Oteh: Time to move beyond the drama By David Wagner



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The sensationalism surrounding Arunma Oteh, the Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), has taken the very dangerous turn of skirting relevant issues and affecting the reconstruction of Nigeria’s capital market, and by extension the economy.

Following her return from leave, after independent auditors gave her a clean bill of health over allegations that she misappropriated public funds, the focus has shifted to whether she is even qualified to hold the position. The House of Representatives, whose member is facing trial for

allegedly soliciting for bribe from the SEC, has in its infinite wisdom decided to demand for her resignation because, among other reasons, she is not qualified to have been appointed in the first place. Perhaps the lawmakers need to take a closer look at the Investments and Securities Act 2007. In stipulating the qualifications for the DG of SEC, the act states in Section 2 (a) that: “In the case of the Chairman or Director-General of the Commission, he is a holder of a university degree or its equivalent with not less than 15 years cognate experience in capital market operations.”

Oteh’s resume is public knowledge, and one would be stretching the bounds of incredulity to dismiss her Harvard MBA and 16 years experience at the African Development Bank as forgery. It would be interesting to know how our lawmakers looked at this resume and concluded that Oteh is unqualified for the post she has held since 2010. Nigerians would like to know if our representatives have uncovered any discrepancy in the facts stated in this resume.

It would also be in the interest of the general public to know what other “misconduct and fraud” the House ad-hoc committee on the capital market has uncovered after PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) scanned the books and absolved Oteh of any fraud or illegal activity. And if that is the case, shouldn’t the lawmakers be pushing for prosecution for fraud rather than dismissal?

Most importantly – for we must not lose focus – Nigerians would like to know how these recommendations by the lawmakers support the task given to the committee to unravel the reasons for the near collapse of the capital market.

This is not a very healthy position to occupy in Nigeria, considering the travails that have followed past crusaders. It is widely known that corruption fights back when you attempt to corner it in this country. Five months after she took the job, Oteh revealed that her investigations have exposed “wash sales, market rigging, pumping and dumping shares”; adding that “we expect to charge 200 entities and individuals involved”. A few months later, changes were made in the leadership of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) as part of first steps at reforming the industry. Expectedly, this development did not go down well with those benefiting from the state of decay. Oteh as an ‘outsider’ has stirred the hornets’ nest and it is understandable that she will meet some form of objection.

This objection was also seen among the ranks of the employees of SEC. Some of them protest the manner of Oteh’s recall, arguing that she operated in a “highhanded” manner. The workers also argued that Oteh’s recall did not follow due process. Secretary General of the SEC Staff Union, John Briggs, was quoted on Thursday as saying that some workers “don’t want her back until due process is followed”, arguing that the letter of recall from the federal government ought to have been signed by supervising Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, rather than by Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim. It is vital to note that the latter argument lacks merit as Oteh, being an employee of the Federal Government of Nigeria, can be recalled via a letter from the SGF. However, for the interest of peace, Okonjo-Iweala, last Friday, appealed to the workers to sheathe their swords.

It is also vital that Oteh takes note of the complaints of these workers; and most importantly ensure that none of the protesters are victimised. This fear was expressed by leaders of the workers during the meeting with Okonjo-Iweala, and the federal government must ensure that these workers are protected. The overriding objective among all parties concerned, which they owe the Nigerian taxpayer, is to ensure that the operations of the nation’s capital market are strengthened. Brokers agree that the capital market is beginning to witness the gradual return of investors’ confidence in the past few months and warn that this latest confusion might affect the growth negatively. Can we afford to allow this charade to continue at the risk of destroying what little gains have been achieved?

The entire drama has outlived its course; and it is time for the real issues to be brought back to the front burner. Oteh’s job is to undertake reforms in the sector that will ultimately bring back the nation’s capital market from its knees. The capital market is not yet back to its feet, but does it look like it is recovering? Is Oteh capable of pushing this recovery? Will people who have been indicted in the mismanagement of the market be investigated and prosecuted?

It is time Nigerians saw through tactics to push relevant issues under the market, and begin to ask the right questions for the development of our society. Oteh has done approximately half of her 5-year tenure; the jury should focus on how well she has done her job. Her next steps as sheresumes duties after this drama will determine if she has remained focused on the task at hand; and it is vital that taxpayers redirect their scrutiny to this more vital issue.

 

David Wagner is a Lagos-based research analyst and can be reached on

[email protected]


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