Arunma Oteh, director-general of the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, is sure going to henceforth become some kind of legend. In the space of a few hours, Nigerians found a modern-day Amazon. We are talking of those legendary female warriors of ancient Benin, which is now a Republic. Oteh delivered on Tuesday, March 13 a sucker punch to the solar plexus of Herman Hembe, chairman of the House of Representatives’ Capital Market Committee. And for now, Hembe, who represents Konshisha Vandeikiya Federal Constituency of Benue State, is down but not out. The occasion was the second day of the House’s probe of the operations of the nation’s capital market. Hembe’s committee was supposed to find answers to why the market is still dull, compared to what it was before the global financial crisis of 2008. Any perceptive person who watched television clips of the first day of the committee’s sitting during which Oteh came under intense scrutiny would know that something was amiss. Rather than honourable legislators asking questions on the activities of the SEC, they focused their attention on why Oteh spent eight months in a hotel, which cost the public N30 million. They queried her huge appetite during one particular dinner where she spent N85,000. Perhaps, out of mischief, some newspapers reported the following day that the amount was N850,000.
If the first day’s hearing belonged to Hembe’s committee, Oteh evened the score on Thursday, March 15. Those who watched the proceedings on television said she came out smoking. She accused Hembe of demanding a N44 million bribe. And because she failed to provide same that was why Hembe’s committee was trying to rubbish her reputation, which foundation she laid with a First Class degree in computer science from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. She iced that with an MBA from Harvard; and she had a distinguished career as vice president of the African Development Bank. That was the glowing record Oteh believed the Hembe Committed tried to rubbish. But she refused to condone such nonsense. And when she railed at Hembe and members of his committee, they were initially dumb-founded. The chairman finally found his voice; but his speech was that of a man who had just been given the beating of his life by an under-estimated foe. The House leadership moved swiftly to calm an already charged atmosphere. The sitting of the committee was adjourned. That was not all. Convinced that the Capital Market Committee has suffered real collateral damage, the House leadership asked it to hands off the probe. It empanelled an Ad Hoc Committee to begin the probe afresh. At the sitting where his committee was de-robed, Hembe, in trying to defend his integrity, claimed it was Oteh who offered his committee a N30 million bribe, which he rejected. His evidence was an in-house memo of the SEC. He was speaking tongue-in-cheek, however. Officials of the SEC not only accused Hembe of impropriety in the manner he came about the memo, but further explained that the Hembe committee actually came begging with a “shopping list”, asking for sponsorship for the public hearing. And that out of a request for about N39 million, the commission’s board approved N30 million. They even mentioned that Olufemi Ogunsanya, who is the secretary of Hembe’s committee, actually visited the commission, accompanied by an official of Note Worth Consultants. The latter were charged with managing the event to ensure a hitch-free exercise. Could all this have been done without Hembe’s knowledge? Well, like he has vowed to defend his name, he will surely get his day in court.
If in the end all his grandstanding turns out to be baseless, it will be the case of another young man who has let down his generation. At 41, having graduated in 2005 with a law degree from Benue State University and with his election into the House of Representatives in 2007, his political future looks promising. But see what he has made of the first major assignment given to him by the nation. Well, the path his committee chose, soliciting money from agencies over which it has an oversight function, is a well travelled one by many of the National Assembly committees since 1999. This is in spite of the huge budgetary allocations for such oversight functions. What ails the legislators is an ailment called greed and gluttony. That is why they are always asking for more, which has given rise to a situation akin to the proverbial pastor living it up while his parishioners are in dare want. Sadly, greed and gluttony has no cure, until the greedy and the glutton decide to mend their ways.
Here is a final word for Oteh. Though she may emerge victorious in this battle, it is scandalous that she lived in a hotel for eight months and incurred a bill of N30 million. Madam, where did your sense of propriety disappear to during that period? When will this attitude of it is government money, thus it can be squandered, end? Oteh is not the first public official to engage in this kind of squandermania, and she surely will not be the last. That is the sore point for the nation.