How Honourable Is This Honourable?
The present bribe allegation against Farouk Lawan puts a question mark on his erstwhile ranking as a man of integrity
It is his fourth time in the House of Representatives. He first came in 1999 and since then had remained not just a regular face in the house but an influential member also. In fact, Farouk Lawan, the lawmaker representing Bagwai/Shanono Federal Constituency was, to many people, the symbol of the crusade for probity in the House. He was generally considered to be a man of integrity, a man who had neither been tainted by allegations of corruption nor had his reputation called to question since 1999 that he was elected a member of the House of Representatives. This high rating is not unconnected with Lawan’s antecedent.
He was the head of the Integrity Group in the House of Representatives that championed the removal of Patricia Etteh, former speaker of the House of Representatives. Etteh was accused in 2007 of inflating the contract for the renovation of her official residence and that of her deputy, as well as for the purchase of cars for principal officers of the House to the tune of N628 million. Following that allegation, Lawan and members of the Integrity Group held several meetings to discuss the way forward. They felt that if the integrity of the house must be maintained, Etteh must allow investigation to be carried out into the matter.
But it was clear where the members stood. Etteh, as far as the Integrity Group was concerned, was guilty of the charge of inflation of contract. Speaking to Newswatch on the issue in August 2007, Lawan, who was then the House committee chairman on education, said: “Before contracts are awarded, they are published so that people can compete, as ministries do. After this, it goes through an open bidding system. But in this case, they are talking about select tender and all they did was to paste it in a notice board at the National Assembly, maybe in somebody’s office so that people will not see it. We are convinced that due process was not followed in this case,” he said, adding that “the matter is now in the public domain and we are aware of the expectation of Nigerians for us to do what is right. We, therefore, intend to table the matter on the floor of the House.”
Etteh and Babangida Nguroje, her deputy, later resigned their positions after a nine- man committee headed by David Idoko, which was finally set up to probe the alleged contract scam confirmed in a report to the House that the procedure for the award of the contracts failed to meet the demands of due process and were characterised by irregularities. Lawan later told journalists that the resignation of Etteh and Nguroje, was a victory for democracy.
Following Etteh’s resignation, Dimeji Bankole emerged the new speaker of the house. For the role he played at the time, Lawan and his Integrity Group members earned the respect of the public.
Beyond that, in the twelve years he has served in the Lower Chamber of the National Assembly, there was no known direct allegation of corruption against Lawan until the latest incident. A journalist, in an analysis on the diminutive figure last week, observed that before the bribe accusation became public knowledge, Lawan was viewed as “a hero and guiding light of the house.” Whether that reputation will remain intact by the time investigations are concluded on the matter remains to be seen, but, at the moment, Etteh, the former speaker, has found her voice. “Now, Nigerians know who is corrupt and who is not. It is a big shame, it has further ridiculed the image of the House…I did not steal any money. What happened when they were calling for my removal was a mere anticipatory spending, no money was missing. Dimeji Bankole, whom Farouk installed, spent over N400 million to renovate his official quarters, which I wanted to renovate with just N40 million, and sold it to himself for N100 million…now, God has vindicated me, all of them have been caught in one corruption or the other,” Etteh said last week.