Not a few jaws dropped when the Director-General, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Arunma Oteh, rationalized her eight-month long luxury lodging at Transcorp Hilton hotel, Abuja following her appointment two years ago.
At the ongoing public hearing on the activities of the Nigerian Capital Market, members of the House Committee on Capital Market alleged that the director-general overstayed the official 28 days every public officer of her status is entitled to in a hotel, spending a whooping N30million on her five-star accommodation and an average of N85,000 on food per day.
But on Thursday, Ms. Oteh, who accused the committee of denying her a fair hearing, said her long sojourn in the hotel was part of the terms and conditions offered in her contract on assumption of office.
“When I arrived SEC on January 7, 2010, I was given the terms and conditions of my contract, which included options of getting rental allowance or a fully furnished and maintained official accommodation in a suitable location, befitting the status of DG,” Ms. Oteh said.
“The contract also talked about allowances in lieu of accommodation, including hotel accommodation for the first 28 days upon assumption of office and after. I preferred the option of having official accommodation. It also provided that hotel accommodation would continue to be provided after the first 28 days without limit until the official residence is ready for use.
“But, considering the difficulties with someone who doesn’t have a home in Abuja getting a home, when the SEC realized that it may have been inappropriate the contract that was given to me, I was given a rental allowance from the time I had stayed in a hotel , which I used to get accommodation . What I didn’t want was to live under the bridge as the apex regulator, or to ask somebody else to host me. And I think that it is not abnormal not to want to live under the bridge.”
Chairman of the committee, Hernan Hembe, had, on Thursday, tendered correspondences concerning a request for the Commission’s approval for the release of over N66million to rent a prime property located at Maitama, which Ms. Oteh reportedly indicated interest to have as her official residence.
The tastefully furnished five bedroom detached duplex, with four room guest chalet and two-living room boy’s quarters, each in suite with bath and WC, consists of a ground floor main and private lounges, dining room, kitchen, visitor’s toilet guest bedroom on the ground floor, as well as family lounge, master’s and madam’s bedrooms, and two other bedrooms in suite in the first floor.
Mr. Hembe said the property, which has suited kitchen, air conditioning system, stand-by generator, borehole, ample parking space as additional attractions, was offered for a two-year rent at N25million per annum (N50million), 10% agency fee(N5million), 5% legal fee (N2.5million), N5.7million withholding tax, and N2.87million for VAT, excluding 10% agent’s professional fees and 5% legal fee.
Though the facility was not eventually hired because the owner demanded more than two years rent, the lawmakers observed that asking the Commission to rent an official residence for Ms. Oteh , when she already received rental allowance contravened the provisions of government monetization policy.
Incensed by the startling revelations of the committee, Ms Oteh accused members, particularly the chairman, of an attempt to tarnish her reputation, regardless of her credentials, restating her allegations earlier that the committee demanded a bribe of N39million from the Commission to organize the probe.
Mr. Hembe, she said, also asked for a personal tip of N5million cash, which she turned down.
“When I assumed duties, I was told I was entitled to four official vehicles – two saloons, one CRV and one jeep,” Ms. Oteh said. “But, today I am told I have one pool car in Abuja and Lagos. So, I have not even been given all the things that were in the terms and conditions of my contract I received from the SEC.
“Is it fair, Honourable Chairman, that you would try to damage my own reputation, because I want to serve my country, because I am fighting to sanitise the Nigerian capital market? Is it fair on me as a Nigerian? Is it fair on the apex regulator? Is it fair on the Nigerian capital market? Is it fair given what we have done in the last two years to restore investor confidence?
She queried the credibility of Mr. Hembe, saying he was unfair to have insinuated her incompetence without consideration to her credentials as a 1984 first class computer science graduate from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, as well as the best graduating student in physical sciences in her year.
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