Mounir Gwarzo, Ex-SEC DG, Deserves Apology After Another Court Acquittal

For a man who strongly believes he was a victim of official impunity, and who has had to live with a stain on his reputation and professional integrity for more than three years, last Friday’s court judgment against the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) must be more than a pronouncement.

It must feel like the end of the albatross that had encircled him for more than three years; the postscript to a drama in which he was cast as the tragic hero but who has now been saved by providence and evidence.

Last Friday, October 22, 2021,  a Federal Capital Territory (FCT) high court in Maitama discharged and acquitted Mounir Gwarzo, former Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The presiding judge, Olukayode Adeniyi,  in his ruling following a no-case submission filed by Gwarzo, said the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (1CPC) failed to prove its case against the accused.

For the third time within three years, the court dismissed charges of abuse of office leveled against the former Director General of the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), Mounir Gwarzo.

The former minister of finance, Kemi Adeosun, had suspended Gwarzo as the DG of SEC on November 29,  2017 to allow for unfettered investigation of allegations against him. She immediately set up an administrative panel of inquiry to investigate allegations of financial impropriety levelled against him.

Gwarzo, who was a former commissioner of SEC before his appointment as DG,  was accused of approving and collecting severance package worth N104.85 million while still in service in violation of the civil service rules. He was also accused of awarding contracts to members of his family and friends, in violation of the rules guiding the commission.

Gwarzo had vehemently denied all the allegations, claiming that the ex-minister acted for personal reasons.

The ICPC charged Gwarzo along with an Executive Commissioner in the commission, Zakawanu Garuba. They were arraigned on a five-count charge of alleged misappropriation to the tune of about N115 million and conferment of corrupt advantage on a public officer. But on April 16, 2019, Justice Hussein Baba Yusuf of FCT High Court, Maitama, discharged Gwarzo of the charges.

In June 2018, Gwarzo had also approached the National Industrial Court to challenge his suspension, arguing that the minister of finance had no such powers to suspend the SEC DG. In May 2019, the court vindicated him and ordered his reinstatement.

Justice Sanusi Kado, in his judgment, held that the minister of finance, named as the second defendant in the suit, lacked the power to suspend the claimant.

The judge held that the minister of finance did not have the power to suspend the claimant since he was not an employee of the commission. He said that the minister, in the absence of the board, only had supervisory power, which does not include disciplinary power to suspend the DG.

Mr Kado held that it was only the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, on the directive of the president, who had the power of suspension. Mr Kado also held that the Administrative Panel of Inquiry that indicted the claimant was not a court of law; neither was it a quasi-judicial body, but just a body set up for a fact-finding duty.

He thereafter declared that the recommendation of the Panel of Inquiry that indicted Gwarzo be set aside. The judge then ordered the reinstatement of Gwarzo as the DG of SEC to complete his five-year tenure. He further ordered that Gwarzo’s salaries, allowances and entitlements accrued should be paid to him in full.

But Gwarzo was not returned to office. Instead he voluntarily resigned and submitted his letter of resignation on January 9, 2020.

Inspite of this development, the ICPC again in 2020 slammed a six-count charge against the former SEC DG, accusing him of awarding several contracts to Outbound Investment Limited, a private company where he allegedly doubled as a director eve n while he was DG of SEC. Gwarzo had similarly denied the allegation.

He subsequently filed a no-case submission after the prosecution closed its case. But last Friday, Gwarzo was again vindicated when the Justice Adeniyi dismissed all the six count charges against him after the ICPC failed to prove its case.

Hopefully, it would bring closure to the unfortunate scenario created by a former minister who usurped the powers of the president to execute a personal agenda against a principled public servant. Gwarzo has been made to pay too heavy a price for his principles and for refusing to bend the rules for any player in the capital market.

While serving as DG SEC, he was focused on his job as regulator, but those who felt slighted by his actions kept their promise to unseat him. It is not his loss, but that of the capital market and the country. And the recent court exoneration is ample evidence of that.

His travails have exposed the lack of capacity of the country’s anti-graft agencies. Thorough investigations of the allegations against him would have convinced the commission early enough that there was no case to be made against him. Instead, it embarked on a two year trial that only further affirmed the innocence of the accused. 

For instance, the accusation that he approved for himself and collected a severance package worth N104.85 million (as commissioner) while still in service as DG is null and void.

He had served as a commissioner for two years before his appointment as DG and he is legally entitled to a severance package. It was not his decision; it was the regulation at the commission.

The board of the commission, at a meeting held on July 11, 2002 (eleven years before he was appointed to the Board of the Commission), approved, inter alia, that a permanent commissioner who has spent a minimum of two years is entitled to full benefits which can be monetized when leaving that office. In the extracts of this board meeting, it was specifically mentioned that the benefits should accrue to permanent commissioners who have served for a minimum of two years of which the D-G was listed as one. He assumed office as D-G after serving as a member of the board of the commission for more than two years in the capacity of an Executive Commissioner of Operations Directorate having been appointed on January 2, 2013

To that extent, therefore, he is entitled to the benefits paid to him for his service as the Executive Commissioner. Mr. Gwarzo has not denied that these entitlements were duly paid to him as they were, indeed, his rights because they are attached to the office and not necessarily to the individual who occupies the office.

Moreover, he was not the one that approved the payment to himself as DG. It was  approved by the Executive Commissioner Corporate Services, whose statutory duty it was to make such approvals. It is, therefore, a deliberate manipulation of facts to adjudge the payment to him as illegal or that it contravenes any known law of the land.

Since his appointment as the DG SEC on May 20, 2015 by former President Goodluck Jonathan in a letter signed by the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, he had been under attack by evil forces who had manipulated information to smear him. He had been accused of different infractions which have been proven to be all false.

After all the blackmail and legal rigmarole to humiliate him have failed, it is time for someone to apologize for the mess.    

Sulieman wrote from Abuja.


Disclaimer: This article is entirely the opinion of the writer and does not represent the views of The Whistler.

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