House in session

The House of Representatives scrambled to save its face Thursday, after allegations its committee sought bribes amounting to N44 million from the Security and Exchange Commission, in details put up by the agency’s boss, Arunma Oteh, against visibly cowered lawmakers.

Ms. Oteh, apparently frustrated, after two days of intense criticisms by the legislators inquiring how her leadership has affected the nation’s capital market, fought hard to repel what she said were attempts by members of the House Committee on Capital Market to tarnish her reputation.

The chairman of the committee, Hernan Hembe, Ms. Orunma said, had asked the commission to release N39 million for the organization of the hearing, and when she declined, Mr. Hembe asked for N5 million.

That, she said, was apart from a sponsored trip for the members, underwritten by the commission, to Dominican Republic.

She also disclosed that the wife of the deputy speaker of the House, Emeka Ihedioha, works with the Nigerian Stock Exchange(NSE) in Abuja, an operator under the supervision of the Security and Exchange Commission.

Ms Oteh made that disclosure following concerns raised by the lawmakers that taking key staff of Access bank, an entity she regulates, eroded her oversight obligations on organizations and threw up a conflict of interest.

She dismissed the House hearings as a Kangaroo court, worse than what applied in “Idi Amin’s Uganda.”

Ms. Oteh herself did not deny the allegations of abuse of office levelled against her, including reckless spending and what lawmakers said were flouting of due process, recorded under her management of the commission.

But the accusations, made on a live telecast against a house that has remained moderately quiet on scandals, roused attention, flustering senior lawmakers to explore ways on to minimise damage to the House reputation and restore calm.

The house leadership promptly dispatched Deputy Majority Leader, Leo Ogor, and Chief Whip, Ishiaku Bawa to the sitting to defuse tension.

Mr. Bawa said the hearing could not be different from past ones, and asked the invited officials not to personalize the concerns raised.

“If you have any issue against any member, take it outside and there are established avenues you can seek redress,”  Mr. Bawa said. “But while here, confine yourself to the issues here,” he added.

Other lawmakers outside the venue, questioned why the hearing was televised live in the first instance, expressing concern that proceedings at the session had done incalculable damage to the lower chamber.

Mr. Hembe said he would surrender himself for investigations by the anti-corruption agencies, and denied asking for the funds.

“I will be stupid to ask for such money when I know I can be prosecuted,” he said.


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