October 25, 2014

Who’s probing who? SEC boss counter-accuses Hembe of demanding N44 million ahead of probe

Arunma Oteh

Director-General of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Ms Arunma Oteh threw the House of Representatives’ probe for a loop yesterday when she made claims that chairman of the investigative committee, Hon. Herman Hembe, had demanded N44 million from her only days before the commencement of the probe.

Ms. Oteh made the allegation after the investigative probe had leveled accusations against her for spending N30 million in hotel bills. Chairman of the House of Representatives Capital Market Committee, Hon. Hembe, had the demanded to know why the SEC boss had spent 8 months at the Hilton Hotel in Abuja following her appointment in 2010, instead of the 28 days allowed by law.

However, in the course of the public hearing, when given a chance to speak, Oteh made a counter-accusation of her own, alleging that Hembe had requested a whopping N44 million from her to aid the investigation of the capital market crash.

She said the lawmaker had request N39 million at first and had later made the request for an additional N5 million only a week before the investigative probe.

The SEC boss claimed that she had turned down Hembe’s request, a man whose credibility she had questioned often in the course of the probe, adding that perhaps her failure to pay up accounted for the committee’s hostile attitude towards her.

Oteh repeated called it unfair for the committee to take up the line of questioning they did with her, insulted that they had asked to see her qualifications, and describing the proceedings as a “Kangaroo court”.

She also counter-accused that Hembe had requested her organisation pay for a business class ticket to travel to the Dominican Republic for a conference, but says she later discovered he had not attended the conference.
“He did not travel and never returned the money,” she said.

In the crossfire of accusations, House Majority whip, Isiaka Bawa, stepped in to intervene and return the probe to focus.

Bawa said: “The House leadership is very aware of the ugly development in the proceedings of the public hearing. So, they asked me to come and see how both parties can be appealed to in order to ensure a peaceful conduct of the public hearing. We should all put aside our personal differences and look at Nigeria.”

To which the SEC boss responded that Hembe, who she claims harbours biases toward the SEC, would be ill fit to objectively investigate it.

She said: “This has been a Kangaroo court. Not even in Idi Amin’s Uganda did we have this type of public hearing. You implied that 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?

“You think that if Hon Emeka Ihedioha, the Deputy Speaker of this House, being the nephew to Prof. Ndi-Okereke Onyuike, and having his wife work in the Abuja office of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, do you think he 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 and that you already made the judgment that you made yesterday; we are trying to build a democracy”.

Hembe requested officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to take note of the weighty allegations, but failed to address the N44 million scandal.

“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”.

Hembe described Oteh’s counter-accusations as “a ploy to distract us from achieving the main objectives of this public hearing”.

“The issue of corruption or no corruption should be put 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 it’s on the issues of bias or corruption that 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 for that and that is my ruling. We will proceed with the business of the committee”.

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