The Director General of the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), Ms. Arunmah Oteh, returned to her post lately, after the two-month suspension from duties because of the fraud-related counter allegations between her and members of the House of Representatives Committee on the Capital Market.  However, some critics insist that Ms. Oteh’s reprieve was ill considered and premature.  Such critics are not convinced by auditors’ report that her infractions were merely ‘administrative lapses’.

Social critics may need to comment on whether stakeholders’ and public interests would be better served with Oteh’s return; however, Jonathan’s declared zero tolerance for corruption appears out of sync with the elegant lady’s  admission of a N5m ‘donation’ (some may call it bribe) to Herman Hembe, the agency’s oversight House Committee Chairman.  It is unlikely that Oteh can provide any legal or constitutional authority for sponsorship of an ‘invigilating’ House Committee member for any purpose whatsoever!  

The prompt arraignment of Herman Hembe by the EFCC on allegations of ‘extortion/bribery’ contrasts sharply with Oteh’s soft landing, which was based on the report of an administrative panel!  It also curiously contrasts remarkably with Mr. President’s apparent refusal to respect the recommendation of the National Judicial Council to reinstate Justice Salami as President of the Court of Appeal.

There are lessons, nonetheless, to be learnt from fallouts from Oteh’s courageous outburst and allegations of demand for bribe by Hembe.

In the first place, the proceedings of the Committee’s investigation confirm public suspicion that the oversight functions and investigative hearings of various Legislative Committees are simply avenues to line the pockets of members of the respective committees.  

In spite of the illegality of such ‘administrative lapses’, as revealed in the House Committee hearing,  global best practices in public accountability would suggest that it is inappropriate and indeed, unethical for a supervisory body to be funded directly or indirectly by its subordinate agencies.  The question now is how can this incestuous relationship be stopped? 

The drama of Oteh’s suspension and reinstatement underscores an incoherent policy protocol for such matters in the Commission.  It is recalled that while the SEC Board of Directors considered the so-called ‘administrative lapses’ weighty enough to warrant Oteh’s suspension, curiously, it was the Presidency, in apparent cahoots with the Finance Minister and Head of Service, who reinstated the D.G.!  In fact, it required the personal intervention and pleas of Okonjo-Iweala for SEC staff to ‘forgive and forget’, and once again embrace Oteh’s suzerainty.

So, the question is, is the preservation of Arunmah Oteh as D.G. more important to government than smooth cohesive administration of the SEC with a fresh candidate, who is unencumbered by the allegedly abrasive tendencies and profligate disposition of the embattled amazon with public funds?   

Government’s clean bill of health to Oteh also raises the question as to where one draws the line between so-called ‘administrative lapses’ and culpable infractions that attract more severe sanctions.  Oteh’s undenied singular management of stakeholders’ donations to the SEC’s ‘Project 50’ and her unilateral authorisation of  travelling allowances/‘bribe’ to Hembe, for example, should count as serious infractions;  the DG’s inclusion of staff from a commercial bank in directorate roles outside the enabling Act of the SEC is also a serious infraction.  The DG’s unapologetic appetite for extravagant and expensive management style may also be inappropriate for a public servant with millions of Nigerians barely surviving on $2/day.  

The layman recognises that it is fraud to spend someone else’s money without appropriate authority, and the media is replete with reports of conviction and sentence for small time misappropriation of third party’s frauds.  In Oteh’s case, the actual value of the ‘Project 50’ for which the D.G. alledgedly had sole discretion is reported to be between N100m and N1bn.

Incidentally, in her testimony, erstwhile Stock Exchange DG, Dr. Okereke-Onyiuke revealed that the Exchange has consistently donated 0.3% of the value of all its transactions to its supervisory agency, to facilitate the work of the SEC!  The Stock Exchange should be compelled to confirm the value of these donations over the years, and the EFCC should unravel the utilisation of these funds, while such donations should stop forthwith.

From the foregoing, government’s decision to reinstate Arunmah Oteh rather than replace her may regrettably be seen as a power show, as the apparent body language suggests that government does not care a hoot about best practices, since it insists on imposing an evidently poor manager of persons, who has lost the confidence of her team on such a critical regulatory agency!
Worse still, the legislators may ultimately also see Oteh’s return as unnecessarily provocative and a potential source of attrition and government’s gamble on Oteh’s reinstatement may further assault the integrity of the Capital Market and ultimately restrain economic growth.