As Crisis of Confidence Rocks NBET


Recent developments at the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc indicate that the agency set up to facilitate seamless electricity trading in Nigeria’s power sector may be going through troubled times, writes ChinemeOkafor

Recent investigations by THISDAY on the internal activities of the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET) have uncovered a couple of developments that could rock its operational efficiency, and by implication, that of Nigeria’s electricity market.

THISDAY discovered from its trail of activities that followed the federal government’s approval of a N701 billion loan for the agency to cover its payment obligations to electricity generation companies (Gencos) for power generated and supplied, that NBET is currently enmeshed in a financial controversy over unwholesome demands on the loan.

As reliably gathered in Abuja, top officials of the agency and Ministry of Power have reportedly requested NBET’s Managing Director, Dr. Marilyn Amobi, to approve a four per cent service charge payment to them as ‘service charge’ for purportedly facilitating the federal government’s approval of NBET’s request for N701 billion from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to cover for payments to Gencos.

This service charge, they said was to cover their troubles and works in getting the loan approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC).

But reliable sources in the agency and the ministry told THISDAY that everything that had to do with the loan was done by Amobi and her team, with support from the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. BabatundeFashola, and the Governor of CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele.

Being an investment banker by training, Amobi was said to have declined repeated demands by these officials to hire a third-party consultant to help the NBET prepare its briefs for the loan, and through which their request for the four per cent service charge would have been legalised. She instead opted to work with her team to get the work done.

Based on her stance on this, sources who anonymously spoke to THISDAY during its investigations on the development said it irked these persons in the ministry and NBET as she reportedly refused to approve the payment even after subsequent demands were made.

According to the sources, Amobi reportedly described the request as a scandalous one, which she could approve.

High-wire boardroom politics

From Amobi’s vehement position on this reported four per cent request, THISDAY sources explained that a strong boardroom politics then ensued, allegedly orchestrated by the ministry to restructure the NBET.

The restructuring moves, it was further learnt were aimed at promoting three of Amobi’s general managers who are reportedly loyal to the ministry to positions of executive directors.

By the promotion, the three general managers would as executive directors, be given almost the same executive powers as Amobi to be able to either support or disprove decisions made by the management team in their favour and that of their backers.

The alleged restructuring would also mean that the founding structure of NBET would be altered with four executives of equal powers as against the current structure in which the board is the highest decision making body of the agency, and to whom Amobi reports to as its chief accounting officer.

It was also gathered that the interested parties who are tacitly backed by the ministry of power, could from the restructuring be able to finally approve the four per cent service charge which Amobi has refused to accede to and which has reportedly pitched her against officials in her agency and the Ministry of Power.

Crisis of confidence

Similarly, it was learnt that the high-wire board room politics initiated by these interests was 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 power Gencos and distribution companies (Discos) in the country’s privatised power market.

Originally, the NBET was set up with a nine-member board, which included the Ministry of Power; Ministry of Finance; Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE); representatives of the Discos; and four independent persons chosen by the presidency and Ministers of Power and Finance.

Though the last board of the agency was disbanded by President MuhammaduBuhari, and yet to be reconstituted, the Ministry of Power had in the interim acted as its de facto board chair, and issued directives to it.

The ministry as was alleged by the sources could from its reported interest in the service charge, would thus fill the four independent board positions with the general managers that are reportedly loyal to it.

But apart from this unhealthy financial request, THISDAY also gathered that Amobi was reportedly 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, because according to sources, they do not approve of her headship at NBET.

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 complaint were sighted by THISDAY, no response or action has so far been taken by the ministry on her claims.

The paper also tried to reach the Permanent Secretary in the power ministry, Mr. Louis Edozien, to comment on this claims but calls and text messages to his mobile number were not replied as at the time of filing the report.

It was alleged that the said general manager had an existing record of abuse and assault of a former managing director of NBET, and the ministry reportedly failed to investigate or penalise the alleged offence.

When contacted by THISDAY for comments on these developments, Amobi, who didn’t confirm or refute the issues raised by the paper, however, declined to speak on the matter. She simply said she did not discuss her internal operations on the pages of newspapers.

Notwithstanding her position, industry players who relate more with the NBET told the paper that the ensuing development was not in the interest of the country’s power sector.

They explained that being perhaps the only government entity with some semblance of business transparency in the country’s power sector, such crisis of confidence could derail its focus on its mandate in the sector, as well as alter stakeholders’ business interactions with its.

A top official of the Independent Power Providers Association of Nigeria (IPPAN), a group comprising of investors in independent power plants in Nigeria, however confirmed these developments to THISDAY, but on the condition that his identity would not be revealed in the paper.

IPPAN has members that include Geometric Power owned by a 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.

He further noted that IPPAN, and other relevant stakeholders in the industry were watching as the controversial events unfold, adding that the alleged restructuring could signal an end to NBET which has about $800 million as its capitalisation fund.

NBET is also a licensee of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) which should with its regulatory powers, be able to look into the affairs of the agency to ensure its actions would not unsettle the country’s already troubled electricity market.