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Promoting Good Governance.

The national assembly as roadblock to anti-corruption

By Tajudeen Suleiman

I have never been a fan of legislative hearing in Nigeria. And this is not because such hearings are useless. Far from it; legislative hearings are actually good in exposing corruption and official wrong-doings, and could help a patriotic legislature draft bills to enhance good governance.

One recalls the hearing organized last year by a senate adhoc committee to investigate use of funds for the rebuilding of the North East. The committee, chaired by Shehu Sani, unearthed how a company owned by the former Secretary to the Federal Government, Babachir Lawal, was awarded contracts by a federal government committee of which he was a key member. The public hearing eventually forced the presidency to suspend, and later sack, him.

I also recall a public hearing organized by a committee in the sixth senate to probe the privatization of public assets by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The committee led by Ahmed Lawan (now majority leader) took over the front papers of the national dailies for weeks. The committee exposed how government officials willfully mismanaged the privatization process for personal benefits.

One can make reference to one or two more instances since 1999 when a national assembly committee conducted investigative hearings that exposed official corruption.

But the public hearing being conducted by the House of Representatives on the suspension of Mounir Gwarzo as Director General of the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) by the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, is far from the class of committee hearings that can be described as patriotic or even in the line of legislative duty. I watched in shock as members of the Capital Market and Institutions Committee of the House grilled the minister and senior staff of SEC on live television on the legality of the suspension of Gwarzo last Tuesday.

The hearing followed the suspension of Gwarzo as DG of SEC and his claim that he was victimized by Adeosun because he took disciplinary actions on some companies linked to her.

The hearing that was on live television on Tuesday was to say the least, appalling. For an administration that came to power on the promise to fight corruption, it is unfathomable that a legislature it controls is questioning a minister for suspending a government appointee after documentary evidence appeared to link him with abuse of office.

Anyone who watched the hearing and listened to the legislators ‘interrogate’ the minister and the Director of Legal Services of SEC on the legality of Gwarzo’s sack must come to the conclusion that the legislators had a premeditated agenda. It was clear from the tone and contents of the questions asked that the committee had sided with Gwarzo, and that the intention of the hearing was to intimidate the minister into reversing the suspension and preventing Gwarzo’s sack.

First, if Gwarzo thinks his suspension was illegal- and he is not a lawyer- he should have gone to court. More shocking is the fact that the members of the committee did not appear to have done any research or sought expert advice before conducting the hearing. They did not ask questions based on any position of knowledge. They looked and sounded as ignorant as any layman on the issues they were probing. And that was why when the Director of Legal Services of SEC, Christopher Gabriel, justified the minister’s actions, the members didn’t have any coherent response.

Adeosun’s explanations for her action ought to have embarrassed the legislators because from all she said, the suspension was the most reasonable option to take. Adeosun stated that Gwarzo remained a director of a company and was still signing cheques on behalf of the company as DG of SEC against public service rules! Not only that, Gwarzo also allegedly gave contracts to his wife’s company!

Even though Gwarzo claimed that he had resigned as director of the company, Adeosun said documents from Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and banks put a lie to his claim.

It is shameful that instead of Gwarzo, it was Adeosun and other SEC top officials that were put on the spot by the legislators; they were the ones being pressured to justify their action. Members of the committee led by its chairman, Tajudeen Yusuf, behaved as if they were commissioned to protect Gwarzo.

How can the House of Representatives, which claims to be supporting the Muhammadu Buhari administration in its fight against corruption, waste public funds by allowing this kind of hearing in a sector that is hyper-sensitive to corruption? Do legislators ever know where to draw the line? Do they have any understanding of governance issues?

This was the suggestion of Adeosun when she said in her introductory remarks that it was unfortunate that the matter was brought for public legislative hearing. If the legislators meant well for the capital market and the country, and they genuinely wanted a positive intervention, they could have done this quietly without the drama of a public hearing.

The attempt by the legislators to link Gwarzo’s suspension to his action against a company Adeosun owns some shares is pathetic and cheap. It portrays some of our legislators as intellectually shallow and unpatriotic. The reasons for Gwarzo’s suspension were stated in the letter he got. Neither Gwarzo nor the legislators brought out any information that disputes the reasons for his suspension.

So what is more important for the legislators is the suspension of Gwarzo and not the integrity of the capital market regulator? Is there a law or an act of parliament that forbids a serving minister from owning shares in a company? What is the purpose of asking the minister during the hearing to name the companies where she had friends or own shares if not to find other reasons for Gwarzo’s suspension that could nail the minister?

The chairman of the committee also had a prick of conscience when he said at the close of hearing that they were not on witch-hunt. But this was exactly the impression members of the committee gave of their mission. More than this, they also gave the impression that the national assembly had become a roadblock for anti-corruption.

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