Finally, NERC Arbitrates on NBET’s Management Crisis

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The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission has stepped in to stop an internal management crisis at the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc, writes Chineme Okafor

After months of upsetting internal management crisis at the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET), a government-backed bulk power purchaser in Nigeria’s privatised electricity market, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) last week moved in to use its regulatory power to stop the situation from further deteriorating.

Investigations by THISDAY on the internal activities of the NBET had uncovered a couple of disturbing developments which at that time rocked the operations of the agency.

The unwholesome development perhaps started in 2016, with top officials at the NBET fighting each other for supremacy.
In the centre of this battle for supremacy which eventually escalated into other unsavory acts including allegations of process abuses, were the Managing Director, Dr. Marilyn Amobi and two other top officials of the agency – Mr. Waziri Bintube, who once headed the finance department of NBET and Mr. Abdullahi Sambo, also headed NBET’s audit department.
And, because of the central role the NBET plays in the electricity market, the crisis at some point threatened to render it rudderless with the country’s electricity market worst for it.

How the crisis started
According to documents obtained by THISDAY then as well as sources spoken to on the development, the genesis of the management crisis allegedly started with the appointment of Amobi in 2016 by President Muhammadu Buhari, to run the affairs of the agency after the tenure of NBET’s former head, Mr. Rumundaka Wonodi, was abruptly terminated.

But before Amobi was appointed, Bintube, had served in an interim capacity for few months. His appointment was however not confirmed by the government, and this allegedly did not go down well with him. This, allegedly fueled an opposition to Amobi.
Furthermore, from three complaint letters Amobi wrote in 2016 to the ministry of power of an alleged physical assault on her on November 9, 2016 in the presence of the staff of the agency by one of the general managers, THISDAY gathered that the operational situation in NBET had by then become tensed.

According to sources, the assault complaints to the ministry did not get any attention, and when THISDAY called the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Mr. Louis Edozien for clarification of this, he declined to comment.
Following this, the crisis continued and in June 2017, reached a new height when a restructuring exercise was done at the NBET, and Bintube was moved from his position as chief financial officer, alongside Sambo, who was the auditor.

This, according to documents sighted by THISDAY did not also sit well with the two officers who reportedly petitioned two religious groups alleging a conspiracy against them by Amobi on the basis of their religion. This was after they were suspended by Amobi for allegedly staying away from work for up to six months and then their salaries and emoluments equally suspended.

Likewise, officials of the NBET who were close to the development also told THISDAY then that the issues relating to Bintube and Sambo bothered on basic organisational discipline and respect for rules governing the actions of government officials.
They explained that both officials left their duty posts when the office of the Accountant General of the Federation seconded two of its officials to the NBET to help the agency attain a self-accounting status.

That exercise, they noted required some management reshuffling and Bintube and Sambo were thus moved to head new departments. This, they alleged did not go down well with them and they subsequently left their duty posts for up to six months in disregard of both the government and NBET’s rules of engagement.
Accordingly, both officials rejected their new postings and reportedly petitioned a non-existent board of the NBET with the insistence that Amobi had no right to redeploy them to new departments.

It was further alleged that between June and December 2017, when this happened, Sambo reportedly claimed a six-month salary worth N11.276 million and N1.355 million car maintenance expense without reporting to work, but that Amobi in December stopped his salaries until when the non-existent board determined his petition.
Similarly, Bintube was reported to have been paid a six-month salary worth N16.488 million, as well as car maintenance allowance of N626, 123, even though he didn’t report to work as well.

Ethno-religious slant introduced into crisis
THISDAY further gathered that a religious slant was subsequently introduced into the leadership crisis as complaints from Bintube and Sambo against Amobi were sent to two Muslim groups – the Muslim Media Watch Group and Abuja Muslim Forum, which then petitioned the NBET and equally accused Amobi of injustice and religious victimisation of both officials.

The groups accused the NBET under Amobi, of religious intolerance and unconstitutionally depriving both officials of their salaries and emoluments which they said had been in arrears.

In their petitions, they claimed Amobi exhibited acts of executive lawlessness despite interventions from the power ministry in the management struggles between her and the duo.
The petitions were signed by Nasir Balogun who is the national secretary of the Muslim Media Watch Group for it, while L. J Ahmad, president of the Abuja Muslim Forum signed for it.

According to the groups then, Amobi unjustly moved both officials from their positions and subsequently suspended them from the NBET for their failures to report to the new posts. They said her acts were motivated by the religion and ethnicity of the two officials.

Going further, the Abuja Muslim Forum, which specifically stated that it represented the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) amongst other Islamic organisations, called for the reinstatement of both officials unconditionally.

To prevent a potential religious fracas or crisis at the NBET, Amobi, it was learnt reportedly called the attention of the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar and Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, to the development been that they are both president and vice president of the NSCIA.

Allegations of N2 billion diversion
In addition, the two officials in a letter dated September 28, 2018 to the minister of finance with a whistleblowing report, had alleged there was a N2 billion fraud perpetrated at the NBET by Amobi.
While calling for an investigation and perhaps prosecution of anyone liable in the alleged fraud, the complainants alleged there was a monthly over-invoicing of about N2 billion to Olorunsogo and Omotosho power Gencos contrary to NERC’s order on capacity payments.
They equally claimed the NBET under Amobi paid Olorunsogo and Omotosho these monies while other Gencos were subjected to the NERC order, adding that officials of the agency were working with Amobi to perpetrate the alleged over-invoicing.

…And NERC steps in

Following repeated calls by industry stakeholders for the NERC to step in and arrest the situation at the NBET, the commission finally took up the challenge and investigated especially the N2 billion over-invoicing claims of Bintube and Sambo.
It also made public its findings last week, and cleared the Amobi-led NBET of unwholesome practices as alleged by both Bintube and Sambo.
It explained that in line with its regulatory powers, it had to investigate the N2 billion over-payment claims to Oloronsogo and Omotosho because it wanted to amongst other objectives, maintain the integrity of the electricity market.

According to it, its overriding objective was to provide clarity to investors, lenders and other stakeholders on whether the management of NBET engages in fraudulent or inappropriate practices in the discharge of its statutory responsibility to the country’s electricity market as suggested by the claims of both officials.

“The independent investigation conducted by the Commission focused on the allegation of corruption relating to the purported over invoicing of about N2 billion in the monthly market settlement payments due to the aforesaid two power plants on 18th and 19th February 2019. The board of NBET has been requested to refer other allegations to relevant agencies for review.

“The Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) is a very technical industry that is dependent on back-to-back intra-industry agreements between the various tiers of the value chain and back-to-back inter-industry agreements that exist between the upstream tier of thermal generators and gas suppliers,” said NERC in the report detailing the outcome of its investigation.

In conducting the investigation, NERC explained that it interviewed top management of NBET who were involved with the management of Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) of the Gencos, as well as Bintube and Sambo over a period of two days.

“The findings of the Commission’s investigation are as follows: All payments made by NBET to the two power plants were in accordance with the terms of the PPAs. NBET and the two power plants executed appropriate waivers in accordance with the terms of the PPAs to address condition precedents.

“Payments made by NBET to the two power plants were done in compliance with the NERC TEM (Transitional Electricity Market) order pursuant to the provision that sanctity of existing agreements be maintained.

“Payments to the two power plants, in compliance with the terms of the PPAs, were effected by Mr. Rumundaka Wonodi during his tenure as the Managing Director of NBET, Mallam Waziri Bintube during his tenure as Acting Managing Director of NBET and continued by Dr. Amobi upon her assumption on duty as Managing Director of NBET,” said the NERC.

The NERC further stated that Bintube provided legal justification for the payments to the two power Gencos through an email he sent to Edozien on August 17, 2016.
It added that: “Mallam Waziri Bintube and Mallam Abdullahi Sambo were unable to substantiate any claims of over invoicing to the tune of N2 billion each month by NBET in the payments to these two power plants; and they refused to admit that raising false allegations which they could not substantiate of over payment of N2 billion each month by NBET to the two power plants, constituted a crime during their interviews; and could also not provide further evidence to substantiate any form of inappropriate payments being made to these two power plants as they had alleged.

“These unfounded allegations by Mallam Waziri Bintube and Mallam Abdullahi Sambo have brought NESI into disrepute and weakened investor confidence in a sector where different agencies of government have been working collaboratively to address sector issues for the overall public good and in the interest of Nigeria.”

Putting paid to the allegations, the report said: “The Commission hereby confirms that capacity payments to the Olorunsogo and Omotosho power plants by NBET are in line with the power purchase agreement executed between the contracting parties and the provisions of the supplementary TEM order by the Commission. The public is therefore advised to discountenance the allegations of inappropriate payments to the Omotosho and Olorunsogo power plants.”