Oteh’s SEC Stinks!

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By Nana Gwadabe

THE public hearing of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Capital Markets, important as it is, has unfortunately been ruined by allegations against the committee. Did the committee ask the Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, Ms. Arunma Oteh, for a bribe as she publicly alleged? Did the committee chairman, Mr. Herman Hembe draw public funds for a trip he did not make? “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 (EFCC and ICPC) will investigate me deeply and investigate the committee too. I give the permission to that,” Mr. Hembe said. Who needs his permission to investigate him? Then he added, “I want to say something as the chairman of this committee, I will chair this committee to the end of this public hearing.” Supposed he offered to step aside or kept quiet about his indispensability to his committee? On her part, did Ms. Oteh need a public hearing to make the allegations? Would she have gone public with the information if she got a fair hearing at the sitting? Allegations the committee made about her administration of SEC deserves answers. SEC’s importance is often under-stated. Its mismanagement and the impact on the collapse of the Nigeria Stock Exchange — all the claims about the impact of the global financial crisis apart — did not start two years ago. The committee should have focused on how SEC superintends the stock exchange under Ms. Oteh. Does SEC offer the investing public adequate protection? Ms. Oteh’s management of SEC’s finances was bound to distract the investigation, especially at the point of its introduction. The committee did not require a public hearing to call her to order on that issue. SEC has financial regulations. Like most government agencies, it could have been observing them in breach. The 28-day provision for hotel stays is grossly ignored. Monetisation is another flouted policy. The House could do a public hearing on these issues as they affect all government institutions. Nigerians must be grateful that the issues were public through live television broadcast of the sittings. We suggest that other investigations of public institutions adopt that format in the interest of wider public awareness of matters that affect them. Allegations and counter allegations have become major issues of the public hearing, instead of considering obstacles to SEC providing better services to the investing public. The committee’s continued sitting  without clearing those allegations would be a charade. The House leadership has two options — halt the public hearing or set higher standards for its conduct. Either way, it needs to investigate the allegations.

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