POLITICAL METABOLISM: HEMBE'S GOOD FIGHT
By EMMANUEL AZIKEN
Only few persons have had the effrontery to raise the issue of corruption in the National Assembly as Ms Arummah Oteh, the Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC has done in the last few days. One man who also did so was Mallam Nasir El-Rufai.
In 2003 he caused no small stir after he accused two principal officers of the Senate of demanding N50 million bribe to confirm him as a minister.
After raising the bribery allegation against the duo, El-Rufai a year later, added insult to injury when he dismissed Senators as fools not worthy of a response!
I remember back then getting a funny feeling of disenchantment when I challenged a number of Senators to respond to the 'fools' depiction. Many of them after castigating El-Rufai for his intransigence and some mocking his diminutive stature still shied away from engaging the then minister head on. Why? I never knew at that time.
A reenactment of the El-Rufai phenomenon erupted in the House of Representatives last Thursday when Oteh pointedly told Rep. Herman Hembe, chairman of the House Committee on Capital Market that he is corrupt and not a fit and proper person to raise issues about her competence to preside over the capital market.
Rep. Herman Hembe & Ms. Arummah Oteh
The allegation stemmed from inferences the day before by Hembe that Oteh spent N850,000 on food in one day, N85,000 on another day and yet, accumulated N30 million in hotel expenses before acquiring a N62 million rented accommodation for two years.
The allegation of profligacy against chief executives of parastatals was indeed not strange. Many chief executives run the affairs of agencies with crass disregard to financial prudence. Indeed, Oteh's counterpart in the money market of the financial system, Mallam Sanusi Lamido has in his stride become the latest donatus in town.
The legislative arm of government which ordinarily should put a check to the infractions in the executive arm of government has, however, looked the other way and sometimes collaborated with the executive officers of government to undermine the public treasury. The relationship has often been in the form of stick and carrot.
In their first interface, legislative committees would often pledge recourse to the public good vowing that as representatives of the people that the legislators would ensure the best interest of the people.
However, the tone of the music would change subsequently as the chief executives woo the legislators with different sorts of carrot. The aim is for the legislators to close their eyes to the misdeeds of the parastatal for a share of the loot.
Whatever had been the relationship between Oteh and the House Committee on Capital Markets for now remains embedded in mystery. But what I have heard about her from at least one senior colleague who has dealt with her is that of a woman of impeccable financial character.
So, when Hembe took on Oteh, he perhaps may have gotten more than what he bargained for as the woman fired back on the alleged attempt to impugn her character.
Both parties have meanwhile sought to show themselves to be above blame. Hembe has reportedly produced a memo reportedly from the commission proposing to support public hearing.
SEC has on its part denied the allegation of spending N850,000 for meals on a single day explaining rather that about N85,000 was spent for meals for a visiting foreign delegation. The commission has also rebutted all the other allegations raised by the committee.
Hembe has taken the honourable path by disquaalifying his committee from the investigations and and may indeed win back that prized affix, Honourable to his name if the House committee on Ethics and Privileges finds him innocent under a publicized hearing.
The face-off between Hembe and Oteh is indeed a good omen for our country. For once, public officers who may otherwise have connived to undermine the public good are engaged in a battle of wits that could in a way help to boost accountability in high office.
It is remarkable that the events in the House of Representatives unfolded just as the first man to cap himself with the affix of an anti-corruption crusader died. The irrepressible Godwin Daboh, the country's first famed anti-corruption crusader passed on that same Thursday.
After his eventful battle of wits with Joseph Tarka in the seventies, Daboh transformed into a phenomenon of indescribable moral bearing that at his death, many newspapers heralded his passage as the death of a controversial anti-corruption crusader.
Certainly, that should not be the postscript to the Oteh-Hembe affair. There should be no controversy. Blame and sanctions should be appropriately meted without controversy and thus, it would have been a good fight for us all.