I had slated a different issue for treatment this week. As it turned out to be, nothing could have been more serious , urgent and appropriate for this column this week than last week’s show of national shame between Arunma Oteh, the Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC and Herman Hembe, the Chairman, House Committee on Capital Market and other Institutions. It was the second day of the investigation by the House Representatives of the SEC when the bubble burst as Oteh, the hunted, if you will permit me to put it that way, suddenly turned the hunter now hunting Hembe.
The ground for the ‘volcanic eruption’ was laid the previous day when the committee said it had discovered that Oteh had spent N30m on hotel accommodation in eight months, following her appointment in January 2010. In one day, she reportedly spent N850, 000 on food, while on another day, she spent N85,000. The committee also said that it found out that she engaged two members of staff of Access Bank to work as special advisers in SEC. The two members of staff were reportedly paid allowances equivalent to those of a director in the Federal Civil Service while simultaneously drawing their salaries from Access Bank till date. The committee held the view that having two staff of Access Bank working in SEC could compromise its ability to regulate the market effectively because the bank is a key player in the market. It noted that the development also raised the question of the competence of Oteh to administer SEC.
However, the hearing took a dramatic turn the following day (last Thursday) when Oteh questioned Hembe’s integrity. She alleged that in October 2011, Hembe had collected money and a first class ticket from SEC on the excuse of travelling to the Dominican Republic to attend a conference on capital market. She accused Hembe of neither making the trip nor returning the money to the coffers of SEC. A visibly angry Oteh then asked: “Can you tell Nigerians that you returned the money when you did not travel? “Would I now say that because SEC was approached to fund this hearing (but declined), that the committee has no competence to do its job, the same way that you questioned my competence as DG?”
Oteh also recalled her long-drawn battle with the former DG of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Prof. Ndi Okereke-Onyuike. She told the panel that Emeka Ihedioha, the Deputy Speaker of the House, is a nephew to Okereke-Onyuike. She added that Ihedioha’s wife also worked with the Abuja office of the NSE. “This sitting has become a Kangaroo court. Not even in Idi Amin’s Uganda did we have this type of hearing,” she fumed. The entire session was tensed with Oteh and members of the committee exchanging words again and again thereby creating a tense atmosphere at the sitting.
However, in his reaction to the allegations, Hembe said they were “deliberately made to derail the objective of this hearing.” He then referred the allegations to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission for investigation.“These are allegations and I invite the EFCC and the ICPC to investigate them. You should be ready to produce the evidence of the requests I made to you, but this hearing must go on,” Hembe said, as he overruled Oteh.
On the allegation of approving “illegal” recruitment in SEC’, Oteh denied endorsing such. Oteh also disowned the documents in possession of the panel, which seemed to have indicted some of her decisions. She said, “None of the documents before the committee came formally from SEC; this is a great concern to me”.
What transpired between Oteh and Hembe was nothing new in the history of probes or scandals in Nigeria especially in the National Assembly. For many years, the members of the National Assembly have used their privileged position to either hoodwink, browbeat or intimidate hapless Nigerians to submission.
Similarly allegations of members of the National Assembly demanding for gratification one way or another in the name of carrying out their oversight functions have been reported in the past. It is like such shameless anti- dilluvian tactics being employed by these “honourable” members have become the norms. While one can say that some of the “honourable” members could be above board, many of them have put up certain behaviours in the past which tends to put to question their “honourable” status.
In this present case, I believe the committee, particularly Hembe, their Chairman, may have had an axe to grind with Oteh. One would have expected the Committee to adopt the prevailing “front- loading” system currently used in courts whereby all the allegations against Oteh could have been communicated to her long before the hearing so that she can at least respond to them well ahead of the hearing. The Committee can then carefully study her response and then take her through some logical questioning.
If Hembe could doubt the competence of Oteh who parades a good number of credible educational credentials, work experience, exposure and all that to the point that Hembe requested her to come forward with her credentials, nothing could be too insultive and provocative than that. But like they say, everything works for good. If Hembe had not travelled this shameful path, we would not have had any knowledge
of the under-hand dealings that preceded the open hearing.
Why will SEC sponsor a hearing that was meant to rubbish its leadership? From what
has transpired so far, it can be safely deduced that the probe itself was a “
Kangaroo” arrangement designed to humble and humiliate Oteh because all the
allegations seem to be targeted at her. It got to a stage where the panel did not
even know the functions of the Central Bank of Nigeria and SEC. Such polished
ignorance can be avoided if the probe itself was genuinely set up to look into the
activities of SEC and not to witch hunt anyone.
Again, why will SEC, as claimed by Oteh, pay for the travelling expenses of Hembe
with estecodes and Business class ticket to the Dominican Republic to attend a
seminar or conference? Let us look at it this way. If Hembe had embarked on such a
journey as a personal trip, would he have been able to pay for a First Class ticket
for himself? Was he going there to represent SEC, his committee or what? And to now
accuse him of diverting the whole money into his personal pocket, smacks of the
antics of a thoroughly hungry fellow desperate for money to attend to personal
needs. To me from his facial outlook, there is really nothing to show that Hembe can
afford such luxury except, perhaps, as honourable (now dishonourable?) member of the
House of Representatives.
One would have expected Hembe to respond to Oteh’s allegations on the floor of the
panel’s sitting, but he carefully chose to refer the issue to the anti- corruption agencies. That was a rather clever way to escape public scrutiny of the issues at stake. Without prejudice to what the outcome of the investigation by the anti-
corruption agencies will be and that is, if the matter is given the urgent attention
it deserves, I wish to commend Oteh for standing up to the “shenanigans” of the
panel particularly the Chairman of the committee. Watching the altercations on TV
shows a bold and blunt Oteh on the offensive while a thoroughly mesmerized Hembe was
contented with bringing out his tongue ceaselessly to lick his now soured lips and
then intermittently letting off some wry or weird smiles playing nervously on his
face. It was obvious that Hembe was humbled, disgraced beyond contemplation and
thoroughly dressed down in his bid to, perhaps, carry
out some hatchet jobs on Oteh.
In the final analysis, while I will not overlook the inherent recklessness in some of Oteh’s actions as DG of SEC viz-a-viz the incredible hotel bills, lack of due diligence and all that, what happened at the sitting last week should be a lesson for the future. It all boils down to one thing: “Those who come to equity, must come with clean hands”. That is why the most honourable path to thread in this matter, is for Hembe to disqualify himself from this panel, at least, pending the outcome of investigations into the allegations leveled against him. And if invariably he is found wanting, he should not only step down from the leadership of the committee and the committee itself, he should also voluntarily take his exit from the ranks of
honourable men and women in the House. He certainly does not belong there. So, go, Hembe, go!
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