The controversy stoked by Monday’s rather controversial return of Arunma Oteh to her desk as Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is far from ending. Wednesday last week, Secretary to the Federal Government, Anyim Pius Anyim had vide a letter dated July 17, conveyed to the embattled DG the decision of the Presidency to recall her from the compulsory leave slammed on her by SEC board in June. Then, the board asked her to proceed on the compulsory leave to allow the body’s external auditors – Price Water Coopers (PWC) Limited – examine the records of financial transactions covering Project 50 which she supervised.
Curiously, the findings of the auditors, which have remained a closely guarded secret of the Federal Government, are said to have formed the basis of her recall.
The SGF letter claimed that PWC absolved her of any fraud or criminal breaches in any form but, instead, found her guilty of “some administrative lapses”.
We certainly find the whole drama of her recall intriguing, particularly as the House of Representatives at whose behest the whole drama that led to the forced leave was already set to turn in the report of its investigations on the matter. The haste to recall the embattled DG would seem to us as deliberately timed to take the wind out of the findings of the Ibrahim El Sudi-led House Committee on the Near Collapse of the Capital Market.
As against the clean bill by the executive, the House committee has since found that her appointment was in breach of Section 2 (a) of the Investments and Securities Act 2007. The House, while insisting on her sack, further held – and rightly too – that she was not registered with SEC as required by the Act at the time of her appointment; that she did not possess the 15 years cognate experience as a capital market operator. These are in addition to sundry findings on alleged mismanagement of funds under her watch.
The Federal Government, for curious reasons, has chosen to keep mum on the findings by the House, which affect the higher matter of due process.
Be that as it may, we consider it tragic that an industry which traditionally thrives on quiet conservatism is now threatened by rancour within and without. Aside the war with external stakeholders, there is also the war stoked by Oteh’s management style. The latter has pitted her against senior members of her executive management. The frosty relations between Oteh and the SEC executive management first blew open at the public hearing by the House. Only last week, the staff of SEC joined the fray when they publicly opposed her recall.
As it is, the Federal Government appears to have lost sight of the big picture – which is the future of the market and the urgent need to salvage it.
The question of whether Oteh can remain part of the equation to save the market obviously begs to be resolved – and urgently too. This newspaper finds no basis to back the retention of the individual whose tenure has been marked by allegations of high-handedness and financial recklessness. It is time the Federal Government let Oteh go.
We are forced to this conclusion because the current crisis has taken its toll on the economy already. It stands to reason that as long as the current war of attrition endures, the prospects of market recovery would continue to dim. What the interest of the national economy dictates at this time is the changing of guards to let things cool down so that the work of rebuilding the market can begin in earnest. Our position, if we must restate, is borne of the imperative to preserve the capital market institution and due process.