by Alexander O. Onukwue
Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, will answer to a House of Representatives on whether she suspended the Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mounir Gwarzo because he was a player or he refused to “play ball”.
According to the official account from the Minister in a petition, Mr Gwarzo and two others were suspended in November for alleged acts of financial misappropriation. A statement from the Finance Ministry’s Deputy Director of Information, Mrs Patricia Deworitshe explained that the suspension “was to allow unhindered investigation into several allegations of financial impropriety levelled against Gwarzo” according to Vanguard.
But there had been insinuations that Ms Adeosun may have called for the DG to step aside due to a disagreement between them in relation to the investigation of the circumstances behind Oando’s declaration of a loss of N183 billion. According to reports, Mr Gwarzo had insisted on conducting a forensic audit of Oando over allegations of irregularities in its practices. Gwarzo’s concern on the Oando accounts had bothered on the need to clarify the circumstances behind the rise in the company’s share prices on the stock exchange even as it was set to declare such a heavy loss.
Reports have it that the Finance Minister had taken the position of settling the matter without having to authorize an audit of the company. Her intention was to have a committee sit with the company and agree on a befitting punishment for its conduct. However, the SEC boss wanted to proceed with the audit, writing to the Minister that such an action “would definitely put to question the independence and integrity of the Commission, while also completely eroding the confidence of both local and international investors in the Nigerian capital market.”
It was Gwarzo’s opinion that shelving the forensic audit was “not in the best interest of our recovering economy”. However, to forgo undertaking the audit, the DG asked the Minister for “a written directive” because “every decision or directive of the Board to the management of the Commission is always documented to enable ease of implementing such directive.”
The House probe will aim to determine if it is merely coincidental that the corruption allegations on the basis of which Mr Gwarzo was suspended have been brought up at this time of the disagreement over how to proceed with Oando. Reports of Gwarzo’s collection of a N104 million severance package after his promotion to Director General had emerged in October. Reps will have to determine the nature of this payment and the initial directives of the Ministry when it learned about it. Did the Minister act on it as an illegality that needed to be addressed or did she save it as a skeleton to awaken if her favour was declined?
This will be the second time this year that Reps will have to deal with the issue of a Minister suspending the head of an agency after the case between Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole and the NHIS boss, Prof Usman Yusuf. That case has pretty much petered out without any conclusive note on whether Prof Yusuf stands guilty as accused or innocent.
SEC has announced that it will proceed with the audit of Oando even with Gwarzo suspended. A letter to the CEO of Oando was signed by Dr Abdul Zubair, the Acting Director-General of SEC, asking the embattled company to open its books to scrutiny. The Commission’s directive to the company acknowledged that an appeal had been filed to challenge a decision of the Federal High Court to nullify any obstacle to the audit but stated that the notice “does not serve as an Order of Court restraining the Commission from conducting the exercise”.
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