Oteh, Reps panel battle over corruption charges

Oteh-1HembeHow panel sought N44m for probe, by SEC’s DG

Chairman collected N5m for trip not made

IT was a tug of war yesterday between the Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Arunma Oteh, and the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market, Herman Hembe over the integrity of the panel probing the failure of the market.

Oteh accused Hembe of hostility towards her and said he lacked credibility to embark on the probe. “For instance, he collected estacode and other travel allowances from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to travel to the Dominican Republic on a capacity enhancement conference for capital market regulators. He did not go neither did he return the money collected. Also, he asked the commission to contribute N39 million towards the ongoing charade of a public hearing and demanded another N5 million cash on Tuesday, March 13, 2012. He made both demands by proxy.”

She then added: “So I doubt it if I can have fair hearing from this committee and this fact has been more than demonstrated with the way your are handling this important issue.”

Essentially, Oteh queried the integrity of both the panel and its chairman, Hembe, whom she alleged requested for N44 million to finance the probe. The SEC boss boldly told the panel that the first request from Hembe was for N39 million while the second request, which she alleged was made barely a week to the commencement of the public hearing, was for N5 million naira. According to Oteh, all the requests were turned down, a reason which she now said was responsible for the committee’s hostile attitude towards her.

At the continuation of the public hearing by the committee, Oteh also alleged that Hembe had last year collected from SEC monies and a business class ticket to travel to the Dominican Republic for a conference, adding that Hembe did not travel and never returned the money.

And worried by the nature of the investigations, the House leadership swiftly sent a delegation to restore order. The House Majority Whip, Isiaka Bawa, who was sent by the lawmakers, said: “The House leadership is very aware of the ugly development in the proceedings of the public hearing. So, they have asked me to come and see how both parties can be appealed to in order to ensure a peaceful conduct of the exercise. We should all put aside our personal differences and look at Nigeria.”

When given an opportunity to respond, Oteh said: “This has been a Kangaroo court. Not even in Idi Amin’s Uganda did we have this type of public hearing.”

On alleged request for funds from SEC, Oteh stated: “You had implied, as a regulator, that by having people on secondment from the private sector, it could undermine the capacity of the regulatory functions of the commission. In asking the SEC to contribute N39 million for this public hearing, don’t you think that you are undermining your capacity to carry out your duties? If Ihedioha, the deputy Speaker of this House, being the nephew to Prof. Ndi-Okereke Onyuike {former director general of the Nigerian Stock Exchange) and having his wife work in Abuja office of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, do you think it will be compromising his capacity to carry out his duties?

I do not think that it is appropriate for you to have gathered information from the SEC and without even asking us to verify that information, to respond to that issue, you already made the judgement that you made yesterday: we are trying to build a democracy,” she added.

In his response, Hembe simply asked representatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) present at the hearing to take note of the allegations, which he noted, were weighty and that everything should be investigated.

Hembe said: “Allegations that Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke who you had issues with have been made. So the House cannot  be properly said to be unfair. Those will be taken into consideration, to check whether in doing what we are doing today we have been affected by such bias. The public is also watching. If what I am doing is because of the fact that I have collected money from SEC to go on overseas trip to study and I didn’t go which is why I am doing what I am doing, the public will take note. But if it is the wish of members of the committee that I respond to the issues, I will go ahead and respond to the issues. I will respond to the issues as much as I can”.

He also said: “I hope this is not a ploy to distract us from achieving the main objectives of this public hearing. Please let this not be a ploy to distract us from achieving the main objective of this hearing. I believe that we have the representatives of the ICPC and the EFCC with us. The issue of corruption or no corruption we should put it aside. They are here and they will write their report. I think we should concentrate on the major issue here. Let’s see how we can forge ahead with the hearing and achieve something before the end of the day. I want to say something as the Chairman of this Committee. I will Chair this committee to the end of this public hearing. I want to say firmly, in support of what you have said, that over the issues of bias or corruption, the Committee invited the EFCC and the ICPC. Strong issues of corruption have been made against me. Strong issues of corruption have been made against the committee. So it is our hope that you will investigate me deeply and investigate the committee too. I give the permission to that and that is my ruling (hits the gravel). We will proceed with the business of the committee.”

The SEC boss said that Hembe was unfit to preside over the investigation because he had some biases against SEC.

At an earlier hearing, the committee was also told of how Oteh allegedly spent about N850 million on hotel accommodation.


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