© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
DIARY: Hembe, Benue university ‘cultist’, Obasanjo’s ‘son’, brother of ‘4th most powerful Nigerian’
There is something perennially controversial about Herman Iorwase Hembe. You won’t find him in the news all the time; but whenever you do, it’s mostly for the wrong reasons. And whenever it is for the good reasons, they’re usually quickly overtaken by bad news. Let’s see a few examples.
YOUNG CHAIRMAN, BRIBERY ALLEGATION
Hembe was still 36 years old in 2011 when he became Chairman of the House Committee on Capital Market and other Financial Institutions. A ‘youngie’ chairing a strategic economic committee of the lower chamber! Great news, right? Hembe ruined it all, and soon found himself at the heart of a mighty bribery allegation.
His committee had picked an unusual interest in the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and decided to probe it. The committee accused Arunma Oteh, Director-General of the agency, of squandering a princely N30 million on hotel accommodation in just eight months, expending N850,000 (later clarified as N85,000 for a meal eaten by a team of experts) on just a meal. In a matter of days, the committee claimed to have unearthed documents proving underhand dealings in the handling of the DG’s accommodation and official cars.
Not one to go down alone, Oteh fought back, alleging that the committee had demanded a combined bribe of N44million from her
“You had implied that as a regulator, having people on secondment from the private sector could undermine the capacity of the regulatory functions of the commission. [Do] you think that Honourable Ihedioha, the deputy speaker of this House, being the nephew to Professor Ndi-Okereke Onyuike and having his wife work in the Abuja office of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, will be compromising his capacity carry out his duties?” she had queried.
“In asking SEC to contribute N39 million for this public hearing, [do] you think that you are not undermining your capacity to carry out your duties? I will like Nigerians to know that I do not think that I am being given a fair hearing. I do not think that in 2012, after the efforts that the forefathers of this country have made with respect to ensuring that we have a democracy, we will have Kangaroo courts that are worse than what Idi Amin had in Uganda.”
Hembe denied ever demanding or receiving bribe, claiming that it was Oteh who offered him a bribe and that he “rather fought hard to resist such temptation”. He resigned his position as Chairman of the committee; and although nothing came out of the lower chamber’s probe of the matter or the court dates, neither SEC nor the committee could extricate itself from the scandal. Hembe had missed a golden opportunity to make a case for the offering of selective leadership positions to the young.
RECORD BREAKER BUT ‘CULTIST’S BROTHER’
In 2007, when Hembe first entered the political space, he was about to do something that very few before him had managed. He was a greenhorn, entirely unknown, and he was going to get the backing of Olusegun Obasanjo, President at the time.
It all seemed a joke to many but right before their eyes, the greenhorn nicked the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ticket, before going on to defeat the candidates of all other parties to book a slot at the House of Reps. He was just 31 at the time. And it was a feat that ranked as highly as Iyiola Omisore’s senatorial victory in an election that held while he was in prison!
Quickly, though, facts about Hembe began to emerge. They were very unpalatable.
It became public knowledge that at the Benue State University, where Hembe studied Law, his records were splotched by allegations of active involvement in cultism. His father, a professor at the same university, was known to have publicly expressed helplessness in curtailing the truancy of both Hembe and his other brother, Orkuma, who attended but never graduated from the University of Agriculture, Markurdi, also in Benue State.
So, how did an alleged cultist find his way to the National Assembly? Hembe’s brother, Orkuma, had been President of the once-cerebral but since-decrepit National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), in 2005, earning himself notoriety for attempting to perpetuate himself in office beyond the limit of his term. Orkuma was Obasanjo’s anointed candidate for the NANS presidency. When Orkuma reluctantly vacated his office, the alliance blossomed. Once during Obasanjo’s tenure, Orkuma was reported to have told the Vice Chancellor of his university that after the president of the country, his vice, and the senate president, he was the next most powerful Nigerian!
Such was the might of young Orkuma’s presidential connections that his brother, a relatively unknown Herman Hembe, would easily become the president’s preference when he showed up from nowhere to contest the 2007 PDP primary for the right to represent the Jechira Federal Constituency — a fusion of Vandeikya and Konshisha — at the house of reps.
Orkuma reportedly stormed the venue of the congress with a car stuffed with cash (having reportedly received a donation from Obasanjo in the region of N10 million), and the least paid voter earned N10,000. The slogan on the day of the congress then was, “Vote for Hembe because you will have ‘transport money’ to return home”. By April 2011, Hembe was all too familiar with the best means of returning to the House! It was the same in 2015 — no one had found a way to unseat him at the polls.
A SECOND CHANCE, A SECOND BRIBERY ALLEGATION
In 2016, Hembe was made chairman — again? — of a house committee to probe the $18 billion Centenary City project of the Goodluck Jonathan administration. Forgetful Nigerians, they didn’t remember the bribery saga of 2012. Perhaps Nigerians are forgiving; they expected a changed Hembe.
Hem said there were several violations of the agreement signed between the office of the SGF and management of the Centenary City Company Plc, including lack of evidence that the company paid the 15 percent of $18billion allocated for the development of the city.
But Anyim Pius Anyim, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), who supervised the project under that era, claimed that Hembe wanted some officials to see him “privately”. Anyim also accused him of vendetta, having refused to sack Oteh as the reps wanted in 2012.
“Mr chairman, I said, one, you have told everybody who cared to listen that when the former DG of SEC accused you of demanding bribe from her, you pushed for her to be sacked and I refused to sack her while I was SGF and this is an opportunity to pay me back,” Anyim alleged.
“Mr chairman I will not allow you to use the National Assembly platform to pursue personal vendetta. It is unacceptable and I will not submit to it. All I am asking for is fair hearing.
“You have been threatening to conduct this public hearing for over a year now; in fact you ended last year with it, and this year you started with it. You scheduled it for January 27, but later moved it to February 1, and now moved it to February 3.
“Mr chairman, we only discovered your game plan for all the postponement when you started sending message to the managing director of the project to see you privately, and it was after all your efforts to get the managing director to see you privately failed, that you confirmed this date. I want you know that nobody will see you privately, and we are here for the hearing, and we will have the hearing.”
Again, Hembe denied the allegation. Two bribery allegations in two years? Must be a clean record in a legislature that Obasanjo once labelled “the den of corruption”.
A SAD ENDING
Ten years of Hembe at the National Assembly was brought to an abrupt end on Friday, when the Supreme Court sacked him, declaring that he did not win the All Progressives Congress (APC) ticket.
Instead, Dorothy Mato was declared the rightful winner; she is to immediately receive a certificate of return from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), while Hembe is to pay her N700,000 and cough up (within 90 days) all salaries and benefits he received while in office.
How are the mighty fallen! Hembe, the man who emerged from nowhere and made the Jechira constituency his birthright, suddenly finds himself home and dry. Orkuma and Heman must both be wondering what might have been, were Obasanjo and the PDP still in power. Just that “old things have passed away [and] all things have become new”!