House of Representatives probe of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) hit turbulent weather yesterday as the Director-General, Ms. Aruma Oteh, fired allegations at the panel from all cylinders.
Oteh did not mince words and repeatedly challenged the Chairman of the committee, Hon. Herman Hembe, to prove his credibility to sit as judge over such probe when he allegedly collected a cheque from her office to travel to the Dominican Republic last year and never did. Oteh asked Hembe to tell Nigerians if he returned the money for the trip, which he did not make.
The shocking turn in the event actually had shocking effect on Hembe, who managed to find his words in reply that the investigation must continue. He, however, avoided answering Oteh on whether the allegations from her were false. He rather threw it back to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to probe him.
Oteh’s allegation came a day after the committee accused her of expending N85,000 on a day’s meal at Transcorp Hilton and violating the rules of employment in the hiring of SEC workers.
The committee had on Monday commenced a public hearing on the declining fortunes of the capital market. The investigation yesterday, however, began with the drama as Oteh turned the heat on Hembe and the Deputy Speaker, Emeka Ihedioha.
Few minutes after she got into the hall, she raised a hand to make some complaints. Hembe granted her permission to speak. She said the committee was not competent to continue with the investigation of the activities of her office and the performance of the capital market under her.
She hinged her reason on the fact that Hembe allegedly requested for N39 million to finance the investigation of the failure of the capital market. She alleged that when the request was turned down, the committee chairman, a week to the kick-off of the public hearing, asked for N5 million since the earlier request was refused because the amount was considered high. Again, Oteh said she declined the request.
Oteh said that all the requests were turned down, the reason she alleged was responsible for the committee’s hostile attitude towards her.
Oteh equally claimed that Hembe had last year collected from SEC some money and a business class ticket to travel to the Dominican Republic for a conference. She claimed that Hembe did not travel and never returned the money. “Mr Chairman, I question your credibility to preside over this probe. On October 20 last year, you were given a cheque to travel to the Dominican Republic to attend a conference, you need to tell Nigeria whether you attended the conference yet, you did not return the cheque,” she said
Hembe simply replied: “I hope the EFCC operatives are here, strong allegations have been made against me and the committee, you should investigate the allegation.”
Continuing in her claims, the SEC boss said that Hembe was unfit to preside over the investigation because he had some biases against SEC even as she insisted that her recruitment of some staff of Access Bank staff was in order. She argued that if the committee did not see anything wrong with Ihedioha, who is a nephew to the former DG, Dr. Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke influencing his wife to work at SEC, there was nothing wrong in her recruiting some staff of Access Bank on secondment.
She charged: “If you insist that it was wrong for staff of Access Bank to be deployed in SEC, can you explain why the current Deputy Speaker, Emeka Ihedioha, who is a nephew to former DG of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), Ndi Okereke-Onyuike, has his wife in SEC”
In view of the allegation, she reiterated that the committee was not competent to continue the public hearing on the activities of her office.
However, in defending himself and members of the committee, Hembe said he is ready to give himself up for investigation, dismissing the allegations by Oteh as diversionary tactics. He claimed that Oteh was engaging in blackmail to water down the allegations against her.
Another drama ensued when the issue of accommodation of the DG was raised. The commissioner in charge of Legal Duties in SEC, Charles Odunaro, denied knowledge of Ms Oteh’s eight months residence at Transcorp Hilton, contrary to the 56 days allowed by the civil service and SEC laws. Head of Finance and Admin in the organization did not deny knowledge of her stay. He said though he was aware that SEC was contravening the law on the number of days she was entitled to stay in a hotel, he was constrained by the fact that there was no befitting accommodation for her.
Oteh is said to have spent over N30 million as hotel bills in the last eight months she has lodged at Transcorp Hilton.
On the N66.125 million earmaked for payment of official residence for Oteh, he said he knew such payment was in violation of the monetisation policy.
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