen months, we have done wonderfully well. It’s not in every session that we do this oil probe.
Bribery scam and the House
It pains me as a member of this 7th assembly. That is why as lawmakers, we were not happy when Otedola could not give his own side of the story to help us determine whether our member is a culprit or not. So, I think the reaction of people in the media about the entire saga is just to sabotage our (the House) report. But, honestly speaking, in moving this country forward, we must have to start from somewhere. Everything is stagnant and this country is not growing. If we as legislators are trying to see that there is sanity in all that is happening, then I don’t know what the other two arms of government are doing. And you know we cannot interfere, but we thank God we are doing our best and Nigerians are happy with us. Everybody knows that the 7th National Assembly is dynamic and we are giving our own quota. Some of the things written in the media are not the reality. Look at what happened; it was reported that there was an exchange between the members of the ethics committee and Otedola, which was not true.
But this is a democracy, everybody has the right to express their opinion just as we members of the legislature have our own privilege. People are alleging that the word “stupid” was used by the chairman of the committee during the closed door session but it’s not true. It was thirty minutes after. Otedola was happy with the way and manner we, for one hour and thirty minutes, tried to convince him about the implication of his declining to talk with us. There was a Senior Advocate of Nigeria there attached to him. But seeing that we could not compel him, we asked him to go. It was after that that we addressed the media to let them know that we were not hiding anything. Then we started hearing that the committee insulted him (Otedola) which was not true. I am not backing anybody but this is the truth.
Filed Under: Interviews