20 March 2012

Nigeria: Of Parliamentary Probes and Mud-Slinging


Nigerians love probes, especially those carried out in the National Assembly.

It gives the masses a peep into how the county's wealth is being squandered by the irredeemably rapacious ruling elite.

A highly impoverished lot, the Nigerian masses can through probes place faces to tales of misappropriation of their commonwealth, just as these public hearings turn the vaporous rumours of squander -mania in high places into rock solid information. It's hard for someone who has never counted a million naira in his/her life to accept that another human being will embezzle millions of naira. But with probes, these simple folks see with their own eyes, the level of perfidy that ensures that they complete the 360 degree movement round the vicious circle of poverty.

The current mind-set of the ordinary folks struggling to survive on less than a dollar a day explains why millions of viewers stay glued to the television once the National Assembly commences a probe.

Within the first quota of the year three major probes have been carried out, yet, people are not tired of watching. Nigerians applauded Honourable Faruk Lawan as he painstakingly asked rightly timed and incisive questions during the probe that followed the week long nationwide protest against fuel subsidy removal. The public hearing on the downstream sector of the petroleum industry was followed by the pension probe, which left every decent person reeling in disgust about the monumental sleaze in that sector.

Much as the pension probe and the public hearing on the downstream sector generated furore across the land with most Nigerians rising in condemnation of the insidious corruption that has become the status-quo, the probe into the stock market has ignited a roaring controversy. The sums being argued over in the stock market probe led by house committee chairman on the Stock Market, Herman Hembe pale into insignificance when compared to the billions of naira misappropriated in the pension scam and in the downstream sector.

Without a doubt what makes the stock market probe controversial are the salacious allegations made by the Director -General of the Security Exchange Commission (SEC), Arumma Oteh. She didn't mince words as she laid down her accusations against the chairman of the committee probing the activities of her agency. She said Hembe a former student union activist demanded for N5 million naira bribe for himself and N39 million for other members of his committee. That wasn't all. The lady, who came out firing from all cylinders, didn't mind shedding her prim and proper image by telling anyone who cared to listen that Hembe failed to refund money which SEC paid him for a capacity building workshop in the Dominican Republic which he didn't attend.

Oteh, insisting that she wasn't being given a fair hearing because she refused to play ball with Hembe, fired a salvo at Emeka Ihedioha, the Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives. Despite the fact that Ihedioha is not a member of the stock market committee, she wondered why the House could call her to question while Ihedioha's wife worked at the Nigerian Stock Exchange, which was once headed by his relation Ndi Okereke-Onyuike. Based on that premise, the SEC DG went further to aver that if the House's moral ground hadn't been eroded and its credibility to probe SEC compromised by Ihedioha's family connections, there was no ground to query her for employing a staff of Access Bank to work in SEC and maintained his emoluments at Access, even when Access Bank is a listed company.

My submission is not to disparage Oteh but, I, like many others who want the stock market to return to its winning ways, are not impressed by her submission during the hearing. I humbly submit that the SEC madam resorted to mud-slinging in order to whip-up sentiment. In a country where essential items such as milk and meat are a luxury with millions of children suffering from malnutrition, it is alarming that the SEC boss was angered by Hembe's accusations that she spent N33 million on hotel bills and once spent N850 thousand on feeding in one day. Casting a glance at the US, the main grouse of Occupy Wall Street movement was the ostentatious lifestyle of top executives in America's financial hub. It should therefore not surprise Oteh that few people are comfortable with her lifestyle.

She probably thought that by her accusing the lawmakers of demanding gratification, she would capitalize on the anger of the public that hardly trusts the National Assembly. But her submissions only beg the question on how investors can be spared the agony of the fluctuating fortunes of the NSE.

It is no surprise that a Money Show television presenter described the probe as a "Circus show". However, the light shining through this dark episode is the pledge by the house to continue with the probe. All Nigerians want is for the technocrats in the NSE and SEC to stop the free fall of the stock market. One sure way of achieving this is by eschewing all forms of corruption.

Yesufu wrote from Abuja

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