The suspended Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Ms. Arunma Oteh, was Wednesday reinstated to her position by the Federal Government amidst protests by the staff of the commission who were vehemently opposed to her recall.
Though she was cleared by the government of allegations of fraud on Project 50 for which she was investigated, she received a caution for administrative lapses.
In a circular signed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, the government said the decision was based on the outcome of the findings of the external auditors, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), which had cleared her of fraud.
The circular reads: "Please refer to the decision of the Board of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to send you on compulsory leave in order to enable SEC's external auditors - PricewaterhouseCoopers 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."
But despite her reinstatement, it was learnt that Oteh has decided to wait for the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is out of the country and whose ministry supervises the commission to return Thursday before she resumes.
Upon getting wind of the decision, members of staff of the commission staged a protest by trooping out with placards against her reinstatement, a development that led to the disruption of work at the head office of the commission in Abuja.
They were said to have marched around the commission's premises before a team of security operatives comprising the police and State Security Service (SSS) arrived SEC's office premises to restore law and order.
A source alleged that members of staff who are opposed to Oteh's return are those desperate to truncate the reforms she had brought to the commission.
"She was able to plug some big holes used by some people in SEC to siphon money from the commission before her suspension. The government has seen through the process and has realised that Project 50 was a well-conceived idea and it raised the ante in the developmental role of the commission. All these moves are premeditated and they have failed," the source said.
The source also questioned the sudden unionisation of the commission, saying it pointed to the fact that some elements, who are against the reform, have been peddling falsehood and fomenting trouble within the commission.
Mixed reactions from the capital market greeted the news of Oteh's recall by the government. While some operators said it was premature considering the fact that the House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee that investigated the "near collapse of the capital" had just submitted its report, recommending her sack, others welcomed it.
"What we are seeing is real confusion and it will only affect the market negatively. This is not good for the market that is beginning to witness gradual return of investors' confidence in the past few days," a broker said.
Another broker pointed out that the SGF acted hastily, saying that he did so because the minister who supervises the commission was away.
But another broker said since the government had taken its decision, it should be obeyed, while the House committee's report should be debated and passed to the executive to take another decision on it.
Also, the Chairman, Association of Stockbroking Houses of Nigeria (ASHON), Mr. Emeka Madubiuke, said: "There is confusion all over the place. We heard the DG has been recalled and at the same time we heard that staff of the commission are protesting. We are still gathering information. The stockbroker community will meet and take a decision on the current situation very soon."
The board of SEC last month asked Oteh to proceed on compulsory leave following the report of its Audit Committee that had indicted the DG of financial mismanagement and breach of due process in the application of the Project 50 funds. Mr. Ibrahim Bolaji Bello has been acting as DG since her absence.
PWC was given three weeks to do its job and submit its report, while Okonjo-Iweala was expected to act on the report.
As protests trailed Oteh's reinstatement, the embattled Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market and Institutions, Hon. Herman Hembe, and his deputy, Hon. Ifeanyi Azubougu, were Wednesday granted bail by Justice Abubakar Sodiq Umar of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court.
The accused persons pleaded not guilty to allegations of diverting to their personal use $4,095, about N6,000,000 travel allowances collected from SEC, which was meant for a trip to Dominican Republic for a conference.
Respective counsel to Hembe and Azubougu, Jibrin Okutepa (SAN) and Onyeachi Ipeazu (SAN) moved the oral application for the accused persons.
The application was opposed by the counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ojeffu Ibe, but agreed that the granting of bail was at the discretion of the court.
Ruling on the bail application, Justice Abubakar held that EFCC did prove to the court or state reasons why the accused should not be granted bail. He also said that the accused had been on EFCC bail and showed regular appearance in court.
Consequently, the judge granted Hembe and Azubougu bail in the sum of N1 million and two sureties each, in like sum.
The court adjourned to Monday, October 8 for the submission of written addresses.