Marilyn Amobi, the embattled Managing Director of the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Company Limited (NBET) reinstated by President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday was indicted by Nigeria’s main anti-corruption agencies over corruption allegations.
Apart from the two main anti-graft agencies, EFCC and ICPC, Nigeria’s auditor-general also found Ms Amobi culpable of maladministration.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday overruled the Minister of Power, Sale Mamman, by reversing the suspension of Ms Amobi. The agency has also been moved from the ministry of power to the ministry of finance, an action described by sources in the agency as ‘curious’.
On December 24, Ms Amobi was suspended by Mr Mamman, who claimed that the move was in continuation of the government’s effort to reorganise and sanitise the Federal Ministry of Power and its affiliate agencies.
Consequently, a five-member investigative committee was constituted to probe the myriad complaints leveled against Ms Amobi.
The suspension of Ms Amobi came after PREMIUM TIMES reported how she instigated the arrest and detention for several hours of nine top officials of the bulk trader by the State Security Services (SSS, also called DSS). The embattled MD had been accused of abuse and intimidation of employees in recent time, with concerns over workplace safety and teamwork among staff members.
On Thursday, Mr Buhari ordered the reversal of Ms Amobi’s suspension, with stakeholders expressing concerns over the decision to move the agency to the finance ministry. The president had earlier ordered the reversal of the suspension of the immediate past Managing Director of Rural Electrification Agency, Damilola Ogunbiyi.
The reason for Mr Buhari’s decision remains unclear Friday morning, as industry players await detailed information amid uncertainties.
Documents in possession of this newspaper, however, showed that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), and the Auditor-General’s Office indicted the embattled official in separate investigations.
Sources at NBET and the power ministry told PREMIUM TIMES that it was because of these indictments that the power minister ordered her suspension.
Ms Amobi has been in the eye of the storm over allegations of violation of procurement laws, fraudulent payments to generating companies, alleged maltreatment of staff, among other allegations.
In February 2019, PREMIUM TIMES reported how Ms Amobi controversially paid at least N2 billion to two power generating companies and made illegal payments to law firms and other consultants.
Documents obtained by Leaks NG – a coalition of Nigerian newsrooms and civil society groups – revealed that Ms Amobi, who was made the substantive boss of NBET in July 2016, was also involved in a series of corrupt acts such as subversion of board approvals and infraction of procurement laws.
In 2017, the report showed that Ms Amobi made a request to the Accountant-General for officials from his office to be transferred to NBET to head the Internal Audit and Finance departments. Inside sources alleged that she made this request because she felt the officials who headed the department at NBET were standing in her way.
Earlier in April 2018, this newspaper had reported how NBET budgeted $96,350 for the eight lawmakers to attend the 43rd international training programme on utility regulation and strategy; but cancelled the trip for undisclosed reasons. Despite the cancellation, however, a source within NBET told PREMIUM TIMES that the fund was approved and money released to the lawmakers.
In the midst of the controversies, PREMIUM TIMES detailed the travails and persecution of Abdullahi Sambo, a whistleblower in the agency who was redeployed under controversial circumstances. He and Waziri Bintube, another staff who acted as (acting) MD in the agency, petitioned anti-graft agencies on the allegations. Mr Sambo maintained that his redeployment and subsequent predicament at NBET was not unconnected to his whistle-blowing efforts on Ms Amobi, whom he accused of mismanagement and misappropriation of funds.
EFCC, ICPC Reports
In March 2019, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) said its investigations indicted Ms Amobi and the commission vowed to prosecute her and others indicted for violation of the country’s procurement act.
In a letter to the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, the ICPC noted that Ms Amobi was found guilty in at least five of the many allegations levelled against her.
Allegations made against the NBET chief include disregard for procurement laws, illegal funding of foreign trip for federal lawmakers, six years payment for office furniture for a four-year tenure and sidelining of due process in the purchase of Ms Amobi’s vehicles.
Other allegations include that Ms Amobi funded NBET’s expenditure without appropriation from the National Assembly, authorised withdrawals from the Central Bank to fund unnecessary training, sanctioned transfer of staff illegally and stopped payment of salaries to two management staff. The commission said Ms Amobi, like other indicted persons, violated the country’s procurement Act, 2007 and ICPC Act, 2000.
The letter, signed by the ICPC Chairman, Bolaji Owosanye, disclosed that the NBET MD faltered in areas of procurement and fund approvals.
“The Respondent (MD) does not follow due process in award of contracts,” the letter read.
“The Respondent (MD) makes payments before securing the required approvals.
“The Respondent (MD) received excess furniture allowances of N22,646,328.48 above the approved N5,777,595.00 for CEOs of Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies.”
The report also indicated that two management staff of NBET, Waziri Bintube and Abdullahi Sambo, were ‘wrongfully dismissed.’
In the same vein, an Interim Investigation Report by the EFCC showed similar findings. The report, obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, is dated February 26, 2019 and signed by the EFCC acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu
The report, among others, revealed that Ms Amobi admitted to have collected 6 years rent and furniture allowance “which is contrary to the harmonized salary structure as rent cannot be paid for more than two years.”
The report also said that the NBET’s boss claim that her predecessor enjoyed same benefits before she assumed office was not tenable because, as head of the agency, she was supposed to correct abnormalities.
The EFCC said that although its investigation was still on-going at the time, it was waiting for instruments used for transactions in Ms Amobi’s accounts to investigate other allegations.
Meanwhile, the Office of the Auditor-General for the Federation (OAGF) in a report addressed to the management of NBET also accused the agency of gross violation of extant rules.
The report, dated January 28, 2019, and seen by PREMIUM TIMES, was based on monitoring and evaluation of capital projects executed by the agency between June 2017 and June 2018. It was signed by A. Owolo, Director of Audit and Performance Audit Department.
The report revealed that within the period, payments were made for a contract awarded to one A.K Usman to the tune of N21 million but it was not executed. The OAGF directed the NBET MD to recover the sum and institute disciplinary action against officers in charge.
The report also alleged cases of contract splitting and outright breach of procurement law as NBET was said to have “awarded three contracts for the same project/work, in different amount, in different award letters, and within short intervals to Julius Berger Nigeria Plc.”
The report ordered the managing director of NBET to explain, within 21 days, reasons why “she should not be sanctioned in line with section 58 (5a-b) of the PPA.”
There were other cases of variations of contract without approval, non-deduction of retention fee from contractor’s payment, unauthorized payment on international training, payment without supporting documents, among others.
On over-expenditure and unrecovered flight tickets on international trainings in Florida and Denmark, the report said NBET acted in violation of Financial Regulation (FR) 2009, and the MD should immediately recover and refund to the treasury the sum of N1,400,572,30.
The OAGF also accused the agency of denying auditors access to vital documents and financial details, saying it is a “flagrant violation of extant laws”.
Mr Buhari’s reinstatement of Ms Amobi and reported transfer of NBET to the ministry of finance on Thursday came as a surprise to many staff of the agency.
Sources at the agency told PREMIUM TIMES that the development may not be unconnected to the relationship between the embattled MD and the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed.
Insiders in the agency said the move is a violation of the EPSR Act 2005, as the NBET is an agency that should be under the supervisory control of the Ministry of Power.
“How can you suddenly move such a crucial agency in the power sector to finance ministry; without any explanation or discussion. Something is definitely fishy,” an official of the agency said.
Although the ICPC report was made available to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo last year, it remains unclear whether Mr Buhari is aware of the various developments, particularly the indictments by the ICPC, EFCC and the auditor-general.
PREMIUM TIMES also learnt that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, recently received an official communication from the power ministry containing all the official indictments of Ms Amobi.
“The SGF received the report from the power minister. The EFCC and ICPC reports were contained. I believe the SGF has forwarded it to the president,” a top official at the SGF’s office told this newspaper.
The SGF, Mr Mustapha, did not return calls nor reply text messages sent to him on the matter.
Presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina, did not also reply to PREMIUM TIMES’ enquiry on the matter on Friday. Calls and text message to his phone were not replied.