Emotions flared on Tuesday as members of the House of Representatives Committee on Ethics and Privileges and oil businessman, Femi Otedola, reportedly clashed at the National Assembly. Otedola was at the House to answer questions relating to the $620,000 bribery scandal involving a lawmaker, Farouk Lawan.
The billionaire businessman appeared before the committee but he refused to testify, submitting in a terse speech that he would only do so if the session would be broadcast live on a national television where Nigerians and the media could watch him.
After 120 minutes behind closed doors, Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Gambo Musa, told journalists, “Unfortunately, he (Otedola) was misguided, either by his lawyer or some people not to talk to us. We did all we could to explain our powers under the constitution (1999), but Otedola refused to answer questions.
“He said that he would do so only in public. He went further to insult us in one way or another but we allowed him.”
Musa added, “We reminded him of the consequences of not answering our questions. We even asked him to produce whatever evidence he submitted to the SSS and the police as proof but he refused.
“How do you solve a problem when someone refuses to talk? He refused to answer our questions and he insulted us; it was very stupid of him because he was just laughing.
“He said he was a businessman and not hungry like us. Are we hungry? Is anyone hungry here?”
The proceedings in the House took place just as a second audio clip of the bribery transaction between Otedola and Lawan hit the airwaves on independent Channels Television. (See full text of the clip)
On Tuesday, Otedola arrived at the venue of the House panel sitting at about 1.50pm, 10 minutes ahead of the scheduled 2pm fixed for the hearing.
After the usual preliminaries, Musa invited the Zenon Oil boss to take his seat, while journalists were asked to leave the venue.
Musa explained that it was the tradition of the panel to conduct its hearing in camera. He added that Lawan had already been heard in camera and that Otedola’s case would not be different.
“We are going to be fair to Lawan and Otedola and ensure that justice is done in the course of this investigation”, Musa stated before the doors were shut.
At the private visiting, Otedola was said to have insisted that he would not speak in camera.
He told the committee that he would only testify in the presence of “Nigerians and the media in particular.”
Outside the hall, Otedola refused to speak directly on what transpired between him and the committee members.
He directed all questions from journalists to his lawyer, saying, “My solicitor will speak to you.”
The solicitor, Mr. Jide Koku (SAN), said his client believed that the matter should be heard in the open and not in camera.
He said, “It is a matter that should be dealt with in the public but the committee did not agree.
“As far as Mr. Otedola is concerned, it is important to say that Mr. Farouk Lawan has been inconsistent.
“At one point, he denied collecting money; at another point, he admitted to have collected.
“Mr. Otedola does not feel that this is an issue that should be held in camera.
“However, the committee is not happy but Otedola is a law-abiding citizen.”
Musa, as part of his comment on what transpired in camera, noted that in spite of being assured of protection and given the opportunity to state his side of the allegation, Otedola laughed at lawmakers and insulted them.
“Our position is that we invited him and he refused to talk. So, we will continue to do our job and invite other parties to the case. Our committee will do this job to its conclusion”, he said.
Findings indicated that Otedola actually came with a prepared text, which contained his objection to the procedure of the hearing.
The document, which was addressed to the committee and signed by Otedola, reads, “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 this 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.
Femi Otedola, CON, 3rd July, 2012.”
New audio tape released
Lawan: it wasn’t like my brother talking. That’s one. Secondly, please this thing that we are doing, keep it to yourself otherwise you will make it difficult for us …
Otedola: Ok, ok. I am na
Lawan: Because somebody called me now and said that we said we are going to address it.
Otedola: address what?
Lawan: Yea. Because if it is already out that we are going to do something, when we do it, people will think that we are doing it because we have been compromised. And you know that is something that errrrr… And if my colleagues get to hear about it, I wouldn’t be able to convince them. So keep it to yourself.
Lawan: Let it not be like anybody is aware of what is happening. If anybody ask you, simply explain that this thing, you know from your records. You have all records and you have made a case to the committee. You have sent your documents to the committee
Otedola: Yea, Yea
Lawan: Yea. It’s left for the committee… it’s left for the committee to decide what to do. Please keep it that way.
Otedola: Yea. God bless you. God bless you
Lawan: Yea. Because the moment it gets out now we are going to correct it. Then it means we have already Haaa… so let it be …
Otedola: Ok, Ok
Lawan: I want to spring a surprise on the floor and only that is the only credible way I can do this. So please, please.
Otedola: God bless you. God bless you my brother. I have been crying. Anytime I hear your voice
Lawan: Yes. You know your sector is small. Everybody knows… and people are already saying … Somebody just called now and said Femi has gotten his way around you guys and he has already succeeded.
Otedola: That is not true. But let me also tell you one thing ….
Lawan: No, no, no, no. I am saying it because this is what I heard
Otedola: But my brother, let me also tell you one thing. You know me as a person
Lawan: It doesn’t have… I know… I don’t want
Otedola: People just get up
Lawan: I know. That makes it difficult. Just, just whoever… you know… no. I didn’t do this. I’m sure it must have been a mistake from the committee but I have sent a letter to set the record right
Lawan: That’s all
Otedola: Ok my brother
Lawan: Yea. Yea
Otedola: Ok. Great, Ok
Otedola: Thank you