Controversy trails Oteh

Twenty-four hours after a committee of the Nigerian parliament recommended the prosecution of Arunma Oteh, the embattled Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), was reinstated to her position on the orders of President Goodluck Jonathan.

Ms. Oteh was suspended and sent on compulsory leave by the Board of the Commission to allow for unfettered probe into allegations of misappropriation of funds levelled against her in respect of the ‘Project 50’ event held in 2010.

Ibrahim Bello, the former Director of Finance and Administration, was later named as acting DG.

As part of its investigations, the House committee on the “near collapse” of the capital market, which turned in its report on Tuesday, recommended the prosecution of Ms. Oteh over alleged misconduct and fraud.

The report, which contained 69 recommendations, raised some issues the committee wants the Head of Service (HOS) of the Federation to address within 30 days about Ms Oteh. 

The issues raised include whether Ms. Oteh illegally stayed in Transcorp Hotel, Abuja, beyond the period she was entitled to and whether she contravened the monetisation policy of the Federal Government by approving N62 million for a 5-bedroom apartment.

Some other questions to be answered by the HOS include whether it was proper for Ms. Oteh as SEC DG to solicit and obtain donations from companies she regulates for ‘Project 50’, and if Ms. Oteh, by flying first class, when government appointees are expected to fly business class during official trips, did not violate extant regulations.

The lawmakers also found Ms. Oteh guilty of embarking on illegal recruitment of ad-hoc and support staff, including two Access Bank staff, hired as advisers.

“Findings revealed that contrary to Ms. Oteh’s submission, the Access Bank staffs were involved in manipulating the merger and acquisition of failed banks to favour Access Bank, a case of Intercontinental Bank, which was acquired by Access Bank, is a pointer in this arrangement,” the report said.

Despite the position of the lawmakers, which is still to be deliberated upon by the House in plenary, the Federal Government, in a circular dated July17, 2012, and signed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Pius Anyim,  ordered the immediate recall of the SEC boss.

In the circular, Mr. Anyim  referred the SEC boss to “the decision of the Board of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to send you on compulsory leave in order to enable SEC’s external auditors – the Price Water Coopers Limited (PWC), to examine the records of the Commission’s transactions covering SEC Project 50, which you supervised.

“I am to note that Government has studied the report submitted by the external auditors and you are neither indicted for fraud nor criminal breach in any form. However, some administrative lapses were reported, particularly, in cases where administrative procedures were not thoroughly observed.

“The purpose of this letter is to recall you from your leave and to caution that you must henceforth endeavour to diligently observe all extant rules and administrative procedures in the conduct of all official transactions.”

News of Ms. Oteh’s return elicited mixed reactions from two factions of the Commission’s staff. While one group, populated mainly of her loyalists, heralded her return, the other group, made up of members of the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, said they remain stoutly opposed to her return at this time. 

The Secretary General of the union, Adekeye Ladipo-Johnson,  said his were not really  against her reinstatement, but would have wanted her to first clear herself of the allegations against her in the House of Representatives’ report.

 “If the issues are vacated and she is cleared to return, there will be no problem,” Mr Ladipo-Johnson said. “The union is seeking assurances that the staff would not be intimidated if she is allowed to come back after government has looked at the issues to guarantee industrial harmony at the Commission.”

But one of the staff in support of the suspended DG’s immediate return said those opposing her reinstatement are those afraid of her effort to establish a merit-based organisation and rid the agency of corruption.

“Within the short period Oteh has remained in SEC as DG, this stringent internal control processes have curbed all those corrupt practices that allowed people to collect money without rendering services,” the staff, who would not want his name published, said. “Those opposing her return are afraid that they will not be having business as usual.”

Earlier on Wednesday, some members of staff had demonstrated outside the SEC premises when reports spread that Ms. Oteh was ready to resume work.

They later suspended the protest following the intervention of Mr. Bello, who invited leaders of the workers’ union to a closed-door meeting.

The workers said they were intimidated by the heavy presence of armed security operatives who arrived and took position outside the SEC premises apparently in readiness to quell any breakdown of law in the wake of the DG’s return. 

Read our earlier story on Wednesday’s protest at the commission here.    

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