Ms Oteh: A witch-hunt

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RayEkpu_Wednesday

Most people in Nigeria must have thought that the brouhaha between Ms Arunma Oteh, Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the House of Representatives had withered away. That does not seem to be the case.

Recently, the Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr Zakari Mohammed, said that SEC was spending its internally generated revenue to beat the budget ban by the House. He said the action is “an act of impunity” and that the House will take up the matter on its resumption in September.

What are the facts of the matter? Sometime last year the House of Representatives decided to conduct an inquiry into the goings- on at the capital market because the market had gone soft, the stocks were crashing and people were losing big money. Good idea but that is where the goodness of the idea ended.

The House put together a probe panel headed by a young, small man called Herman Hembe (HH) who was the chairman of the House Committee on Capital Market. I watched the probe everyday as it morphed from an investigation into an inquisition. The normal level of civility, courtesy and decent interventions were ingredients that I found absent in the whole proceedings. Instead, the members, most of them, and in particular the chairman, HH, resorted to bullying the big lady. Obviously a woman with polish, she restrained herself from repaying cantankerousness with cantankerousness until something snapped. The anger that was welling in her rushed to the fore like a tempest. She was angry, livid. When a woman gets angry, please run. She spoke loud and clear with her impeccable British accent emphasising the words that were to nail the small man. She accused Mr Hembe of demanding bribe from the SEC before and, or during the proceedings. She accused him of collecting estacode and a first class air ticket to attend a capital market conference in the Dominican Republic. He neither attended the conference nor refunded the money. The SEC released a letter detailing requests sent to the SEC by the probe committee. At this point, the dam had broken.

The House probed Hembe, found him guilty and appointed a new chairman, Ibrahim El Sudi, to replace Hembe. As the probe was going on, some arrows were aimed at Oteh’s heart. She was accused of piling up tons of money in hotel bills for SEC, and of reckless spending on Project 50, a programme for commemorating 50 years of capital market regulation in Nigeria. She was sent on compulsory leave by the SEC board while it set up an independent investigator, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, which gave her a clean bill of health and on July 18, 2012 Oteh was recalled to work.

But the House seemed blood-thirsty enough for the woman’s pound of flesh. One, the new chairman, Mr Ibrahim El Sudi, says Ms Oteh is not qualified for the job. Two, the House says the President must sack her. Three, the House has withheld approval for SEC’s statutory allocation in the 2013 budget. The meaning of this is that if Ms Oteh is not sacked then the House must starve SEC to death.

Is Ms Oteh qualified for the SEC job? Here is what Wikipedia says about her: She has a first class degree in Computer Science from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and a master’s degree in Business Administration from Harvard. She worked for the Harvard Institute for International Development, Centre Point Investments Limited, African Development Bank as a Senior Investment/Senior Capital Market Officer (1993 – 1997), Division Manager Investments and Trading Room (1997 – 2001). She was also the bank’s Group Treasurer responsible for fund-raising and investments in major international capital markets. In March 2006, she was appointed Vice President for Corporate Management in the African Development Bank. In July 2009, President Umaru Yar’Adua appointed her as Director General and the Senate confirmed the appointment. She resumed duty in January 2010.

Having gone through the filtration process at the Presidency, the screening procedure for confirmation at the Senate, and looking at her excellent school and work record it should be interesting to learn from the House what exactly the qualifications needed for the job are. If she is not qualified for the job it means that both the Presidency and the Senate made a mistake. Of course, both institutions can be wrong but the House must prove that both are wrong and it is right.

Does the House have the powers to starve a government organisation of its statutory allocation? Obviously not. Does the House have the authority to direct the President to sack any of his staff? Obviously not, because even the President in the light of the separation of powers and responsibilities cannot ask the National Assembly to sack any of its staff. The House is simply throwing its weight around because it is being brought to disrepute by some of its corrupt members (Remember, dollars in the cap!). It is appropriate that the President continues to do what is right by simply ignoring their vindictive directive. If the President surrenders to this illegality that will be the beginning of the growth of impunity. The House will be encouraged to target more government organisations and commit more illegalities. The House apparently does not want to accept that there are boundaries to its duties and limits to its powers. It is obvious that the House is suffering from a disease called small-mindedness.

A few years ago when I was Chairman of the Establishment Committee of the Police Service Commission, I had an interesting encounter with a man who was the chairman of the House Committee on Police Matters. The Establishments Committee was about to recruit staff for the Commission. The chairman of the Commission, Chief Simon Okeke, graciously approved three vacancies to be filled by qualified candidates put forward by the National Assembly. The chairman of the House Committee on Police Matters called me on the phone and told me he wanted 12 slots for the members of his committee. I told him that was neither possible nor desirable. He spoke to me rudely suggesting that if I did not give him 12 vacancies he would deal with the Commission when the next budget time arrives. I told him if he had the powers to deny the Commission of its legitimate budget allocation he could please himself by shutting down the Police Service Commission. I told him that influence peddlers like him did not impress me and that the available vacancies would be thrown open for people who had no godfathers. I put my foot down and that is how we managed to employ people who were brilliant but lacked godfathers to lobby for them.

My advice to members of the House of Representatives is: show some humility; the swagger is not necessary. You will enjoy public respect if you respect laid down procedures. The fact that you are a lawmaker does not make you someone above the law.

The puerile pursuit of Ms Oteh amounts to a witch-hunt which brings no credit to the House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

5 COMMENTS

  1. If the house of Reps knew that their probe would backfire, they wouldn’t have started it in the first place. But thank God. It also shows that they are not saints. They forgot to remove the plank in their eyes before removing the logg of wood in another person’s eye.

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