EFCC, ICPC wait in the wings
Hembe vows ‘to clear name’ in court
THE bribery scandal that has overshadowed on-going attempt by the House of Representatives to probe the Capital Market meltdown claimed its first set of casualties yesterday as the Lower Chamber of the National Assembly asked its Committee on Capital Market to step off the investigation, opting instead to set up an ad-hoc panel to do the job.
Also yesterday, Chairman of the House Committee on Capital Market, Herman Hembe, denied the bribery allegation levelled against his panel by Director-General, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Arunmah Oteh, and personally withdrew from the investigation.
Hembe also told his colleagues that he planned to go to court in order to clear his name over the bribery allegation.
Meanwhile, following the avalanche of allegations and indictments trailing the National Assembly probes of the capital market operations and the Pension Reforms Task Team, and citizens’ expectations to see all culpable individuals prosecuted on a raft of graft-related charges, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have said that they would rather wait for the probes to be concluded before they take any action.
Chairman, ICPC, Ekpo Nta, told The Guardian yesterday that it was only proper to wait for the lawmakers to finish up on the probes and make their reports available to the Commission in order not to avoid chasing shadows.
Acting spokesman of the EFCC, Wilson Uwajaren, who corroborated this stance, explained that the Commission would rather wait for the National Assembly’s reports on the ongoing probes and the one on petroleum subsidy before moving in to arrest those that might be indicted.
In a related development, the Senate has expressed its support for the Hembe-led committee’s removal from the Capital Market probe.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Media and Publicity, Eyinnaya Abaribe, said following Oteh’s allegations against the committee, standing the panel down on the probe was the right thing “so that an investigation could be carried out to ascertain the veracity or otherwise of the allegations.”
The House also directed its Committee on Ethics and Privileges to investigate the allegations that the Hembe-led Capital Market Committee demanded the sum of N44 million to fund the public hearing.
The Ethics Committee was asked to conclude its investigation within 14 days and submit its report to the House for appropriate decision.
Yesterday’s session of the House could not begin at the usual time of 10.00 a.m. Instead, the principal officers of the House only entered the chamber to begin the session at noon after two hours of anxious waiting by lawmakers.
The Guardian learnt that the meeting of the principal officers, which preceded the session, was stormy as they were divided on the matter of whether or not the Hembe-led panel should continue the Capital Market probe.
Those opposed to the panel’s sack were of the opinion that it might be a bad precedence for future House investigations as heads of government agencies might come up with such allegations to derail probes.
But most of the principal officers, including the Speaker, were said to have argued that it was only fair to sack the Hembe Committee in order to save the House reputation and retain public trust in it.
To provide soft-landing for Hembe and other members of his panel, it was resolved to give them an opportunity to withdraw from the investigation.
The eight-member ad-hoc committee, headed by Ibrahim El-Sudi, was given three weeks to conclude the investigation and report to the House. Other members of the ad-hoc committee are Toby Okechukwu, Yakubu Dogara, Bimbo Daramola, Ini Udoka, Buba Jibril, Usman Adamu Mohammed and Rose Okoh.
Speaker of the House, Aminu Tambuwal, said: “The ad-hoc committee just constituted will commence the investigative hearing based on the earlier resolution of the House de novo (afresh) and for the benefit of Nigeria and Nigerians.”
In asking the House Committee on Ethics to investigate the allegations made by Oteh, Tambuwal announced the immediate removal of the Ethics Committee chairman, Musa Gambo.
He said: “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.”
In withdrawing from the investigation, Hembe claimed that contrary to the allegation by Oteh, it was the SEC, which attempted to bribe the committee with N30 million, which Hembe said he resisted.
Brandishing a memo he allegedly got from SEC, Hembe said: “Mr. Speaker, my dear colleagues, I stand before you this morning to re-affirm 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. Rather, I fought hard and rebuffed efforts to be inappropriately influenced.”
Justifying his decision to step down from the investigation, Hembe declared: “I am aware of the impact of these false allegations on public perception and as a legal practitioner, I am conversant with the principle that in the exercise of judicial or quasi judicial functions, it becomes inappropriate to continue to preside when allegation bordering on pecuniary interest are made against your person.
“Consequently, I hereby wish to disqualify myself and request the House to withdraw the entire committee from further conducting the investigative hearing.
“I remain persuaded however that the resolution of the Honourable House to investigate the Nigerian Capital Market remains most honourable and timely and should be carried to its logical conclusion.”
The embattled Hembe also told his colleagues that he was going to the courts to seek redress on the Oteh bribery allegation, saying: “I still reserve the right and liberty to go to the court not only to obtain a judicial stamp of my innocence but to receive full compensation for the obvious damage these false and spurious allegations have caused me.”
The memo, which Hembe said he sourced from SEC, was initiated by one Hassan Mamman.
It stated that the issue of funding the House committee’s public hearing on the Capital Market was initiated by SEC.
The memo was dated March 1, 2012, read in part: “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.
“It is our considered opinion that doing this will be of immense benefit to the nation’s capital market by further creating a more conducive atmosphere to finding lasting solutions to the challenges facing the Nigerian Capital Market.”
However, the document made it clear that the Hembe-led committee accepted the suggestion to be so financially assisted and even forwarded its budget estimates for the investigative hearing to the SEC.
“The committee welcomed this development and accordingly forwarded a budget estimate for the public hearing.”
The memo further stated that a total amount of N30,418,000.00 was eventually suggested as financial aid to be given to the committee.
It stated: “In view of the above and the pursuance of the commission’s statutory responsibilities to the Nigerian Capital Market and in furtherance of our mutual relationship with the National Assembly as major stakeholders in the capital market, we hereby recommend the sponsorship of two of the items only from their budget as follows:
1. Live Coverage — N26,203.800; 2. Secretariat needs —N4,215,000; Total: N30,418,00.”
Although Hembe told his colleagues that Oteh approved the money to be given to the committee, Oteh’s minute on the memo read: “You may consider.”
Another minute of the SEC director-general on the memo read: “In order to cement our relationship with NA (National Assembly) and the fact that the public hearing will favour the progress of our capital market, recommend.”
Hembe’s decision to step down attracted applause from some of his colleagues on the floor of the House.
But Tambuwal stressed that the investigatory role of the National Assembly was a constitutional one, which it could not abandon.
His words: “The incidence of March 15, 2012 which forms the basis of the deliberations just concluded arose from an investigative hearing that was being conducted pursuant to a resolution of this House. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) in Sections 88 and 89 places upon the Legislature the duty and responsibility to conduct investigations into the activities of government for the purpose of exposing corruption, waste and inefficiency.
“This 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 cannot and must not abdicate.
“Let me assure Nigerians once again that we are totally committed to fighting 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 recognise that we must, like Caesar’s wife, be above board and suspicion. For the avoidance of doubt and the benefit of those who may be uninformed, all committees of the House have constitutional backing.”