SEC Director General, Ms. Arunma Oteh
By Tobi Soniyi
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Sebastine Hon, has said the National Assembly is right in refusing to approve the budget for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
According to him, the National Assembly is perfectly right to have refused to appropriate any fund for the commission, given the history of the unresolved issues between the National Assembly and the SEC, arguing that the lawmakers have the backing of the constitution to do what they have done.
He recalled that the House of Representatives, after conducting an investigation, had recommended that the Director General of SEC, Ms. Arunma Otteh, be removed from office.
However, the Presidency ignored the resolution.
Hon, who is an expert in constitutional law, cited Section 88(1) of the Constitution which gave each chamber of the National Assembly power to conduct investigation into any matter or thing with respect to which it has power to make laws.
According to him, by paragraph 24 of the Exclusive Legislative List, the House of Representatives has power to investigate the activities of the SEC. More importantly, section 88(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution has stated in very clear terms that the investigative powers of the House of Assembly are exercisable to enable the House expose corruption, inefficiency or waste by persons in authority.
He said: “It was, therefore, morally, I daresay constitutionally wrong, for the Presidency to ignore the resolution of the National Assembly calling for the removal of Ms. Otteh. There should be mutual respect amongst the three arms of government. I also boldly say that the National Assembly has committed no constitutional wrong for refusing to budget for the SEC.”
“Section 88(2)(a) of the Constitution is to the effect that the investigative powers of the National Assembly are to enable that arm of government make laws with respect to any matter within its legislative competence and correct any defects in existing laws.
“A budget, by section 59 of the Constitution, can only become law if passed by the National Assembly. Nothing in section 59 nor any other part of the Constitution compels the National Assembly to pass all budgetary proposals sent to it by the Executive.
“And since section 88(2)(a) has given the National Assembly investigative powers with a view to making laws over and concerning any matter within its legislative competence, such power of legislation should be interpreted to include the power to refuse to make any such law (in this case, to pass into law the budgetary proposals from SEC)!
“Nobody, not even the Constitution, can compel the National Assembly to enact any law on any subject matter. This is one bitter lesson the Executive branch of Government must learn from this avoidable saga!
“A more permanent solution is for the National Assembly to enact a provision similar to section 102 of the South African Constitution, 1996, as amended in 1997, to the effect that once a simple majority of the members of the National Assembly passes a vote of no confidence on either the President of that country or his cabinet, the concerned public officer must resign!”
The House stated in the Appropriation Bill passed that the agency must not spend any fund in 2013 without appropriation by the National Assembly.
A clause dedicated to SEC in the bill reads, “All revenue however so described, including all fees received, fines, grants, budgetary provisions and all internally and externally generated revenue shall not be spent by the Securities and Exchange Commission for recurrent or capital purposes or for any other matters, nor liabilities thereon incurred except with the prior appropriation and approval by the National Assembly.”
The Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Zakari Mohammed, had said after the passing of the budget: “We want to see which money will be used to run SEC in the years ahead. It is a resolution of the House that Oteh should go and we will continue to keep the situation that way. Oteh must go; if she doesn’t go, we will not have any dealings with SEC or touch their budget. We are on the same page with the Senate on this and it is only a matter of time.”