Nigerians are show lovers and will do anything to indulge themselves notwithstanding the present economic difficulties. The booming comedy market could arguably be attributed to this positive social orientation inherent in our people.
AS an Aba boy, I enjoyed street shows that manifested in different forms that included street fights, political arguments, street magicians and dancers marketing potent and impotent pharmaceutical products.It was from that perspective that I and other like-minded Nigerians assessed the performance of Miss Arunma Oteh, one of the most beautiful damsels that ever graced our public service.
She appeared quite intelligent and oozed the aura of a top notch technocrat on a mission. Nigerians imbibed every minute of her act and showed appreciation by singing her praises all over the place. The essence of her appearance before the House of Representative Committee was totally lost and attention was refocused on the “known enemy” of the people: the members of the committee. So the question is what next?
In a more democratic clime, the altercation between the “bustling” lady and the “drowning” Chairman of the House committee should have placed some heads on the chopping board. The difference is that we are in Nigeria where anything goes and every minute thing is politicized. I precisely expected Hon. Herman Hembe to have committed political ‘Sepukku’ after he was dazed by the rampaging Oteh. ‘Sepukku’ is the right to commit suicide for which any Japanese who has failed to accomplish an assigned task by his liege lord requests the master’s approval to take his life as atonement for his failure. This act purifies his soul and saves his family from damnation. This is the honourable route open for Herman Hembe if he is interested in redeeming himself from the current mess. He should simply resign his chairmanship of the Security and Exchanges Commission (SEC) committee or be pushed by the entire House.
However, I have failed to understand the excitement of Nigerians on the exposure by Miss Oteh. That our National Assembly members have not distinguished themselves since the inception of this republic is not in doubt. What is scary is the manner the entire nation was consumed by the articulated attempt by the intelligent lady to throw dusts into our eyes. Nigerians must not allow this to happen. At stake is not the credibility of the National Assembly. Nigerians have already passed judgment on that and there is no further appeal on it.
The bigger picture to me is the entire probe of government agencies carried-out by different committees of the National Assembly. We have witnessed exposures on the malfeasance in fuel subsidy claims and disbursements, blatant embezzlement of pension funds, the rot in the education sector among others. There have always been two arms of the governing class: the politicians and the technocrats. Over the years, we have blamed politicians for the ills of the society while the technocrats have been allowed to run with their loots. The NYSC looting under Obasa and in recent times, the dead director of INEC who owned over 30 developed properties in Abuja alone are a few examples to note.
The lady deployed intelligence, swagger and extreme mind-juggling to avoid questions on monumental reap-off and conflict of interest put before her. I am still at a loss why she drew a comparison between Ndi Okereke-Onyuike’s hiring of the Deputy Speaker’s wife at NSE and the Access Bank staff she brought to SEC. Was that to further dent the integrity of the House or to wriggle herself out of a difficult situation? We need to remind her of the difference between nepotism and conflict of interest.
There are two disclosures made by Ms. Oteh that actually made her position untenable. She argued eloquently that the staff of Access Bank was recruited on ‘secondment’ to SEC and their salaries paid by the same bank. A few questions are begging for answers here:
*Is Access Bank not a major stock market player and under SEC regulation?
*Didn’t it occur to Ms. Oteh that whoever pays the piper calls the tune?
*What is the guarantee that the hired staff will not unduly favour Access Bank to enjoy a juicy landing when they are recalled?
She declared in her own words that: “I have a sterling and auditable career spanning two decades. I came from a multilateral organisation where I made a mark and have unquestionable integrity.”
I am not too sure that this abuse of corporate governance would have been accepted in the multilateral organisations she worked for in the past.
The disclosures on her management of the SEC finances speak volumes and tilts towards the dreaded “causing financial loss to the state” which is a function of reckless and whimsical handling of funds. We need further clarifications from Ms. Oteh on this aspect of the probe to enable us consolidate the advertised sterling qualities. These are:
*Did the approval of the 20th October,2011 cheque issued in favour Herman Hembe follow due process?
*If no, how many such cheques have been issued under her watch?
*If yes, what effort has she made beside the “explosion” at NASS to retrieve this cheque from him?
*Is it fair to say that she could have allowed the sleeping dog to lie had the NASS not summoned the temerity to probe the activities of SEC?
*Was her staying in a hotel for 8months (way beyond the allowed 56days) and in the process wasted over N30million of tax payer’s money prudent and in line with good corporate governance?
*Since the commissioner in charge of Legal Duties in SEC, Charles Odunaro denied knowledge of her long stay at Hilton, did the approval for her overstay endorsed by the board of SEC or its equivalent?
*Since the Director of Finance at SEC stated that the N66.25million earmarked for her residential accommodation was in clear violation of the monetization policy, on what basis was the amount approved?
These are the preliminary issues for now and the earlier she clarifies them the better for her and SEC. The bigger question is why SEC is crumbling under her watch irrespective of her admissible intelligence and experience? Is the problem personal or structural? The interest of the common is heavily tied to the efficiency of the stock market and must be guarded at all times.
On a final note, I recommend to the National Assembly to put an end to oversight committees probing the activities of government agencies and institutions. They should allow the Public Accounts Committee headed by the opposition to annually scrutinize the activities of these institutions. Failure to tow this path of honour will lead to the emergence and exposures of more Herman Hembe’s. The country will of course be the loser .