17 March 2012

Nigeria: N44 Million Bribery Scandal - House May Sack Hembe

Photo: Vanguard.
Rep. Herman Hembe & Ms. Arummah Oteh

Embarrassed by the bribery allegations levelled against chairman of its Committee on Capital Market, Mr. Herman Hembe, the House of Representatives may have concluded plans to sack the chairman and disband the committee.

Similarly, the leadership of the House is contemplating a partial embargo on the conduct of public hearings until further notice, based on allegations that its probes have been exploited for pecuniary interest.

The planned removal of Hembe by the leadership of the House follows last Thursday's allegation by the director-general of the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, Ms. Arunma Oteh, that Hembe demanded a bribe of N44 million from the commission, a request she considered inappropriate and turned down.

She also accused the committee chairman of demanding and collecting money last October from the SEC to attend a capital market conference in Dominican Republic which he neither did nor refunded the money.

Irked by the report, the leadership of the House is said to have summoned Hembe and his members to a closed-door meeting on Friday to confirm the veracity or otherwise of the allegations levelled against him and the committee by Oteh.

A competent source said the leadership felt embarrassed by the revelations and had concluded arrangement to hammer Hembe on Tuesday and discontinue the probe of the SEC operations.

The leadership is said to have arrived at the decision following serious allegations also made by the SEC boss that the deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Emeka Ihedioha, had also compromised his position.

It was gathered that the speaker Aminu Tambuwal, who presided over the select committee that drilled Hembe and his members on Friday, was unhappy and uncomfortable with revelations from the probe panel.

"A major decision will definitely be taken on he probe panel on Tuesday," a source close to the House said.

But Hembe, who had previously expressed readiness to submit himself to be investigated by anti-graft agencies, insisted at the meeting with the House leadership that he did not make any request for a bribe or trip abroad.

A report reportedly written by him to the House leadership and copied the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission said that Hembe still asked the agencies to investigate the allegations leveled against him by Oteh with a view to establishing the truth.

"Strong issues of corruption have been made against me and the committee. So it is our hope that you (referring to EFCC and ICPC operatives present at the hearing) will investigate me deeply and investigate the committee too. I give the permission to that and that is my ruling," Hembe said in response to the allegations.

Deputy speaker Emeka Ihedioha, Leader of the House Mulikat Adeola, Deputy leader Leo Ogor and chief whip Ishaku Bawa were also in attendance at the meeting which grilled Hembe and the the committee members.

Nigerians have become weary of the several probes by the National Assembly, which have not produced any meaningful results since the return of democratic regime in Nigeria.

Such probes have largely been turned into avenues for drawing undue media attention to committed members and other gratifications.

Nigerians have become apprehensive that the Farouk Lawan panel that probe subsidy management in Nigeria might have come under serious pressure to drop its strong recommendations against top government functionaries, who are said to have compromised their positions.

Lawan is reported to have been warned to tone down his report or risk losing his governorship ambition in Kano State in 2015.

But Lawan has denied the report, saying that his report would be ready next wee.

Meanwhile, the Ikeja branch of the Lagos State Chapter of the Nigerian Bar Association has called for a thorough investigation of the allegations made by the Director-General of the Securities Exchange Commission against the House Committee on Capital Market

The Chairman of the Ikeja NBA, Adegbamigbe Omole said that the matter should not be swept under the carpet and that the relevant agencies should do a thorough investigation of the allegation.

He said it was becoming a characteristic of the national legislature to be accused of demanding financial gratification. "The same allegation was made about the energy probe. It is clear that the hands of the National Assembly are soiled.

The allegation is already in the public knowledge. The woman is not an ordinary person, so she must have her evidence. Hence, the relevant agencies should step in and investigate."

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