By Obinna Chima in Lagos Chineme Okafor in Abuja
The Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET) is currently enmeshed in a controversy that could rock its operations and that of Nigeria’s electricity market, investigations by THISDAY have revealed.
According to industry sources, top officials in the agency and Ministry of Power, Works and Housing have made demands of its Managing Director, Dr. Marilyn Amobi, to approve a four per cent service charge that will accrue to them, following the federal government’s approval of NBET’s request of N701 billion from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for onward payment to power generation companies (Gencos).
The service charge, they said, was to cover for their so-called facilitation of the loan approval by the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
However, reliable sources in NBET and the ministry told THISDAY that everything that had to do with the facilitation of the loan was done by Amobi and her team.
An investment banker by training, Amobi was said to have turned down the offer to work as a consultant to NBET to help the agency make its case to the federal government for the loan, and as such, in her capacity as managing director, worked with her team to get the necessary approvals.
This, sources who anonymously spoke to THISDAY said, irked certain persons in the ministry and NBET, because she reportedly refused to approve the service fee, which she insisted was scandalous and she could not support.
Her vehement position, the sources explained, has resulted in high-wire internal politicking allegedly orchestrated by the ministry to restructure NBET and promote three of Amobi’s general managers who are loyal to the ministry to positions of executive directors.
The goal of the agency’s restructuring, one of the sources explained, is to ensure that the three general managers would as executive directors be given almost the same executive powers as Amobi, effectively empowering them to either support or disprove decisions made by the management team in their favour.
The proposed restructuring would also mean that the organogram would be altered, as against the current structure that makes the board the highest decision making body of the agency and the managing director as the sole reporting authority to the board.
It was also gathered that interested parties who are tacitly backed by the Ministry of Power, would from the restructuring be able to finally approve the four per cent service charge at board level, which Amobi has refused to approve.
Similarly, it was learnt that the high-wire politics initiated by these interests are already beginning to affect the working environment in the NBET, an agency set up by the government to amongst other responsibilities, midwife the transition of competitive financial transactions between the Gencos and distribution companies (Discos) in the country’s privatised electricity market.
Originally, the NBET was set up with a nine-member board comprising the Minister of Finance as the statutory board chairman, managing director of NBET, Minister of Power, Director-General of Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE); a representative of the Discos; and four independent persons chosen by the presidency and Ministries of Power and Finance.
Though the last board of the agency was disbanded by Buhari and has not yet been reconstituted, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola (SAN), has in the interim acted as its board chairman and issued directives to it.
The goal now is for the ministry, as was alleged by the sources, to fill the four independent board positions with the general managers that are reportedly loyal to its interests.
Also, Amobi was said to have been assaulted on November 9, 2016 in the presence of the staff of the agency by one of the general managers who is in charge of NBET’s finances.
While she reportedly filed three back-to-back complaints of her assault by the general manager to the Ministry of Power on December 3, 2016 (copies of her complaints were sighted by THISDAY), no response or action has been taken to date by the ministry on her claims.
It was also alleged that the same general manager had previously assaulted the former managing director of NBET, Mr. Rumundaka Wonodi while he was in office and gotten away with the offence.
All efforts to speak to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Power, Mr. Loius Edozie, as phone calls and a text message to his phone were not replied.
When contacted to comment on the developments, Amobi declined to speak to THISDAY, saying she does not discuss NBET’s internal operations on the pages of newspapers.
Notwithstanding the official silence from NBET and the ministry, another top official of the Independent Power Producers’ Association of Nigeria (IPPAN), a group comprising of investors in independent power plants in the country, confirmed the allegation to THISDAY on the condition that his identity would not be revealed in the paper.
IPPAN has members that include Geometric Power owned by former power minister, Prof. Bath Nnaji; Zuma Energy Nigeria, owned by Dr. Innocent Ezuma; and Supertek Electric Limited, owned by a former information minister, Prof. Jerry Gana.
The IPPAN official further noted that relevant stakeholders in the industry were watching with keen interest as the controversy in NBET unfolds, adding that the alleged restructuring could signal the end to the agency which has about $800 million as its capitalisation fund.