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BRIBERY ALLEGATION: REPS, SEC DRAW FRESH BATTLE LINE

By NBF News
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BY BEN AGANDE, INALEGWU SHAIBU & MICHAEL EBOH
ABUJA- The Herman Hembe led Committee on Capital Market and other Institutions which was accused by the Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Ms Arunmah Oteh of demanding bribe from the Commission, yesterday disqualified itself from further probe of Nigeria's Capital Market collapse.

Chairman of Committee, Mr. Hembe who announced that he was disqualifying himself from further probe of the Capital Market however insisted on his innocence and also requested that the entire committee be withdrawn from further conducting the public hearing.

And in a swift reaction, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Aminu Tambuwal announced the constitution of an Ad-Hoc committee to carry on with the probe, afresh while also directing the Ethics and Privilege Committee under the chairmanship of the Minority Whip, Mr Samson Osagie to investigate the allegations against Hembe and report to the House within 14 days.

Hembe who raised a point of Order under personal explanation recalled that the committee 'in the course of carrying out its duties, the Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission rather than answering questions on serious matters put to her chose to proceed on a voyage of false allegation against my person and went ahead to declare the whole House committee as a 'Kangaroo Court'.

Oteh and Hembe
'I stand before you this morning to reaffirm my innocence, regarding the allegations made against me by the Director General of SEC. I want to be on record that I demanded no bribes and took no bribes; rather I fought hard and rebuffed efforts to be inappropriately influenced.

'In my innocence however, I am aware of the impact of this false allegation on public perception and as a legal practitioner, I am conversant with the principles of law that in the exercise of judicial or quasi-judicial functions, it becomes inappropriate to continue to preside when allegations bordering on pecuniary interest are made against your person.

Hembe disqualifies self
'Consequently, Mr Speaker, my dear colleagues, I hereby wish to disqualify myself and request the House to withdraw the entire committee from further conducting the investigative hearing.  I remain persuaded that however that the resolution of this Honourable House to investigate the Nigerian Capital Market remains most honourable and timely and should be carried to its logical conclusion' he affirmed.

To buttress the allegations that attempts were made by the SEC to influence the committee, three internal memos from the commission indicated that the idea of giving money to the committee was an internal decision of the commission.

In one of the Memos dated March 1, 2012, signed by Hassan Mamman and addressed to the Director General of the Commission, the officer suggested that 'in view of the commission's role as the apex regulator of the Nigerian Capital market and in consideration of the existing cordial relationship cultivated over the years between it and the House of Representatives committee on Capital Market, we find it appropriate for the Management to assist the committee by co-sponsoring this three weeks long event' to which the DG of SEC minuted it was an 'excellent idea'.

In another memo dated 9th March, 2012, it was suggested that management should approve the sum of N30million in support of the Committee while in yet another memo signed by the Secretary to the commission, E.K. Aigbekaen, the sum of N30million was approved by the board as 'donation' to the committee.

Following the withdrawal of Hembe from heading the committee, the Chief Whip of the House, Mr Isiaku Bawa in a motion called for the setting up of an Ad-Hoc committee to continue the investigation while the ethics and Privileges committee would investigate allegations against Mr Hembe.

We 'll continue to fight  corruption - Speaker
In a speech after the withdrawal of Hembe, the Speaker noted that ordeal of Hembe and the committee is a challenge that is  'necessary for the strengthening  of our democratic institutions.

'let me thank the Chairman of the House Committee on Capital Market, Honourable Herman Hembe and the entire members of the Committee for their courage in voluntarily withdrawing from this investigative hearing. It is not a popular propensity of public officers in our clime, but it is in line with our legislative agenda of transparency in the conduct of government business'.

He said 'an investigation into government agencies and departments by the legislature is no doubt a responsibility which is hazard prone. However, as I have stated elsewhere, these hazards notwithstanding, it is a duty from which we can not and must not abdicate.

'Let me assure Nigerians once again that we are totally committed to the fight against corruption and shall deploy all energies available at our disposal to fight this war. The old saying that 'when the going gets tough, the tough gets going will continue to be our guide. I also wish to assure Nigerians that in fighting this war we recognize that we must, like Caesar's wife be above board and suspicion.

'My dear Colleagues, we were not elected to lie on a bed of roses. Those who elected us expect that we represent their yearnings and aspirations. Nigerians have chosen presidential democracy as a bulwark against dictatorship, against corruption and waste and above all against executive recklessness, this is the duty to which we have been called and we have sworn to promote, protect and preserve the will of the people enshrined in the Constitution.

'Pursuant to this resolve, the ad-hoc Committee just constituted will commence the investigative hearing based on the earlier resolution of the House de novo and for the benefit of Nigeria and Nigerians. To avoid role conflict and in order to ensure fair hearing for all, the Chairman of the Ethics Committee who happens to be a member of the Committee on Capital Market is hereby excused from the position for the purposes of the present investigation. Similarly, the Deputy Chairman of the Ethics Committee who is now a member of the ad-hoc Committee is also excused, from the ethics Committee, for the purposes of the ethics investigation'. He then named an  eight-man adhoc committee to conduct the probe afresh.

Members of the committee which will be chaired by Mr Ibrahim Tukur El-Sudi include Yakubu Dogara;  Abimbola Daramola; Buba Jibril, Ini Udoka; Tobi Okechukwu and Usman Adamu and .Rose Okoh

No financial overtures made to Hembe by Oteh,others -SEC

Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission has denied that its DG or any staff of the commission ever made any financial overtures to the Committee chairman, Mr Hembe. A statement signed by the commission's spokesman, Obi Adindu said it welcomes the timely action of the House of Representatives under the leadership of Rt. Hon. Aminu Tambuwal in creating the Adhoc Committee to preside over the Public Hearing on the Nigerian Capital Market.

According to the statement, 'there is no doubt that the action of the House aligns with our position and the view widely held by most Nigerians that the Hearing had deviated from the course set for it by the House and degenerated instead to a hostile attack on the Securities and Exchange Commission, and its Director General, Ms. Arunma Oteh.

'We note the allegation made by Hon. Hembe on the floor of the House and on live television that it was Ms. Oteh who made financial overtures to him. We wish to state unequivocally that at no time and in no place did the SEC, Ms. Oteh offer Hon. Hembe any financial inducement.

Despite Hon. Hembe's claims even as he said he had copies of internal memos which he purportedly obtained from the SEC, however Ms. Oteh did not issue or cause to be issued any correspondence to Hon. Hembe which offered him financial gratification.

'We confirm that the SEC received a document in respect of the public hearing with a list of items with cost implications totaling N39,844,490.00.

'The correspondences which the Director General sent to Hon. Hembe comprised a letter dated 5th March 2012 which expressed her support for the Public Hearing in line with the SEC's role as the apex regulator of the Nigerian capital markets and a cover letter for SEC's submissions to the Public Hearing dated 12th March 2012. She had hoped that the Hearing would offer a platform for an objective examination of the market with a view to identifying the factors militating against its full recovery. She had expected that the outcome of the Hearing would facilitate realization of the SEC's vision of a world class capital market that constitutes the engine room for our country's rapid socio economic growth and development'.

The commission further said 'it is sad that a genuine act of support to the process of fair and transparent review of our capital market has been twisted into something reprehensible. We totally disagree with the claim that we tried to financially induce or influence Hon. Hembe or anyone else. It goes against everything that the Director General stands for and has been known for, internationally and locally, by those who have known her in her professional career of over 25 years.

'We are grateful to the House of Representatives for this intervention which we believe will strengthen the Nigerian capital markets and enable it contribute to the realization of the economic aspirations of the Nigerian people'.

Bribery allegations will not stop us from probes -Senate

In a related development, the Senate has said the allegations of bribery levelled against the chairman of House Representatives Committee on the Capital Market, Herman Hembe by the Director General of the Security and Exchange Commission, Ms. Aruma Oteh, will not stop it from probing government ministries, departments and agencies.

Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Enyinnaya Abaribe at briefing in Abuja told newsmen that the Senate was concerned by the allegations, but it would however continue to expose corruption to ensure good governance.

He said, 'We are certainly concerned about the allegations. When any allegation is made against the committees of the National Assembly, we will certainly be concerned.

'But we expect that the Ethics Committee of the legislature would be able to handle that as part of our internal mechanism at dealing with such issues.

'Of course I understand that the committee has on its own removed itself from that investigation. That is as it should be. There is an adage that anybody who desires equity must come to equity with clean hands and when there is any perception that you are not going there with clean hands of course you will have to remove yourself from it and then let the process continue.

'We think that the matter is being given the appropriate attention as it ought to be in the House of Representatives.'

Abaribe added that the Senate has the mandate of Nigerians to probe any case of corruption when the need arises, maintaining that it was not a failure on the part of Senate that most of the probe reports have not been implemented.

According to him, the executive should be held responsible that most of the reports on probes by the National Assembly have not been implemented.

He said: 'The question should actually be channeled to the executive, why resolutions arising from public hearings have not been implemented. We have a mandate and that is to expose corruption.

'When we have concluded our work, we expect the executive to take it up from there.'