For the effrontery to kick against the re-instatement of the suspended Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Ms. Arunma Oteh, SEGUN EDWARDS writes that jitters have started sending down the spines of many staff of the commission, who may be on their way out.
Expressions of anger and protest that trailed the announcement of the federal government’s recall to duty of the suspended Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission )SEC), Ms. Arunma Oteh, may have set the tune for a new tide in the Commission.
The news of Oteh, which came thundering down last week Thursday, had elicited mixed reactions, but sources said that the staff’s protest against her resumption would have reverberating effect in the next couple of weeks and months within the ranks and file of the Commission.
The resultant reprisal punishment to be meted to the staffers of the commission, information gathered indicated, was imminent, as the verbal attack on the person of the re-instated Oteh through inscriptions in the various placards displayed by SEC employees when the news was broken, was considered in government circles as affront to the government, an action prohibitive in the civil service, which the commission falls.
According to reliable SEC’s sources, some employees, who were taken aback by the government’s decision and who have conviction of not being able to live with the decision, have also commenced their exit journey through resignation of their appointments.
Nigerian Compass learnt that a score of mid and top level employees in the Lagos Zonal office have commenced the clearing of their desks in preparation for resignations, while majority in the Abuja headquarters office have preparing to resign in the coming weeks.
It was gathered that the re-instated DG confided in her loyalists who have compiled list of names of members of staff, who subtly or openly protested the decision of the government tp recall the suspended DG
Another source in the commission disclosed that there is the likelihood that the recalled boss of the apex regulatory body of the securities market will take her pound of flesh due to the overwhelming disapproval of her recall after been indicted by top management officers at the probe panel set up to ascertain the cause of the near collapse of the capital market, considering that the panel also indicted her on allegations of financial impropriety.
The source said that though some of the Commissuoners who disowned her at the panel have left due the their retirement period, but those still left behind might be paid back in their own coin.
Oteh, who was sent on compulsory leave by the board of the commission days before its term lapsed last month, was on Tuesday recommended for formal dismissal from the commission by the report of the House ad-hoc committee on the collapse of the Capital Market.
The House report, which is scheduled for deliberation last week Wednesday, alleged that Oteh did not meet the minimum 15 years experience in the capital market operations required for the job.
However, in a surprise move, the Presidency lifted the suspension on Oteh on the basis that the audit report of the external auditors did not find her wanting.
Her recall was communicated to her through a circular, SGF.2/ S.9/C.13/454 dated July 17, 2012, signed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Sen. Anyim Pius Anyim.
According to him, Oteh’s recall was the outcome of the findings of the external auditors, Price Water HouseCoopers which exonerated her from allegations of fraud and criminal breaches.
She was, however, indicted for some administrative lapses. The circular reads:
On hearing the news of her re-instatement staff of the commission turned out in numbers Wednesday to protest against the government’s decision
The staff shut the gates of the commission’s headquarters in Abuja and upheld placards denouncing Oteh’s recall. The protest prevented human and vehicular movement within the Abuja location of the SEC building and grounded business activities at the commission.
Some of the protesters chorused anti-Oteh songs, while others brandished placards with various inscriptions such as “Oteh must go”, “No more Oteh”, “SEC not for Oteh and “We say no to Oteh”.
The demonstration lasted a few of hours, without any disorder and misdemeanour by the protesting crowd, in the presence of some stern-looking and fortified policemen who watched on in readiness to counter any potential breakdown in law and order.
The SEC workers were apparently incensed by the circular, through the secretary to the Government of the confirming Ms Oteh’s recall to the leadership of the commission where she was accused of mismanagement of funds, abuse of power and other sundry offences which led to her suspension some weeks back.
The circular reads: “Please refer 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 PriceWaterCoopers 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.”
As part of its investigations, the House committee on the “near collapse” of the capital market, which turned in its report on last 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 was 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.
The committee headed by Hon. Ibrahim El-Sudi, had Udoka Ini Akpan; Yakubu Dogara, Bimbo Daramola, Toby Okechulkwu, Jibril Bubar, Usman Adamu, Oko Rose Okoji as members.
Okechukwu, a member of the committee, shocked by the administration’s recall of Oteh said that he stood by the content of the report.
In reaction to the development, one senior official in the House of Representatives described the recall of Oteh as another indication of the administration’s lack of seriousness in its engagement with the House in the fight against corruption.
“You can now see that this administration does not take some matters seriously. People are not happy and we are going to consider the issue ,” he said.
It was learnt yesterday that the preponderance of opinion in the House was on the adoption of the recommendations which prescribed stiff actions against Oteh.
Stakeholders in the financial sector were no less critical of the reinstatement with some alleging it to be a confidence draining decision.
David Adonri, Chief Executive Officer, Lambeth Trust and Investment Company Limited, said: “The news of her reinstatement hit the market by surprise. Market operators were unable to form any concerted opinion due to paucity of information surrounding her recall. If she was cleared of all the allegations against her, there might be no problem”.
In his own view, the Chief Executive Officer, of a finance and investment firm who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “What is really going on in this country? How can she force herself on the nation as the DG of SEC despite the fact that the agency’s staff and most capital market operators have clearly lost confidence in her capacity to lead the organisation?
Other stakeholders in the capital market also reacted to Oteh’s recall, arguing that the action was against the rule of law. They said her reinstatement was not necessary in the face of unclear information, advising the DG to honourably resign.
The Chairman, Progressive Shareholders Association of Nigeria, Mr. Boniface Okezie, said that the Federal Government owed Nigerians an explanation on the issue.
Okezie said, “It is rather unfortunate that this is happening in a country that is supposed to be transparent in all its dealings. We need the Federal Government to tell us on what basis they are recalling her. The report from the House Committee came in yesterday (Tuesday), and she was indicted, and so why are we hearing a different story today (Wednesday)?
“Aren’t all the arms of the government supposed to be working together? Or is it that the FG does not have the interest of the growth of the capital market on their mind? This is a woman whose tenure almost brought the market to its knees, and now, we are hearing this, it is indeed saddening and we know that the FG is not doing us any favour.”
The National Coordinator, Independent Shareholders of Nigeria, Mr. Sunny Nwosu, noted that it was wrong for the federal government to reinstate Oteh just after the House committee report which indicted her came through.
“This action means that the FG is not sincere in what they are doing. The truth is that in this nation, we cannot continue to rely on sentiment; it is not taking us anywhere.
“In any case, if I were Oteh, I would throw in the towel and resign honourably from SEC, because she has been thoroughly embarrassed in all these.”
“I think that the report of the committee set up to look into the issue should be made public so that everyone can see it, because, even the initial report on the project 50 which also indicted Oteh has not yet been made public.”
Civil rights organisations also criticised government on the decision asking Oteh to go back to the SEC.
President of the Campaign for Democracy, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, in an SMS to one of our correspondents, said that the recall showed that the administration condoned corruption.