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SEC DG: Much ado about eligibility!

By on May 7, 2012

As I listened to Mr. Sunny Nwosu, the leader of the Independent Shareholders Association (ISA) while he delivered his submission to the Ad Hoc Committee on the Nigerian Capital Market, I shuddered in utter disappointment and disbelief at the calumny he was mouthing. Knowing all that he knows about the Nigerian capital market, its players, the performance of its past regulators and the recent cataclysmic downturn of the Nigerian capital market, one would half expect that a man who has invested the last two decades of his life supposedly championing the cause of investors should recognize that investors are disinterested in regulator pedigree but desirous of effective performance of oversight functions and the market’s resurgence.

While I agree that all public officers must be eligible and qualified for office and Government’s compliance with the established precepts in the appointment of public officers is necessary, I am perturbed by the deliberate misrepresentation to which the provisions of the ISA 2007 have been subjected in order to establish her ineligibility for the office of DG SEC. So what is the position of the extant law governing appointment of the DG SEC? One might ask. The relevant section of the ISA, Section 3 (2) (a) of ISA 2007 states that “A person shall not be qualified for appointment to the Board of the Commission unless he is a fit and proper person and; (a) in the case of the Chairman or Director-General of the Commission, he is a holder of a university degree or its equivalent with not less than 15 years cognate experience in capital market operations”.

Can the law be any less unambiguous or are the words subject to other lofty determinations beyond the realm of the substantive? Indeed, I am intrigued by the deluge of spurious interpretations emanating from this simple provision given that Oteh more than satisfies the conditions mentioned therein.
Contrary to Mr. Boniface Okezie’s arrogant display of ignorance during his submission on 18th April 2012, there is no provision in the ISA which states that the individual so appointed as DG must be a Stockbroker neither does the ISA support Mr. Nwosu’s inference that such an individual must be a capital market operator.

I dare say both pronouncements are completely unfounded and are at best the needless banters of the uninformed. Just to enlighten our “most distinguished” leaders of the investors’ associations, the word “cognate” is a synonym for words such as “related”; “similar” and “associated”. On this ground, I submit that the “related” experience Oteh garnered over 22years spanning her illustrious career while at the Africa Development Bank and Centre Point Securities satisfies the condition relating to cognate experience.

This is aside from the fact that she graduated with first class honours in Computer Science from the University of Nigerian Nsukka in 1984; Ms. Oteh also wields an MBA from the prestigious Harvard Business School thereby satisfying the second condition for eligibility. More so, I get an unsavory sense that Mr. Nwosu is remotely suggesting that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria made an error of judgment in appointing Oteh or even worse, that the distinguished Senate of the Federal Republic lack both the mental and intellectual capacity to interpret salient provisions of statutes as it relates to appointment of public office holders. Can this be true?

The presidents of these shareholders associations, if unaware should be informed that their constituents’ interests have shifted from the qualification of the regulator to the quality of regulation. After all, wasn’t it under the watch of an “eminently qualified” former DG of SEC that the capital market plummeted consuming over N8.6trillion worth of investor confidence along with it? Did the fact that the former DG had had over 20 years “cognate” experience shield investors against the price manipulations through pump and dump and own share purchase which created the underpinning structures for the huge pecuniary losses suffered by innocent investors. I beg to defer! So I ask the question; why the ferocious attack against the person of the “unqualified” woman who has been making some effort to salvage the ailing market? Hmmm, one wonders?

I do not know which group of investors Mr. Nwosu represents. However, if he truly represents the interest of people who lost their widow’s mite in the market crash between 2007 and 2009 and not the paymasters who profited thereby; then he should focus less on advancing baseless arguments void of logic. But for the uncanny passion which characterized his delivery of mendacity and near naïve postulations on the market’s fortunes, one could almost presume that the vociferous Mr. Nwosu was reading a poorly crafted script.

Unbeknownst to him and his cohorts, any Nigerian, qualified or not, who has the audacity to dismantle the hegemony to which the market had been subjected by the former management of the Nigerian Stock Exchange; develop structures to bolster the Nigerian capital market and reinforces regulatory and market fundamentals against the reckless and creative manipulations of profit seeking operators, is the peoples’ hero (or heroine in this case). Little wonder she received unfettered support from the investing public when it was apparent that the botched public hearing was an attack on personality and not an attempt to address cogent market issues.

It is on record that at no time in the history of the Nigerian Capital market did you have a phenomenal number of operators facing legal actions for impropriety at the instance of a regulator than under Oteh’s watch. In an unprecedented show of bravado, the SEC under Oteh’s leadership instituted legal actions against 260 individuals and entities that were alleged of improper conducts in the market in 2010. This was done to secure restitution for malfeasance against investors and restore confidence in the regulator’s enforcement machinery.

In my estimation, any public officer, man or woman, who has performed as credibly as Oteh in spite of the odds, deserves deification and not vilification. Given that Mr. Nwosu and his cohorts may have some difficulty interpreting elevated register, I believe in regular parlance, the “deification” reference speaks to the act of “praising” while “vilification” alludes to “insults”.
Mr. Nwosu and all his cohorts should know that the average distraught investor whose life’s saving have been completely wiped out are uninterested in debates over qualification, eligibility and culpability. It is too late for that now.

If I am to speak for those of us who believed we were taking calculated risks and investing with measured prudence, I would say we simply want our moneys back or that the people who stole our hard earned moneys be brought to book. I have no grudge against the current leadership of the Nigerian Capital market because I believe, given the testimonies of expert witnesses who have spoken time and time again at this hearing, that the leadership is committed to change and has indeed been making efforts to sanitize the market. Can Oteh deliver a world class capital market like she has been advocating? Only time will tell. Is she the capital market messiah we have been waiting for? I don’t know. But even if she isn’t, I believe Oteh has the makings of the forerunner to the Messiah. She will lead the way.

By Mswala Bothe , Capital Market Activist