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How oil marketers attempted to bribe panel – PUNCH

In a bid to escape exposure, oil marketers and fuel importers are dangling multi-billion naira deals before members of the House of Representatives panel probing the oil subsidy regime in the country, investigation by THE PUNCH has revealed.

Quite a number of the 140 oil business firms being probed by the House’s Ad Hoc Commitee on Subsidy Regime, our correspondent learnt, were not willing to appear before the panel and had been offering mouth-watering deals to members of the comittee in order to stay away.

The panel, headed by Mr. Farouk Lawan, was inaugurated by the House in the wake of unsavoury tales of corruption involved in subsidy management that followed the January 1 removal of subsidy on local petrol consumption by President Goodluck Jonathan and the consequent nationwide protests.

Curiously, former members of the National Assembly who are friends of the oil businessmen are serving as the middlemen brokering the deals between their friends and the lawmakers.

When confronted with THE PUNCH findings, Lawan admitted that members of his committee were under “pressure” to compromise their investigation.

He confirmed that ex-members of the House were the agents negotiating the deals packaged in form of partnership with the oil marketers.

A member of the House panel who wished not to be named confided in our correspondent that many of the oil marketers had approached the lawmakers with tempting business deals.

The lawmaker told our correspondent, “I can tell you that a number of them (marketers) tried to reach us; they made business proposals, including offers to become partners in their operations.

“But, it was a useless gamble because this investigation is one exercise that the committee members resolved never to toy with.

“The entire House and Nigerians expect so much from our findings.”

The lawmaker, however, denied that bribery was among the offers made in the course of the four-week public hearing.

When contacted, Lawan admitted the panel was under, “pressure and overtures” made to members, but denied that money was offered to lawmakers.

Asked to elaborate on what he meant by ‘pressure and overtures,’ Lawan explained that he was aware of people using “indirect ways” to appeal to the panel to soft-pedal on their cases.

“They come through some of our colleagues to appeal that they should not be put under the spotlight.

“They knew our stance that members of the committee were not approachable; they did not have the courage to come to us directly,” he stated.

He insisted that money was not part of the pressure. “I have never used the word bribe, but I can say that there were overtures,” he added.

Lawan claimed that the difficult questions put to most of the importers suggested that nobody took bribe from them.

Another member of the committee, Eucheria Azodo, also spoke on the work of the committee but denied being offered bribe.

“There was no offer of bribery to the best of my knowledge”, she said.

Findings also showed that the committee resolved not to investigate the one million excess barrels of crude oil allegedly supplied to Liberia by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation in 2009.

An audit report before the panel indicates that the authorities in the West African country had requested a transaction of 10, 000 barrels of crude.

The report, which was prepared by the Office of the Auditor-General of Liberia, indicated that the NNPC supplied one million barrels in excess of the 10, 000 originally requested.

When a member of the panel, Mr. Abiodun Faleke, tabled the matter on Thursday last week, the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mr. Austin Oniwon, denied knowledge of the transaction, though he promised to investigate it.

However, the panel members were said to have reviewed the report and resolved that it was not part of the mandate of the committee.

It was learnt that the members decided that their mandate was to investigate the fuel subsidy regime and how funds voted for subsidy were managed.

Another member of the comitee told THE PUNCH on Tuesday, “The truth is that there are many rotten areas in our oil and gas industry.

“Each of these areas will require a separate investigation to thoroughly examine it and punish the culprits.

“The issue of crude oil sales, like the one involving Liberia, is one of them; the level of corruption is intimidating.”

He added, “At best, the committee will recommend to the House to set up a separate inquiry on the issue.

“If we have to look into everything that came before the committee, we may never conclude the assignment in the next one year.

“Again, people will pick up the terms of reference of the committee and challenge you on why you decided to go into an area not covered by the terms.

“The industry, from what we have discovered, is complex; a single investigation can never address all the issues.”

Lawan confirmed the position of the committee on the matter, saying that the best the committee could do would be to mention it in its report.

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