EFCC's trial of Hembe infuriates House of Reps

An incensed House of Representatives on Thursday accused the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of bias and jumping the gun in the trial of the suspended heads of the House capital market committee, accused of fraud.

A spokesperson said the prosecution of Herman Hembe and Emeka Azubuogu, which kicked off last Thursday, should have awaited the outcome of the House’s internal investigation of allegations against the lawmakers.

In addition, the lawmakers have raised concerns which border on the possibility of a conflict of interest in the EFCC’s investigation. The Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Arunma Oteh, who raised the N44m bribery allegation against the former senate committee chair thus sparking the investigations, is a board member of the EFCC.

“It is common knowledge that SEC is a member of the board of the EFCC, so when there was a matter that involved the SEC, why would it be the EFCC that will jump into it?” Victor Ogene, deputy chairman House media committee, asked at a media briefing Thursday. 

“Even if the EFCC were to jump in, there were issues that had not been resolved. Hembe said he was open to investigation by the anti-graft agencies. He did not say the EFCC.” 

By virtue of her position as the DG of the SEC, Ms. Oteh is an ex-officio of the EFCC; alongside 16 others including heads of the Central Bank of Nigeria, The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, Nigerian Immigration Service, Corporate Affairs Commission, Police, State Security Service and others.

The House’s position adds a new layer to the running feud between the lower arm of the legislature and its representatives and the capital market regulatory agency, SEC.

Ms. Oteh said the suspended chairman and deputy chairman of the House committee asked for N44 million in bribes from the agency which the committee has oversight functions over. The SEC director further accused both lawmakers of failing to attend a conference in Dominican Republic after receiving over $4,000 each (about N640,000) in sponsorship allowances from the SEC.

Mr. Hembe denied the allegations and in turn accused the SEC boss of offering N30 million in bribes to the capital market committee. 

The EFCC’s single-charge case, adjourned by an Abuja court to May 28 due to the absence of Mr. Azubuogu on the day of arraignment, is hinged on the claim the lawmakers drew the money without retiring them for the purpose meant. 

The EFCC said it found proof backing Ms. Oteh’s claim that the lawmakers failed to attend the conference after drawing the travel allowance.

While Mr. Hembe’s counsel, Jibrin Kutepa, said his client travelled to Dominican Republic but could not make it to the conference, Mr. Azubuogu’s counsel, Emeka Etiaba, told the court last Thursday his client was never asked to refund the money and hence committed no crime. 

At a media briefing Thursday, Mr. Ogene said though the matter is before a court, and would not be debated upon, it was clear the monies from SEC were sent through “third parties” who signed for them, and should be expected to make the retirements. 

“The money got to them through third parties. They did not sign for them. So if you want the money to be retired you ask those who signed for them to retire the money,” he said.

Moreover, he said, it would have been proper the House internal probe on the matter, long awaited, and of which the house has said should have started but for the tasking capital market probe, be completed before external intervention. 

“When an issue is on-going, it is proper for one arm to complete its work before another starts,” he said.

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