Friday, July 13, 2012

Integrity Group: At odd to defend image

Hon.Farouk Lawan before the Ethic and Privileges Committee
He was the arrowhead of a few lawmakers who declared their readiness to live by example and branded themselves The Integrity Group. His name is Hon. Farouk Lawan, who has been in the House since May 1999. By definition, members are supposed to epitomise integrity and conduct themselves in a manner that make them clearly above board in all dealings. In this piece, our source reviews the activities of the Integrity Group and asks whether it has not lost the moral ground that supposedly informed its establishment.

AS a founder of the Integrity Group which spearheaded the removal of former Speaker of the House of Representatives Hon. Patricia Olubunmi Etteh over the N628 million house renovation/upgrading scandal, it is an irony that the group is now battling to protect its integrity. Since the alleged 620,000 bride scandal broke out, member of the group have been the butt of jokes  further earned him much scorn. 
Apart from Farouk Lawan, the Integrity Group in the sixth House had people like Halims Agoda, Lynda Ikpeazu, Mercy Almona Isei, Igo Aguma, Ikechi Nwogu and Abike Dabiri as active members.
Though majority of the lawmakers are no longer in the House, as they could not make it back to the 7th House, the group cut the image of a group seeking an ideal National Assembly where decorum and integrity reign among members and in which legislators  conduct themselves in a responsible, dignified and transparent manner.
Leader of Integrity Group
Prior to the scandal that got him removed as both the head of the ad hoc committee on fuel subsidy regime and House Committee on Education, Lawan was the man to court in the House.
Sources said that at the height of the House renovation/upgrading scandal, the former  Speaker allegedly knelt down before Lawan at a point, pleading her innocence that he knew she had not stolen any money; and that he should please spare her. But Lawan insisted that Etteh must relinquish her position as Speaker of the House.
One of the leading members of the Integrity Group at the time, Lynda Ikpeazu has  said  the group remains intact and will not be deterred by what Lawan is going through as a result of the alleged $620,000 bribe-for-clearance scandal.
In her words: “Yes, he is going through a difficult situation right now. It is a very sad situation. But you know I am a lawyer, and the matter is before the Ethics and Privileges Committee, investigation is going on and I will not want to comment on it. 
“Right now, to say Farouk is guilty when the matter is still being investigated by the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges and the Police is an assumption that we, as responsible adults, shouldn’t make. At the moment, it remains an allegation. The right thing to do is wait, if it turns out to be true, it will be very sad because as a member of the Integrity Group, there are certain ideals you have to live by.”
The former lawmaker, however, debunked the suggestion  that the group is moribund and of no relevance, adding that the misdemeanor of a member the group no matter how highly placed does not signify the end of the organisation.
“Integrity still remains Integrity in spite of what may have transpired. Assuming an individual does something bad, which we are not even sure yet because the matter is still being investigated- it doesn’t affect the group in any way. We’re still together and  Integrity Group still remains Integrity Group.”
Ikpeazu, however, said the Executive should ensure that the recommendations of the Fuel Subsidy report is implemented and not hid under the excuse that the report has been tainted by the $620,000 cash-for-clearance scandal.
“I think there’s a mix up in the whole thing. The House has asked the relevant agencies to investigate the people indicted in the report and it is the responsibility of the executive to ensure that this is done. The relevant agencies should act on it. Both Farouk Lawan and Femi Otedola should also be investigated.”
Though the Integrity Group was set up by a group of eight lawmakers in the 6th House, Lawan was seen as the  most prominent of the members of the group.
His insistence and success in the removal of the former Speaker, Patricia Etteh over the N628m house upgrading/renovation scandal earned him the nickname “Mr. Integrity.”
Such was the trust in his person that in the early days when the $620,000 cash-for-clearance scandal broke, many refused to judge him, hinging their faith on his seemingly incorrigible nature and antecedents.
So, it was not difficult for him for instance, to get the House to remove the name of Otedola’s Zenon Oil off the list of the 15 oil marketing firms initially indicted in his report for collecting Forex from the Federal Government without importing fuel. The House believed that the trust it reposed in the diminutive lawmaker from Shanono/Bagwai Federal Constituency in Kano State was intact.
Lawan as lawmaker
As a lawmaker, Farouk Lawan was not really strong on bills. Records from the House Committee on Rules and Business show that out of 232 bills treated by the House between 3rd March, 2004 to 16th of January 2008, Lawan’s name was not on any of them.
At the close of legislative business for the Fourth session on the 2nd June 2011, 483 bills had been introduced, 154 passed and 43 negatived or withdrawn, 63 concurred with by the Senate, 138 awaited second reading and 51 bills committed to various House committees.
Of these, Farouk Lawan’s name did not feature once.
What then could Lawan have been doing as a lawmaker who has been in the House of Representatives since 1999?
Many are of the opinion that the lawmaker, who became an influential member of the House because of the length of his stay as well as his rapport with lawmakers of Northern extraction who are usually in the majority in the House, was more interested in positions of power within the legislative context.
As a result, Lawan has always been appeased with choice positions, particularly in committee leadership. He has been chairman of the  Committee on Appropriation and committee on Information/Media. He was also the chairman of the Committee on Education until he was removed due to the bribe -for -clearance scandal.
It was said that it was the refusal of the former Speaker, Patricia Etteh to give him the Appropriation committee chairmanship that led to Lawan’s insistence on her removal even when he was sure that she had not embezzled any money during the N628 million house  renovation/upgrading scandal.
But happily, the former lecturer who gave his legislative interest as “Economy, Education and International Diplomacy recorded some activity in terms of motions on the floor of the Green Chamber.
A publication by House Committee on Rules and Business committee, showing the status of bills, motions, petitions and other legislative measures for the Fourth Session of the House of Representatives (June 4, 2007 to June 2, 2011) revealed that the lawmaker, made some efforts in terms of motions.
A motion by Lawan on April 10, 2008 centered on his constituency and had to do with a boat mishap in Watari Dam between Bagwai and Badau towns in Bagwai Local Government Area of Kano State.
In the resolution recorded as the 15th for the year 2008, the House condoled the families of the deceased and commiserated with the people of Bagwai Local Government Area as well as the government and people of Kano State over the tragedy.
The House also urged the Federal Government to intervene by assisting in the procurement of well equipped boats or ferries for the transportation of people across the waterway in order to forestall a re-occurrence.
As the chairman of the House Committee on Education he sponsored a motion on May 17, 2011, which resulted in the 14th House resolution for the year. It was titled: “Continued closure of Kaduna Polytechnic,” and the House resolution “urged the Federal Government of Nigeria to release the White Paper to enable Kaduna Polytechnic to  Resume activities.”
He could be said to have shown creativity in the Federal Government/ASUU face-off when he assiduously worked for the resolution of the crises over the agreement. Several meetings were called to appeal to the leadership of ASUU on the one hand as well as mediate between the federal government and the ASUU in a bid  end the strike which nearly brought the education sector to its kneels.
To this effect, records from the Rules and Business Committee show that Lawan moved a motion on September 28, 2011, titled: “National Strike by the Academic Staff Union of the Universities (ASUU)”
After deliberations on what was recorded as the 33rd House resolution for the year 2011, the House resolved to “ (i) call on the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to suspend the strike; (ii) urge the ASUU to dialogue with the Federal Government in order to reach amicable settlement; (iii) further urge the Federal Government to adhere to the terms of the 2009 agreement with ASUU.”
The man, his lifestyle
On a personal note, Lawan is a jovial person for those who are close to him and is known to assist people from all walks of life when is comes to issues within the jurisdiction of his Committee on Education.
But for those he wants to avoid, he has a ready alibi “am-on-the-phone” ploy whereby he is permanently on the phone supposedly speaking with diverse personalities ad infinitum.
He has also been very dedicated to any assignment given to him by the House and has always done a good job of it, though many are still mystified by the twist of events on the fuel subsidy regime probe which political watchers have said may have smeared his hitherto glittering political resume.

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