When people say there is monumental rot in the Nigerian system, government officials who are the kingpins of the rot are quick to dismiss it as balderdash. In spite of this, like a festering sore that has developed gangrene, you can smell the rot, feel it and see it as it walks on all fours all over the place.
An example of this pervasive rot in the system is what is currently going on at the Security and Exchange Commission, SEC, under the watch of Aruma Oteh, the director-general, DG, of the commission. Though she had held sway as DG since 2010, Oteh probably came into national limelight in highly controversial circumstances this May. It was during the sittings of the House of Representatives’ ad-hoc committee that investigated the near-collapse of the Nigerian capital market. Oteh had caused a stir at one of the sittings when she pointedly accused Herman Hembe and Azubuogu Ifeanyi, who were then chairman and vice-chairman respectively of the House Committee on Capital Market and Institutions.
Oteh accused Hembe of demanding a bribe of N39 million from SEC for the hearing and an additional N5 million. She also alleged that Hembe received money from the commission to enable him travel to the Dominican Republic for a conference which he neither attended nor refunded the money to the commission.
The development led to an open verbal altercation between Oteh and Hembe, a situation which finally culminated in the suspension of the probe. A new panel headed by Ibrahim Tukur El-Sudi from Taraba State was later put together to continue with the hearing. But the matter did not end there as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, stepped in. The anti-graft agency subsequently arraigned Hembe and Ifeanyi for alleged diversion of public funds.
Oteh’s confrontational attitude and allegation at the hearing had caused so much bad blood between her and members of the National Assembly who have since been seeking their own pound of flesh. When the two chambers resumed from their long recess in September, they, at different times, passed different resolutions asking the President to remove Oteh from office. As things stand now, there is a stalemate over the issue as the President seems not to be in a hurry to consider the National Assembly’s demand.
Perhaps, it is in order to placate the members of the House Committee on Capital Market that the SEC DG went out of her way to buy rams for them as gift during the last Muslim festival of Id-EI-Kabir. But the members must have learnt a bitter lesson from the fate that befell the two former leaders of the Committee and, therefore, decided to excuse themselves from Oteh and her rams. Instead, they are demanding investigation into how the SEC allegedly spent millions of naira on rams. Call it “twice beaten, once shy”.
In order not to play into Oteh’s hands this time around, the Committee went a step further by reporting the “curious offer of rams” to the leadership of the House. Even at that, the House members claimed that pressures are still being mounted on them to come and collect the rams. One of them told a newspaper recently: “You can imagine the level of waste in SEC. Is it its business to buy rams at a time many people have died as a result of the collapse of the capital market? We want the executive to look into this.”
‘She (Oteh) shouldn’t have become an emergency ram merchant or vendor overnight simply because she needed to win over the legislators’
But Obi Adindu, the DG’s Communication Adviser, was quoted as saying that the commission did not offer the rams as bribe to House members. According to him, “the fact is that the leadership of SEC is operating a well-known zero tolerance policy for misconduct and that is why strengthening of the capital market is a key line objective of the reform agenda”. On the issue of Sallah gifts, he said, “There is an established practice in the commission in which the commission extends felicitation to well-wishers”.
A Yoruba proverb says, “Aitete m’ole, ole m‘oloko”, literally translated as “if the owner of the farm does not make haste to apprehend the thief, the thief could apprehend the farm owner”. This, I believe, is what informed the current hoopla the House members are making to draw attention to the latest development between them and the SEC DG. The members maintained that it was an unprecedented gesture because SEC had never sent any gift to them during any festive period. According to one of them, “that, clearly to us, was attempted bribe. It was the same way the commission attempted to give us #30million and later turned against us that we demanded a bribe. This is a confirmation that the DG is desperate to remain in office.”
From a critical analysis of this incident on both sides of the divide, Oteh must have actually goofed. What is left or what is now being done is damage control. It depends on those managing the SEC DG herself. In the first instance, she shouldn’t have become an emergency ram merchant or vendor overnight simply because she needed to win over the legislators. In the process of doing that, she has now found herself enmeshed in a deeper crisis bordering on mismanagement and total lack of discretion. She could have envisaged that the members would react this way since the memory of what happened to their colleagues -Hembe and Ifeanyi – in May this year is still quite fresh if not permanently engraved in their memory.
It is unfortunate that Oteh has unwittingly allowed herself to be made a scapegoat. Take another look and you will discover that the members who are now hell-bent on dragging her to Golgotha are only playing to the gallery. After all, it is a common knowledge that things have a way of changing hands in the National Assembly. The members are known to devise various ingenious methods to squeeze something even out of stone, particularly in the process of carrying out their ‘oversight functions’ and all that. Also, each time they pick ‘quarrels’ with the executive arm of government, and they do so at the slightest inkling. More often than not, such quarrels usually end ‘dramatically’.
But trust image makers. Adindu said it was an established tradition in the commission to extend felicitations to well-wishers. If I may ask: who established such a tradition? If not bribe, what do you call that? What has dragging innocent rams all over the place got to do with the recovery of the capital market? Then come to think of it. How do the committee members fall under the description of ‘well-wishers’? In my own view, Oteh and her handlers should have known from the onset that the committee members are anything but well-wishers. If she earlier thought that she had them as friends, now she needn’t look far any longer for her real ‘enemies’. Again, who told Oteh that flooding the National Assembly with rams could massage the ego of the House members? It is simply one public relations move gone awry, and no amount of white-washing could exterminate the indelible stain and stench it has inflicted on her.
By the way, why has the experience of this Harvard graduate who had spent some years abroad before coming to head SEC continue to fail her? The other day she was accused of being a bad manager by SEC management who said she hardly involved them in her policies and decisions. At that time, it almost looked like an orchestrated gang-up. It will be a disaster if nothing has changed. Certainly, holding sensitive management meetings through text messages and other electronic mails does not speak well of a Harvard graduate who spoke with raw bravado on national television the other day. Now, she is at the receiving end of her own medicine. Maybe the chickens have come home to roost. Too soon!