FOR SOME TIME NOW THERE has been a 'Cold War' between the director-general of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Arunma Oteh, and the Federal House of Representatives.
Trouble started brewing after Oteh, a former vice president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), openly accused one of the lawmakers, Herman Hembe, of soliciting a bribe from the commission, at a public hearing on the activities of SEC in Abuja, the nation's capital, last year.
Hembe was the chairman of the committee on capital market set up to probe SEC over the near collapse of the Nigerian capital market in 2008. SEC regulates activities of the nation's capital market. Oteh made the revelation after facing rigorous grilling by Hembe, who questioned her competence to head the commission. This did not go down well with the legislators who were embarrassed at the accusation that eventually led to Hembe's removal as chairman of the committee. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Nigeria's anti-corruption watchdog, later charged Hembe to court to defend this allegation.
Having tried without success to remove Oteh from her position, the aggrieved lawmakers took the campaign a step further by withholding the statutory allocation due the Commission for the fiscal year 2013, ostensibly to starve SEC of funds and eventually force her to resign.
But she has so far refused to throw in the towel. She enjoys the support of President Goodluck Jonathan, who has resisted intense pressure from the lawmakers to remove her from office. The President appoints the director-general of the commission.
Jonathan had asked the legislators to reverse the zero allocation policy, warning that this could have a negative effect on the capital market. In a letter to the National Assembly, he said: "The 2013 Appropriation Act includes some clauses which may be injurious to the spirit of separation of powers and which could hamper the work of the executive arm of government. I, therefore, request that these should be reviewed." The president also asked the legislators to amend section to of the 2013 Budget which read inter alia; 'All revenue however described, including all fees, fines, grants, budgetary provisions and all internally generated revenue shall not be spent by the Securities and Exchange Commission for recurrent or capital purposes or for any other matters, nor liabilities thereon incurred except with prior appropriation and approval by the National Assembly.' Jonathan added: "The import of clause 10 is tantamount to shutting down the business of the Commission with a potential negative impact on the capital market."
But the lawmakers have stuck to their guns. In a chat with journalists after passage of the budget last December, House spokesman, Zakari Mohammed said the House will not rescind its decision until Oteh quits her job.
Mohammed said: "The Senate is with us on this matter; Oteh must go as far as we are concerned. If she doesn't go, we won't touch the budget. We still maintain that stand; it has not changed. As far as we are concerned, as an institution, we won't have any dealings with them."
Analysts, who reviewed the situation believe the lawmakers erred by denying the commission its budgetary allocation to blackmail Jonathan into bowing to their demand. Only the President, they point out, has the statutory responsibility of hiring and firing the director-general of the commission. Besides, they contend that it is morally wrong for the legislators to withhold the allocation of the regulatory body because of their spat with Oteh, noting that the workers of the commission are being made to suffer unnecessarily.
They recalled that the legislators also have a running battle with the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Lamido Sanusi, …