OTEHGATE: Shocking Example Of Government Corruption
Like many other Nigerians, I was partly distressed and partly overjoyed when I watched the exchange of words between the SEC boss, Aruma Oteh and Herman Hembe, Chairman for the House Committee on Capital Markets. Honourable Hembe playing the role of the righteous defender of the people tried to intimidate Mrs. Oteh with accusations of ‘overeating’ amongst other things. But Mrs. Oteh whom I have always admired for her direct way of addressing issues since assuming her role as the Boss of the SEC, replied with a drop kick and an upper cut to the Representative.
The actual problems of the Stock Market have taken back stage now. The two major issues being discussed are the food bill of Mrs. Oteh and the bribery allegations against Hon. Hembe. This drama has opened a can of worms but if we want to be sincere with ourselves that can was never really closed tightly. I don’t have any concrete facts but we all know that the accusations Mrs. Oteh leveled against the Honorable (or maybe not so honorable) Hembe is a common occurrence amongst many public office holders in Nigeria. Similar accusations have been leveled against other committees in the Senate and the House of Representatives in the past. We also know that these same public office holders spend incredible amounts of money in ensuring that they live like kings and queens while carrying out their service to the nation. I am not sure if Mrs. Oteh ever got the chance to explain why her bill for feeding in one day was so high, but I would love to hear her explain that one away.
This is why it is important that a System be created to check this rot before the foundations of our great Nation disintegrate and crumble. If there is no independent means of ensuring that money allocated to all these parastatals is used as it is meant to be used then we will keep having corrupt individuals enriching themselves at the expense of this poor country that cannot afford to subsidize fuel for its suffering citizens.
Assuming Mrs. Oteh had fallen for the temptation to have a stress free senate session and given the money to the Not-so-Honorable Hembe, how will this money have been accounted for in the record books? If the House Committee had never started an investigation, will the food bill of the SEC boss been ignored by whichever Auditing committee prepares their financial reports? It is just too easy to squander public money in Nigeria. In some cases, we cannot even accuse the public office holders of corruption because they enter into a system of unnecessary lavish spending and no one is going to complain if he is living a good life at the expense of the Government. At least I wouldn’t. I did part of my Youth Service in a Government establishment.
I was shocked when I was preparing the accounts and saw that about N500,000 had been allocated to the Boss from Abuja who was coming over to attend a wedding in the city where I served. I wondered why the Government had to pay for someone to attend a wedding. I wondered how on earth he was going to justify spending that amount of money in one weekend. I wondered whether anyone else had not seen this entry and why no one commented on it.
And last of all I wondered if I would be wondering so much if the money was being given to me. Everybody in the world has the tendency to be corrupt and if he knows that he will not be questioned or punished for misusing public funds then he will go ahead and do it with impunity. Most of these things cannot be really hidden and anyone who really wants to stop the corruption can do it. If the issues raised in the House last week had been raised in some more developed countries, heads would have been rolling by now. Some of the people involved would have resigned. In oriental countries like Japan, where honor means a lot, some might even have committed suicide.
So far we are only dealing with accusations so we cannot claim that anyone is guilty. However, I think it is imperative that EFCC swings into action. The Chairman of the committee should be suspended with immediate effect until he is able to clear his name. As Mrs. Oteh pointed out, there are already many people on the committee who were too close to the former DG of the SEC. Leaving Hon. Hembe there will make the whole thing a farce.
Mrs. Oteh also should be made to explain why so much was spent on food and drinks in one day. That amount of money could have been used to achieve so much and as far as I am concerned it’s a considerable waste. I don’t understand why an official residence cannot be acquired for someone who holds such an important position in the country. We cannot keep wasting our so called scarce resources in this way and expect people to understand when the Government claims it has no money to meet some of the basic needs of its citizens.