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Mr. President, Removing Arunma Oteh is not the Answer

By: John Egbeazien Oshodi, Ph.D  
 Published  May 14th, 2012

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of Nigeria is a government agency authorized to regulate and develop the Nigerian capital market.

As we all recall the period between 2006 and 2008 up to 2009, was a rough time for Nigerians and other investors as the atmosphere was marked with enormous human distrust and gross financial mismanagement in the capital market.

From the point of psychological observation, it was a time when the nation’s capital market was reportedly operating and managed in what appeared to be a sickly financial atmosphere.

The then Director General Professor Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke who was at the helm of  the  Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) was in charge of an exchange which reportedly was at the heart of a web of duplicitous and dishonest accounting practices.  But not for too long!

The new gate keeper and the Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Ms. Arunma Oteh would abruptly bring to an end Professor  Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke’s decade old tenure at the NSE in 2010  for the sole purpose of cleaning  up the nation's capital market.

Professor  Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke sudden removal was amid  complaints of inadequate oversight of the Exchange, constant litigation, investors protest and allegations of financial irregularities, and leadership  challenges.

To this day that cleaning or cleansing continues as investor’s confidence in the market remained chronically weak.

In March of this year, DG. Arunma Oteh, would face Mr. Herman Hembe of Benue State, the then Chairman of the House of Representatives capital Market Committee who was presiding over a capital market probe.

During the period of the probe Chairman Herman Hembe , in what now appeared to be fantasy swore to   “work assiduously to get the capital market back to  its desirable heights”.

During the hearings, he continuously viewed DG. Oteh  as incompetent to clean the capital market , and this he did in a markedly accusatory and intimidating  manner.

But buried inside the conscience of this risk taking woman, Ms. Oteh, is the belief that Nigeria can be pushed to the right of goodness and with this spirit, she noted that “I was told upon my appointment that whenever you try to fight corruption, corruption will fight you back”.

Armed with this deep seated thought and using it as a guide or as a lookout she reminded the world during the House of Representatives capital Market Committee hearing about Hembe’s political and ethical unfitness to chair a truth finding probe.

DG. Oteh sounded that, “In asking the SEC to contribute N39m for this public hearing, don’t you think that you are undermining your capacity to carry out your duties?” She did not stop there.

Ms. Oteh asked of chairman Hembe and informed the world how he, Mr.Hembe had further demanded N5m from SEC as well as receiving allowance to enable him to travel to the Dominican Republic for a conference which he did not attend and did not refund the money to the commission— Hembe would later state that he attended the conference, only to state later that he lied as he never attended.

Today, Hembe is under legal watch and will soon to be court for first appearance for a crime against public funds.

Without Ms. Oteh, who is bent on moving public servants and political representatives of the people to good ethics, this improper, intentional, and deceptive conduct of Representative Hembe  which will  forever stain the National Assembly would never have come out openly.

As we all know we are in the midst of poor infrastructure and gloomy poverty, and a disease stricken environment, Ms. Oteh, has since reminded Nigerians how the Nigerian Stock Exchange under the leadership of Professor  Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke spent N1.3 billion on travel cost alone in 2009.

In a very daring manner Ms. Oteh in one of the public hearings on the Capital Market revealed that “One of the notable fraudulent transactions include the reclassification of N1.3 billion originally expended on business travels.”

She appears to want to help Nigerians uncover cases of unethical accounting practices which are deeply ingrained among some officials in regards to occurrences of financial skimming, misappropriation, untruthful accounting, falsification, and questionable transactions.

Without Ms. Oteh’s bold move, how would Nigerians with many of them and their various institutions suffering from abject conditions ever come to know that the NSE once bought a yacht for N37 million and only to falsely write down the book value of the yacht expense as a gift which was presented during its 2008 Long Service Award, but without records of the beneficiary.

We now know how the NSE also spent N186 million on 165 Rolex wrist watches as gifts for awardees when in truth only 73 were actually presented to the awardees.

How do we explain these painful revelations to our children and the upcoming generation?  

To make these illegal and ethical matters worse, Ms. Oteh noted that many financial transactions were routed through businesses owned by some senior officers of the Exchange. A shameless act indeed!

Ms. Oteh as a woman of powerful insight have slowly reduced the feeling of apathy among investors, and she has helped to reduce various market abuses that had been rampant from 2006 to 2009.

Ms, Oteh’s open war on greed, embezzlement, and  corporate looting followed by instituting various repercussions and consequences in these agencies now finds herself facing mounting and negative intimidations.

With no one capable of blackmailing her into silence and with nothing to hide as well as her continuously standing on her impeccable record of uprightness, she has shown to value critique a reasonable one of course.

As in the case of retaining some corps members who served in the agency, she stated that when she studied the situation fully, she decided to follow laid down procedures.

As to other staffing issues she admitted to have engaged some contract staff in line with the standing policy of the agency.

It is important that if she was to be investigated by any law enforcement agency it should be done properly.

Especially  in regards to these apparent  civic or job related complaints like  the reported internal operations spending like the  N30m on hotel accommodation in eight months,  and  the reported amount of N850, 000 on food in a day and on another day, the spending N85,000, and other financial issues of rent and cars.

The enquiry should begin with internal study to ascertain any sort of breaching of public service regulations.

There is no doubt that some of the indicated expenses are quite huge as they  reflect an extension of the nation’s public officials overspending but in terms of accountability , and not  criminality she will need to fully tell and explain to Nigerians why such usage of huge operational monies for her person.

As a woman of high competence in regards to her present job, we now know how she won her long-drawn battle with the former DG of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

We now know how she uncovered elements of nepotism at the NSE, and in an American way she reminded Nigerians in one of the public hearings that “This sitting has become a Kangaroo court. Not even in Idi Amin’s Uganda did we have this type of hearing,” and she made it  her objective  to make sure that any attack on her personality by the likes of Mr. Hembe were forcefully defended as such move will teach  other legislators acts of public etiquette and her verbal submissions as act of deterrent to future hearings.

Mr. President, if you value sweeping changes in leadership with regard to revealing matters of corruption, opening up financial illegalities, unearthing unethical behaviors, and on raising alarm on bad behaviors as well as not sweeping things  under carpet, she is your woman, period!

As one of best first class student at University of Nigeria, Nsukka(UNN), a top rated student in her class at Harvard Business School, and having  distinguished herself as vice president of African Development Bank(ADB), she was snatched by the late President Yar’Adua from ADB to the assist in cleaning up  SEC.

As a result of this cleansing since Ms. Oteh’s arrival in 2010, some of the Executive Commissioners at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) are no longer able to do things as they use to do, and to move things forward there could have been times when DG Oteh may have carried many important initiatives and actions functionally as she may not have full trust of some of these  SEC’s executive.

Some of them have being at the SEC for millions of years! In order words they have for a long time been there , as long as not less than 20 years at the agency—at the height of investors distrust and financial irregularities.

DG Oteh appeared to have come to kill the feelings and acts of entitlement, as such there is rage and restrain among some executives.

Ms Oteh as an outsider was not going to do things the dark ways or in a none visionary way, and as to her being reported as not giving participation to these executives in regards to planning matters like the Project 50, and personnel matters like the recruitment of contract staff it is now reported that some of the planning and exercises went through executive management.

Mr. President, while Ms. Oteh certainly needs to improve on collaborating and engaging her commissioners on different key initiatives, she certainly will not allow old, subjective and personalized styles to replace her visions in terms of the SEC system becoming marked with transparency, merit-based environment and true professionalism.

Mr. President, with what Ms. Oteh has leant in the academic and business world upon her assumption of duty and finding out all the stupidities and irregularities, if she had the free choice many of these executives would long have been home or gone somewhere else, and this she would have done for full transformation to take place.

Mr. President, in Nigeria of today there are too much glitches, snags and confusions so for the sake of positive change let DG Oteh face and do her job so she can remain one of the few ones who will continue with the teaching of the open-minded commissioners, forward-looking staff, stakeholders and the public as to how the soil of capital market is supposed to look like in regards to the nation’s enrichment and investors satisfaction.

Mr. President, for this alone let her serve her term fully, and as we all are witnessing at this time she will do this service with astuteness, a mindset that the country dearly needs at this time among our public leaders.

John Egbeazien Oshodi, Ph.D., is an Abuja-based Forensic/Clinical Psychologist. 08126909839

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