Opinion: Why Arunma Oteh needs to go … NOW

 by Garba Shehu

An Indian friend once recounted a story about a former president of the United States of America, Calvin Coolidge. President Coolidge had a reputation not just for word economy, but also many without an intimate knowledge of Coolidge had mistaken him as a common citizen because he had neither the airs nor the carriage nor “personality” of a president. Once, a tourist went up to him as he watered the gardens of the White House and asked, “Who lives in this grand building?”. Coolidge looked up at the tourist and replied, “No one. They just came and go.”

The moral of this story is that the office of the president and many of the public services of nations are not permanent. Incumbents come and go, making way for new occupants but the office remains.

Usually, problems arise where the occupant of a public office assumes that the permanence of the office is his or her own. This assumption accounts for why some public officers go on to commit atrocities in the mistaken belief that there will be no end to their tenure or that someday, there won’t be another person to assume that office to look into what he or she had done.

A president’s office or any political office has an in-built revolving door so that there will be entry and exit. In line with this historical reality, no matter the arrogance of Edwin Clark, Asari Dokubo and the other band of men behaving like the new day colonisers of Nigeria, the day will come when the current occupant of the Presidential Villa will exit the place for another man or woman to enter. The Aso Rock Villa, just like the Élysée Palace which President Sarkozy has just vacated in France, is fitted with a revolving door to facilitate exit and entry.

Professor Okereke-Onyuike the former Director-General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) and Dr. Arunma Oteh, the current Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) may never have thought that the day would come when their linens would be washed in the public. But as the House of Reps’ public hearing on the collapse of the Nigerian Stock Market makes progress, the Hulk Hogan-like wrestling match these powerful women have engaged in has clearly become the most interesting spectacle in the country today.

I think Oteh laid the first accusation, to the effect that the NSE, under Okereke-Onyuike, had lent itself to financial skimming, misappropriation, and false accounting. The NSE, it was alleged bought a yacht at the price of N37million and wrote the book value at one year. The Stock Exchange was also alleged have paid for 165 Rolex Watches at the price of N186million but that of this order, only 73 watches were supplied. Ninety-two watches valued N99.5 million are still to be supplied.

When she appeared before the panel, Okereke-Onyuike dismissed those charges as irrelevant and trivial. In any case, she boasted, “We are a private company with a right to generate money and spend it as we wish.” Really? This is acting like the man who defecates in front of his building and says to Abuja Environmental Protection Board “What is your business? This is my house”. This sets one wondering about the role of corporate greed in the collapse, or near collapse of the world’s many economies, including the United States of America. A landmark legislation rammed through the American Congress is to precisely punish corporations for lavishness in rewarding corporate executives.*

When they asked her about the explicit evidence of conflict of interest in her assumptions of the chairmanship of the no-less dubious conglomerate, the Transcorp Plc at the same time she was the Director-General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Professor Okereke-Onyuike did not see anything wrong with what she did. In the NSE, the hat of the stock trader or a market player and that of an umpire are as distinct as apples and oranges but Okereke-Onyuike wore both.

It sounded funny that it was the former president, General Olusegun Obasanjo that forced her to become the Chairman of Transcorp. My question to her is this: Did Obasanjo procure her from the slave market that she cannot decline his bid for wrong-doing? Couldn’t she say, “No, Mr. President?”

As for the SEC under Oteh, this place is clearly yet another honey pot. Since the commencement of this probe, Oteh, her cheerleaders and those opposed to her have regaled Nigerians with details of gaudy games at the SEC, which come to nothing short of a celebration of impunity, wealth, power, greed, and affluence.

Oteh’s hotel and restaurant bills are not only outrageous and insensitive; she combines this with the occupation of company-funded accommodation. She runs the place solo.** She unilaterally hired contract staff and sidelines the executive management in decision-making. There have been eyebrows raised concerning the reported cases of two special assistants she hired from the Access Bank. They help her to run her office and they carried on without acknowledging obvious conflict of interest. When she was asked an important conflict-of-interest situation from the fact that her office was run with support from Access Bank; and also the fact that Access Bank directors jointly owed the defunct Intercontinental Bank a whopping sum of Sixteen Billion (16Bn) and she (Oteh) at the SEC okayed the sale of the creditor-bank to the debtors, Oteh clearly came blank. She could not come across as to why this had happened. Instead, she carried on as if she had done a favour to the public by allowing the sale of Intercontinental Bank to Access Bank under a cloud.

Testimonies by Okereke-Onyuike and Oteh before the House Committee mark the new heights of decadence in the country’s public trust scheme. Both they also clearly demonstrated contempt for convention and procedural scruples. Of course, Nigerians are familiar with incidences like these, which have become a normal, everyday occurrence. The difference Oteh and Okereke-Onyuike make is that they have chosen to defend conflict of interest, fraud, cheating, and impunity explicitly and in full public view.

If Oteh and other officials of her category who breach public trust are left off lightly on such issues, it will give a good explanation for the culture of impunity that reigns in Nigeria. At the revolving door of the DGs office, the ‘To Let’ sign, which has been on the floor for upward of two years, appears set to go up.

As part of his economic reforms agenda, former President Obasanjo outsourced and headed-hunted professionals to lead these efforts to give the economy a shot in the arm. There is nothing wrong in bringing in technocrats to come and undo the damage being caused by the greed, selfishness, profligacy, corruption and disregard of the due process by the civil servants. Wastes have been too often associated with civil servants. Ironically however, with the current revelations and others before, Nigerians are now becoming ever skeptical of even the technocrats who are brought in to restore efficiency in the way the country is run. We have now seen the clay feet of these seemingly “indispensable” experts!

Culled from: Premium Times

 

Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.
* No legislature to “punish” corporations exists in America.
** The Director-General of SEC is not a sole administrator. SEC has a robust management team which reports to the board.

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