Move to sack Oteh, Hembe, Reps over bribery scandal begins

Oteh-DG-SEC-and-Hembe-Committee-ChairmanIT is one bribery allegation too many at the National Assembly and if the lawmakers think they can sweep this one under the carpet as usual, they have not reckoned with Civil Society.

For the embarrassment it has caused the country on the global stage and to save the nation’s democracy, several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or non-state actors in the country have resolved to seize on the on-going bribery scandal rocking the House of Assembly Committee on Capital Market to purge the National Assembly of all corrupt elements.

In a move that aims to make it a landmark case in Nigeria’s history, the NGOs have resolved to write all members of the House Committee on Capital Market to resign their membership of the Lower Chamber on account of the allegation of bribery levelled against them by the Director-General (DG), Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), Arunmah Oteh.

If the committee members failed to take this path of honour, the NGOs pledged to write to their constituencies, with a view to asking the latter to activate the recall clause as provided by the 1999 Constitution and get the members out of the House of Representatives.

Also, stating that her position was no longer tenable following the bribery saga, especially the disclosures on her official expenditures by the House panel, the rights activists have asked Oteh to resign from office, failing which the Presidency or the appointing authorities should sack her from the SEC post.

Beyond the particular case at hand, the rights groups yesterday alleged that it has become the norm for all committees of both chambers of the National Assembly to demand monetary contribution towards their public hearings or probes and travels from agencies they have oversight on .

Stressing that this condemnable practice has created a cesspit of corruption and turned a drag on nation-building efforts, the NGOs have also resolved to write to each member of the National Assembly to put a stop to it forthwith individually and collectively.

The rights activists dismissed the sack of the Hembe-led panel and its replacement with an ad-hoc committee to continue the Capital Market probe as a grand attempt to provide soft landing for the embattled committee members and sweep the grave allegations raised against them under the carpet.

According to sources, the rights groups that may spearhead this move include the Civil Liberty Organisation (CLO), the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and Alliance for Credible Election.

But the House of Representatives has advised all parties to the Capital Market probe to avoid making inflammatory statements capable of jeopardising the exercise.

At a media briefing in the National Assembly yesterday, Spokesman of the House, Zakari Mohammed said: “It is necessary that all parties involved in the matter give the ad hoc committee the benefit of doubts and wait for its report. The committee has 21 days to work on the matter and I can assure you that there will be fair hearing for all the parties involved.

“The SEC should caution its spokesman from using inflammatory statements on this issue as Herman Hembe has kept silent waiting for the outcome of the panel’s report. Anything the involved parties say now will go a long way in distorting what is on ground because it is just like a matter in the court.

“And you know that with this issue on ground the integrity of the House of Representatives has been called to question.”

The bribery scandal has overshadowed on-going attempt by the House of Representatives to probe the Capital Market meltdown.

In a related development, a coalition of stakeholders united in the fight against corruption in Nigeria has lamented the country’s seemingly intractable corruption profile in the world.

Participants at a public and private sector partnership against corruption in Nigeria summit organised yesterday in Abuja by the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) in collaboration with United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and Siemens, agreed that the trend was unacceptable and needed to be checked.

His opening address, Chairman, NESG, Mr. Foluso Phillips, stated that Nigeria’s image had constantly been battered in the international community due to its rating as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.    Phillip spoke on the new Nigerian phenomenon tagged “the Elite Capture”, where a few elite individuals take advantage of government resources or funds meant for the general public and redirect such funds to benefit their group.

The workshop with the theme, “Openness and Transparency: A stakeholder commitment against corruption”, was organised as part of the implementation of the Siemens Integrity Initiative in Nigeria, with the aim of creating awareness about the UN Global Compact’s 10th principle against corruption that promotes fair market conditions for all economic actors by employing collective action strategy against corruption and fraud in all ramifications.

Meanwhile, a part of the National Assembly narrowly escaped being razed yesterday due to some electrical faults in a room at its annex .

The fire was reportedly caused by a power surge in a store where some Assembly documents were kept.

Eyewitnesses confirmed that the incident occurred at about 10.45 a.m. The fire was swiftly put off when the workers pulled off the electrical appliance involved.

The room where the incident occurred was originally designed to be used as a kitchen.

The public hearing on the capital market probe took a dramatic twist last Thursday when Oteh accused the panel’s Chairman, Herman Hembe, of alleged corruption.

In turn, Hembe accused the SEC chief of trying to influence the work of the committee by approving N30 million for its activities.

The scandal claimed its first set of casualties on Tuesday as the Lower Chamber of the National Assembly asked its Committee on the Capital Market to step off the investigation, opting instead to set up an ad hoc panel to do the job.

The House directed its Committee on Ethics and Privileges to investigate the allegations that the Hembe-led Committee demanded the sum of N44 million to fund its public hearing.

The Ethics Committee was asked to conclude its investigation within 14 days and submit a report to the House for appropriate decision.

The eight-member ad hoc committee is headed by Ibrahim el-Sudi. Other members are Toby Okechukwu, Yakubu Dogara, Bimbo Daramola, Ini Udoka, Buba Jibril, Usman Adamu Mohammed and Rose Okoh.

Also on Tuesday, Hembe denied the bribery allegation levelled against his panel by Oteh and personally withdrew from the investigation. He also vowed to clear his name in court.

The scandal has further ruptured investors’ confidence in the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE). Worried by the bribery allegations, foreign investors trading on the NSE threatened to dump their shares on the market.

The NSE management has been under pressure from investors outside the country seeking detailed explanation on the ongoing allegations and counter-allegations of corruption between the SEC and the House panel.

Foreign Portfolio Investment (FPI) accounts for over 80 per cent of total purchases (inflows) in the Nigerian market, driven primarily by investments from the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (U.S.) as well as from Hong Kong, Luxemburg, South Africa and Germany, among others.


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