By Ola Awoniyi (AFP) – Jun 15, 2012
ABUJA — Nigerian police Friday questioned a lawmaker who led an explosive probe into a graft-ridden fuel subsidy programme after allegations emerged that he took a bribe from an industry magnate.
The questioning of Farouk Lawan marked a dramatic turn in the saga surrounding the fuel subsidy probe, which implicated high-profile businessmen and found that $6.8 billion (5.3 billion euros) was lost from 2009 to 2011.
Nigeria's lower house of parliament meanwhile met in an emergency session on the alleged bribe on Friday and voted to suspend Lawan as head of the committee that carried out the subsidy probe.
Lawmakers also voted to rescind an earlier decision that removed the name of the magnate's firm, Zenon, from the list of companies named in the subsidy probe.
The emergency session of the House of Representatives took place without Lawan present. Police could not be reached after the hearing ended to confirm whether Lawan was still being questioned.
"Honourable Farouk Lawan came to us yesterday and he is still with us as he is being interrogated over an alleged bribery," police spokesman Frank Mba told AFP ahead of the hearing.
"He will remain in our custody until we are through with our investigation."
Lawan was chairman of the House of Representatives committee that investigated the fuel subsidy programme, which was designed to keep petrol prices low in Africa's biggest oil producer but was found to be riddled with corruption and mismanagement.
He was questioned by police after Femi Otedola, owner of Zenon and Forte Oil, reportedly alleged that the outspoken lawmaker had collected $620,000 from him in order to exonerate him from the scandal.
The bribery probe has raised questions over the investigation into the subsidies -- and some have speculated whether powerful interests in Nigeria, where corruption is widespread, are seeking to smear Lawan and scuttle the report.
However, video recordings were allegedly made of Lawan's visits to Otedola, local media have reported.
At the hearing on Friday, House speaker Aminu Tambuwal urged Nigerians not to allow the bribery allegations to "erode the credibility" of the parliamentary report that uncovered the corruption.
"Let me reiterate that the resolutions of the House over the fuel subsidy regime remain valid despite this recent controversy," Tambuwal said.
Citing corruption among other issues, President Goodluck Jonathan sought to end the subsidy programme without warning on January 1.
The move instantly caused petrol prices to more than double, resulting in mass protests and a week-long general strike that was called off when the subsidy programme was partially re-instituted.
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