17 April 2018

Nigeria: Oando Crisis - Untold Story of Shake-Up At SEC

The recent shake up in the Securities and Exchange Commission which led to the removal of its acting director-general, Abdul Zubair, had the backing of the presidency, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.

Last Friday, a Federal Ministry of Finance statement in Abuja announced Mr Zubair's immediate removal as the acting director-general. He was subsequently posted to the External Relations Department and was replaced by Mary Uduk.

Other top officials were also redeployed, including Reginald Karawusa as acting Executive Commissioner, Legal & Enforcement; Isiyaku Tilde as acting Executive Commissioner, Operations, and Henry Adekunle as acting Executive Commissioner, Corporate Services.

Since the redeployment exercise, accusing fingers have been pointed at the Minister of Finance, whom some aggrieved shareholders of Oando PLC accused of working against the process to audit the financial records of the oil and gas firm.

On Sunday, the National President, Trusted Shareholders Association of Nigeria (TSAN), Mukhtar, and the National Coordinator, Proactive Shareholders Association (PROSAN), Taiwo Oderinde, in a joint statement, accused the minister of "desperate attempts to shield Oando from probe."

They called on President Muhammadu Buhari to order her immediate sack for causing the suspension of the former director-general of SEC, Mounir Gwarzo, and removal of Mr Zubair.

"We demand the immediate sack of the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, for her unwholesome interference in the smooth operation of the capital market.

"We believe the minister is clearly working to protect her friends in Oando Plc from the impending embarrassment that findings from the forensic audit may cause them," the shareholders said.

The minister has since denied any wrongdoing.

Oluyinka Akintunde, her spokesperson, dismissed the allegations as untrue and an attempt to tarnish her image.

"The allegations are absolutely untrue. The minister's accusers are bringing sentiments that do not have any bearing with the matter at hand just to tarnish her image. The minister has not interfered in the operations of any agency under the Ministry of finance, including SEC," Mr Akindunde said.

The recent crisis was triggered by the controversial directives issued by SEC to the Nigeria Stock Exchange (NSE) on shares of Oando.

The SEC directed the NSE to lift the suspension on Oando shares, reversed the directive, then reversed itself again. The suspension has since been lifted following the last directive.

A presidency source told PREMIUM TIMES the federal government was thoroughly embarrassed into making immediate changes.

The source who requested not to be named as he was not permitted to speak officially on the matter, said the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, intervened by summoning an emergency meeting of all the officials involved in the Oando saga.

Those summoned to the meeting on Friday at the Presidential Villa included Mrs Adeosun and the NSE DG, Oscar Onyema, who flew in from Lagos, and Mr Zubair.

During the meeting, the source said Mr Zubair denied any knowledge of the April 9 letter from SEC directing the NSE to immediately lift the suspension on Oando shares and allow trading to resume the following day.

He blamed the letter on a deputy director in SEC he did not name.

Although SEC's management later tried to explain the circumstances that led to the confusion and offered an apology, the damage appeared to have been done already.

The commission said the decision to lift the suspension on the company's shares was usually a short term measure in accordance with normal practice to protect investors' interests.

However, it noted the suspension order was prolonged beyond the normal period due to several litigations by Oando and some shareholders contesting the propriety of the forensic audit and technical suspension ordered by SEC.

The source said the presidency felt the development not only exposed the country to global ridicule, but constituted an embarrassment in the eyes of the international community.

At the end of the meeting, the source said, the decision was taken to immediately effect reorganisation at the SEC, to help regain some trust and confidence.

"With reports of infiltration of the top hierarchy of SEC by agents of those against the forensic audit, not knowing who issued a letter as important as one directing the NSE to lift the suspension on Oando shares was enough justification for the changes to be effected," the source said.

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