“Oteh faces severe challenges. It is coming from very influential, powerful individuals. It is a patronage-intensive society and their influence extends well into government.”
That was how a Nigerian economist in 2010 summed up the challenges ahead of the newly appointed Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, Ms Arunmah Oteh, few months after she was appointed in a story by BBC’s Caroline Duffield.
Today, it’s difficult not to see that quote as prophetic. In a rare commendable feat in this clime, the National Assembly had passed the year 2013 budget before the end of last year. It was one of the few occasions that National Assembly lived up to their promise. But then, the Assembly fouled the air with a bitter vendetta against a hapless woman by refusing to appropriate any fund for the Security and Exchange Commission.
Following a public hearing on the capital market, the National Assembly had demanded that Oteh be relieved of her post at the SEC, a position President Goodluck Jonathan had respectfully disagreed with. It was not the call of duty of the legislature to dictate whom the executive employs or sacks, even though their right to pass resolutions against any public official is not in doubt.
They should have done a better job at the state of confirmation of appointment, not after. If anybody is in doubt that the National Assembly intended vendetta or blackmail, the doubt was removed by a unique, perhaps unprecedented clause inserted in the appropriation bill passed by the Assembly which totally freezes out fund from SEC.
The satanic clause states: “All revenues, howsoever described, including all fees received, fines, grants, budgetary provisions and all internally and externally generated revenues, shall not be spent by the Securities and Exchange Commission for recurrent or capital purposes or for any other matters or liabilities there from incurred, except with prior Appropriation and Approval by the National Assembly.” Meanwhile, the National Assembly had refused to admit Oteh to defend SEC’s budget like other government agencies. So we are reducing the matter to a personal quarrel between the National Assembly of Nigeria and a woman! A Nigerian citizen just like the legislators! Perhaps, Oteh’s problems started from the beginning.
Oteh had tried valiantly to reform the apex supervisory body, SEC, which had been so supine while the Nigerian capital market was raped by corporate buccaneers. In the face of such roguery, the Nigeria Stock Exchange, that had either been complicit in the multiple scams or afflicted with severe corporate governance issues, had not done much to protect the investors’ interest. Oteh’s first battle seems to be sacking the powerful DG of the exchange, a corporate Amazon in her own right who, in any case, was on her way out on retirement. Perhaps, Oteh should have allowed her to go quietly since she was due to go in a matter of months. But we might not be fully privy to her motive and reason for sacking Professor Ndy Okereke-Onyiuke, so we weigh the benefit of doubts in her favour until proved otherwise. Oteh’s sundry efforts at reforms ultimately put her at odds with her executive management. In regime of change, this is normally, hardly surprising. Who wants change, anyway? Well, certainly, not in a government parastatals that had been used to business as usual for so long. When the change is driven by a young, brash, strong-willed woman from outside the system, Oteh’s sins were compounded and a clash inevitable.
In the labyrinth of bureaucratic allays, there were bound to be banana peels carefully set up by her in-house foes, and Oteh seems to have slipped under some of them. One instance of such slippery traps was that she was accused of outsourcing a couple of part-time staff from Access Bank, one of the numerous companies under the regulatory purview of SEC. A mortal sin? Hardly.
But, an infraction, if that is one, is as big as those who want your head on a silver platter wants to make it. In the eyes of the National Assembly, this is one of the capital offences for which Oteh must be sacked! Yes, sacked—the last resort in administrative measures which is usually compared with capital punishment in judicial proceedings.
Ah, yes, lest I forget, the National Assembly listed some other infractions: that she was not in good terms with some members of the executive management, meaning, those rebellious and ambitious directors who staged a coup against her at the public hearing in the manner of Brutus and Julius Caeser; that there were questions about her qualification for the job in the first place, despite earning a first class degree in computer science from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; an MBA from Harvard plus being a Vice President African Development Bank, where she was headhunted from, after a long career that saw her loaded with cross-functional financial and capital market experience!
Perhaps, those who question her qualification for the job must have been educated at the universities located in Mars and would come to the job with far better experience other than those accumulated in internal bureaucratic manipulations! May God deliver us from persecutors who turn our achievements into ashes. But, of course, Oteh, must have her shortcomings. She must have been brash, broken some useless and archaic rules that had kept our society in the Dark Ages all these years and violated the orthodoxy.
If the truth were to be told, it seems that the real offence of this woman is her fall out with the chairman of the House Committee on Capital Market, Hon. Herman Hembe, whom she accused of demanding a total of N44 million from SEC, to fund the public hearing and collecting a business class ticket and estacode for a conference in Dominican Republic, which he never attended nor refunded the money. Oteh’s allegations forced the resignation of Hembe, the constitution of a new public hearing team which resolved that Oteh should be sacked. But asking for her head leaves a tale of a witch crying in the night and a child dying in the morning—any doubt about the killer?
President Jonathan is not only bound to ignore such churlish petulance of the legislators, the problem with bullies whether legislators, kidnappers, blackmailers or Boko Harams is that once you cave in to bullies, you empower them for the future.
But there is also a unique angle to this Oteh matter—the gender angle. From Nasir el Rufai to Lamido Sanusi, the National Assembly never foreclosed their budget. So, why is Oteh’s case different? Perhaps, gender bias?
The only thing the Nigerian alpha male hates more than plague is the prospect of a strong woman poking fingers in their face. In civilized settings, every man vows that they don’t mind intelligent woman competing equally with the male folk, after all, what a man can do, a woman at least can also do. But in reality, it is just a mask we wear to save face, to look contemporary and civilized.
Behind the scene, it seems men just don’t like strong women. The woman of our popular imagination, educated or not, is the cowering, subservient, beautiful creature below the sheet, who looks up to her superman—husband, lover or customer—with simple gratitude in her eyes. It is difficult to see the implacable stance of the National Assembly in their conflict with the executive over their demand for the sack of Ms Arunmah Oteh beyond the psychoanalytical dimension.
Starving SEC of fund is an unprecedented measure that would deny salaries to thousands of workers and rob even more thousands of their dependents of food, school fees and medicals. And our National Assembly is ready to descend to such an ego trip just to tame the sharp tongue of a bullish woman? Na wao!!!