Matters Arising - Otey Or Hembe Gate? —Fola Lawal



The news has been washed with the happenings at the public hearing by the House of Representatives committee on Capital Markets. There have been allegations and counter allegations between the chairman of the dissolved Reps committee, Hembe and the DG of Securities and Exchange Commission, Ms Arumna Oteh on offering and demanding for bribes by the two parties in the imbroglio. This has raised public awareness and perception on the goings on in the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAS).

This particular case should not be taken in isolation unless we are missing the whole point and clearly trying to sweep serious symptoms of an ailment under the carpet. Of course the consequences might be disastrous as in case of most ailments when they finally blossomed.

This case has brought to the forefront how we manage our resources and our life as a nation and why things never seem to work despite the huge amount and resources being spent daily on getting things right. In essence, we are all paying lip service to whatever services we claim to offer the nation. In clear evidence, public and civil servants are there to serve themselves. The interest of the nation has always taken the last place.

This incident is not as simple as it seems, yet it has not been tackled seriously as it should. We should praise the efforts of the leadership of the House of Representatives in accepting without delay the dissolution of the committee concerned and the setting up of another committee to start afresh the public hearing. This is commendable.

What we have not witnessed is the happening on the other side, which is from the executive. The ministry in charge of the Securities and Exchange Commission or the board has not deemed it necessary to take any action or brief the public on the happenings. What we are only hearing are rantings from the management of the commission trying to rationalise the incident.

It is gladdening to hear that the rejuvenated EFCC has summoned the chairman of the public hearing to hear his side of the story. The SEC must be investigated also on the allegations brought against the Director General. Further, the outcome of the investigations must be made public within the shortest period for the public to have confidence in the ability of the new EFCC to handle matters appropriately.

This is the first litmus test for the new EFCC. The most important thing is probably not the dramatis personae in this issue but the re-examination of the way we do things, and why things will never work the way we do things. One would have expected that there would be a new regulation or pronouncement from the Presidency to all the MDAS on the issue of travelling, touring, lodging, feeding, ticketing, extraneous payments outside budgeting and so on. But there is a deafening silence as if the whole happening does not matter.

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We have heard more often that recurrent expenditures far outweigh the capital expenditures and that account for the reason there is no feasible development all over the country. From this little episode we can all clearly see where all the recurrent expenses are going. No private enterprise can go this way without being bankrupt. But we are not talking of a private enterprise here but a government organization. And we are told that is the way in which they are all run. Then we must be in deep trouble.

If we fix all our attention on the dramatis personae and not the issues involved then we might as well miss the whole point and be chasing shadow. The issues really involved are as follows; Is it right for a committee to seek any form of assistance from the body it seeks to conduct public hearing on? Is it right for any public body to give financial assistance to another government body in the performance of an official function? Is it right to spend huge amount of tax payers’ money on hotel services? How many cars should be attached to each cadre of public servant? What is the effect of monetisation policies on accommodation and transportation of senior public servants? How do we measure the performance of a public servant and what do we do if he/she fails to perform? At what point should EFFCC or ICPC move into a matter either in public domain or not. What should be the procedure if a public servant is involved in a corrupt matter and there is prima facie evidence? The questions are endless but these are all pointers.

People may argue that there are already rules governing all these foregoing questions. We should ask if rules are being followed or following the rules is an exception. What are the sanctions for not following the rules? Who is applying the sanction and who is monitoring those who are supposed to impose the sanction? Our system is wide and large and gives room to whims and caprices. We govern by rules of the thumb and dole out favours with tax payers’ money the way we want. I submit that there are no extant rules or if there are, they are not followed.

This issue again will lead to the current controversy on the appropriateness of spending money generated and not appropriated by some MDAS. Some MDAS claim they derive such power from the edicts establishing them to spend money without reverting to the National Assembly. Some are to forward their audited accounts to the National Assembly at the end of the financial year but they hardly do so. Things cannot definitely go on in such way and we expect sound performance.

We must therefore use the opportunity of the recent scandal to deeply look into the way we treat issues if we are to get moving as a nation and not necessarily concentrate on the dramatis personae and go back to sleep.

•Fola wrote from Lagos