6 August 2012

Nigeria: The Recall of Eteh


The decision of the Federal Government to re-instate Ms Arunma Oteh as the Director General of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has not only placed doubt on the sincerity of the fight against corruption but has also brought into focus the standards of conduct acceptable for government officers, the fundamental flaws in appointment into key offices, the merits of appointing "diaspora Nigerians" into sensitive positions, the value of National Assembly probes, and the relevance of "oversight functions" in this country.

Originally suspended by the Board of SEC, and indicted by a House of Representatives probe, Ms Oteh was re-instated via a recall letter from the Office of the Secretary to Government of the Federation.

Perhaps the biggest problem of the anti-corruption war is the fact that no big man or madam is ever held responsible for the failure of an organisation. The crash of the stock market has followed this trend. Both the former DG of the Stock Exchange and former DG of SEC who were in charge at the time of the crash have been cleared as not being responsible for the mess; and now Ms Oteh is also not responsible.

This tendency for no one to carry the blame has tainted the anti-corruption war as simply a means of dealing with political enemies leaving "friends" untouched. Indeed, whilst under "suspension" Ms Oteh was seen smiling in attendance at a meeting of the National Economic Council, along with Femi Otedola of alleged bribery fame. It therefore comes as no surprise that she has not been sanctioned in any meaningful manner.

Both the report of the National Assembly and the recall letter from the Office of the Secretary to Government referred to specified and unspecified "administrative lapses". Increasingly, "administrative lapses" which range from unethical conduct and failure to observe laid down administrative procedures, all the way to non-conformity with financial regulations have become the acceptable norm in government circles.

Ms Oteh was accused of not holding statutory meetings with senior staff, making controversial appointments, over-spending and over-staying welcome at Hilton Hotel, spending N1 billion on Project 50 without due process, messy roles in Access Bank's acquisition of Intercontinental Bank, and purchasing vehicles without due process, among others. If this sort of behaviour is now considered acceptable to government then the anti-corruption war would be better served by a review of Administrative Rules and Regulations rather than continuing not to sanction breaches.

Ms Oteh's case highlights the advisability or otherwise of headhunting "diaspora" Nigerians to sensitive national leadership positions. Anyone with a good local grounding will be familiar with the Administrative Rules and Regulations and would have learnt to work within them. Ms Oteh was said not to have the cognate 15 years experience and had no grounding in the Nigerian Civil Service.

Those mainly accused of breaching procedures are "diaspora Nigerians" headhunted from abroad. Time after time we hear of such people being in conflict with their colleagues and creating tension in their working environments due to their inability to deal with our outdated and inefficient administrative procedures. We must accept that as Nigerians we have our own peculiarities as regards our working environments; and attempts to impose external change will always be resisted.

Like so many other people appointed to sensitive positions, Ms Otteh is alleged not to have the pre-requisite work experience for the appointment. Former Finance Minister Mansur Mukhtar who presented her name to the president worked with Ms Oteh at the African Development Bank.

The whole process by which such top positions are filled is an opaque business. An increasing number of "top" positions are not advertised, the appointee must be somebody's candidate, the personnel specification is not strictly adhered to, and the perks of office are collected ever before any performance is required let alone evaluated.

Ms Oteh was re-instated despite being indicted by the National Assembly. The Federal Government based its approach to the matter upon the report of "independent consultants" who cleared the DG of any wrongdoing. The public have a right to query the value of such probes and "indictments' by the National Assembly and the relevance of its "oversight functions".

The bribery scandals arising from probes and the fact that any citizen is free to petition the EFCC and ICPC render them completely unnecessary and a waste of time and money.

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