Sunday Trust online

Citizen Aruma Oteh versus National Assembly: Matters Arising

One of the reasons why so much goes wrong in our public offices is because a public officer can hardly disagree with a person in authority let alone to challenge the ‘high-ups’ on any wrong doing. As a result, Nigerian authorities are often told not what is on ground but what they want to hear or what would please them. To act differently is a great risk. Indeed, the anger that is visited on anyone who attempts to draw attention to what is wrong is so vehement that to challenge a higher authority in Nigeria is now seen as suicidal. In earnest, it is difficult to name more than one or two daring public officers who have ever followed such a path of suicide. The fearless Malam Nasir el-Rufai tried it with minimal success when as Director General of the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) he was nominated in 2003 to be a minister in the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo. During the Senate clearance exercise, el-Rufai raised an alarm that some specific senators demanded millions of naira from him so as to make his clearance easy. The Senate then went ahead to investigate the matter and cleared its affected members while declaring el-Rufai’s allegation as false. Well, neither the nation nor the senators themselves believed the version of the Senate which explains why the ‘liar’ ministerial nominee was cleared.

Perhaps because of the now popular saying that ‘what a man can do, a woman can do much better’, one lady recently decided to put on el-Rufai’s type of shoes. The lady, Aruma Oteh, Director General, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), told the nation that the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market demanded N44 million from her. She said the Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Herman Hembe, made the demand in two tranches of N39 million and N5 million respectively. She also alleged that Hembe had previously collected from SEC an amount of money and a business class ticket to travel to the Dominican Republic for a conference, but that he neither made the trip nor returned the money. The House brushed aside all these weighty allegations and began to examine certain perceived deficiencies in the competence and conditions of service etc of the lady and thereafter, passed a resolution that the president should sack her. The House also resolved that should the president fail to comply with its resolution, it would cease to accord any recognition to Aruma Oteh.

Following its discovery on resumption from recess in September that the lady was still in office, the House re-affirmed its earlier resolution and gave a 14-day ultimatum for compliance by the executive. Till today, the president is yet to act in line with the resolution. The senior brother of the House -- the Senate -- waded into the matter in October like an appeal court and also an umbrella trade union of law makers to resolve that if President Jonathan does not sack Aruma Oteh, it would no longer relate with the commission. The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Capital Market, Senator Ayoade Adeseun, who made the position of the Senate known also threatened that the Senate would not screen members of the commission’s board if the lady remained in office.

Now, several issues are begging for answers. First, is a resolution of the legislature binding on the executive branch of government? If so, can the executive similarly direct the legislature? If not, what is separation of powers all about? When Labaran Maku, the Minister of Information, opined the other day that the president was not bound to follow a resolution of the National Assembly, the latter accused him of creating tension between the two arms of government. Does the Aruma Oteh saga not now show the true intention of the legislature? Since our constitution does not empower the legislature to over-rule the president with respect to its resolutions as it clearly suggests in the case of a presidential veto on a budget passed by the National Assembly, why is our legislature acting like a bully in the Aruma case? Second, why is the Nigerian legislature always so self-seeking?

In 2003, it amended the Act setting up the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) because the commission under Justice Mustapha Akanbi was investigating charges of corruption against its leadership. The law was not only amended in haste, the legislature did not have a quorum to so act. It even sought to extend the constitutional provision on immunity to itself but called for public hearing after it had concluded action on the subject. In October 2010, the Senate summoned Professor Attahiru Jega, Chairman of INEC to defend his comments about the likelihood of a delayed election process which in the opinion of some senators could rubbish their image. This self preservation posture is also maintained even when the issue at stake is the handiwork of its own members. When for instance Representative Dino Maleye led some legislators to draw attention to some impropriety in the House under Dimeji Bankole, they were promptly suspended. Events have since shown that when an allegation is made against the legislature, Nigerians should discountenance any diversionary tactics.

Against this backdrop, it is crucial for the nation to critically examine the allegations raised by Aruma Oteh bearing in mind her weighty statement that “when I took this job, I was warned that when you fight corruption, it will fight back but I did not know that the fight would come from the House Committee on Capital Market.”  Meanwhile, industry watchers say the appointment of the lady has attracted credibility and international recognition to the Nigerian capital market. She has reportedly introduced a new code of corporate governance which has effectively put an end to “wash sales, market rigging, pumping and dumping shares.” Who is this Aruma Oteh? She is a Nigerian citizen of repute who began her carrier at Centre Point Merchant Bank, from where she moved to the African Development Bank (AfDB) and rose to the position of vice president.  She holds a first class degree of the University of Nigeria Nsukka and an MBA from the prestigious Harvard University, USA. What should the nation do to her?


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