Monday, 7 October 2019

Stalemate In Electricity Agency: As MD Defies Ministry Directive To Reinstate Sacked Workers

There is a crisis in the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading (NBET) because of the failure of the Managing Director (MD), Dr. Marilyn Amobi, to reinstate two senior staff of the agency she “unilaterally” sanctioned over alleged infractions. Despite the intervention of a mediation committee set up by the Federal Ministry of Power which supervises the agency, Dr. Amobi has allegedly refused to allow them access to their offices.

 She was said to have taken disciplinary action against Waziri Bintube, the General Manager and Chief Finance Officer (CFO), and Sambo Abdullahi, the Deputy General Manager and Head of Internal Audit of the agency.

Trouble started when Dr. Amobi alleged that Bintube went on leave without authorisation, an action she said negated the extant regulations of the company. Amobi reportedly issued a query to Bintube and he allegedly failed to respond within the stipulated time and was thereafter directed to resign. She also alleged that Abdullahi refused to be redeployed within NBET and withheld official audit stamps and locked up the security safe of the agency.

The officers have since denied the allegations. While the agency stopped Abdullahi’s salary and allowances since December, 2017, staff that were reporting to Bintube were asked to report to other officers. Root of the problem The presidency had in 2015 after dissolving the board of NBET directed the Ministry of Power to provide all related services, including disciplinary matters affecting management staff as enshrined in the policy manual of NEBT. When the tenure of the pioneer MD of NBET, Mr. Rumundaka Wonodi, expired in June, 2016, Bintube who was the CFO was asked to act as the MD. He held the position until August, 2016, when Dr. Amobi assumed office, and thereafter, a management crisis ensued over policy issues and decisions.

Correspondences from the Ministry of Power seen by our reporter indicate that after several informal mediations to resolve the issue, the ministry inaugurated a seven-man committee in February, 2018, to investigate the management crisis at NBET. Two weeks after the inauguration, the committee led by the Director, Human Resources Management, Alhaji C. M. Jada, said they heard from all parties, including Amobi. ‘Amobi acted without recourse to board’

The committee’s report obtained by this paper established that the management crisis ensued because Amobi acted without recourse to the ministry which supervises the agency in the absence of a constituted board. Both Bintube and Abdullahi, the committee said, were refused entry into their offices “under the pretext of re-organisation in the company through the resumption of officers deployed from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF).” The report reads in part, “The committee found that, without recourse to any appropriate approving authority, the MD/CEO (Amobi) went ahead to redeploy some key management staff out of their professional cadre and contrary to the existing organogram.

 “That due process was not followed in the termination of the appointment of the GMS/CFO, Mr. Waziri Bintube, and the stoppage of salaries of the DGM/Head, Internal Audit Unit, Mr. Sambo Abdullahi.” The committee also faulted the MD for not availing the committee with necessary information requested during the investigation period. It added that, “Having heard from all parties involved in the matter, Amobi acted neither in accordance with the NBET HR Policy Manual nor the PSR. “That in spite the MD’s refusal to avail the committee these essential documents (HR Policy Manual, existing Organogram and a copy of Approval for NBET’s Self Accounting Status from OAGF).

The committee was able to obtain these documents and relied on them.” The committee noted that the power to exercise disciplinary control over the management staff of NBET, especially on termination, suspension or stoppage of salary “is vested in its board in the absence of which the ministry takes over this responsibility.”

The committee further said, “The board/ministry has not delegated such powers/authority to the managing director/chief executive officer.” It accused the MD of “blatantly refusing to carry out the directives of the Minister of Power through the permanent secretary, and most times uses foul language in correspondences with her superiors and constituted authorities; this is unexpected of her status.”

The committee concluded in their recommendation to the minister that both officials must be reabsorbed and their salaries restored, and that the MD should be cautioned to always comply with extant rules. It further said the internal reorganisation done by the MD should be suspended until the board (which is the ministry for now) was informed and approval granted. Daily Trust reports that despite communication to the MD from the Ministry of Power, she failed to allow the two officials return to their duty posts. Disturbed by the refusal, the ministry sent a letter to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) dated November 26, 2018, calling for his intervention to resolve the impasse.

The letter titled: “Denial of Salary and other Emoluments in Respect of Waziri Bintube – GM/Chief Financial Officer and Abdullah Sambo – DGM/Head Intern Audit (NBET)”, narrated the actions already taken by the ministry, including the report of a committee and several directives to the MD of NBET to reinstate the officers. In the letter to the SGF, the Permanent Secretary in the ministry, Louis Edozien, said, “Considering that the efforts and measures deployed by the ministry at resolving the impasse amicably have failed, it has become imperative to escalate the matter to your office for final determination.” Contacted, officials at the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGOF) declined comment.

However, a top government official told Daily Trust that the SGF might have forwarded the ministry’s petition to the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, for necessary action. The official said the enabling law of NBET and Condition of Service barred such interventions as government could not be seen to be overruling itself. He further said, “With the way things are, only the Industrial Arbitration Panel can effectively act on this case.” NBET denies wrongdoing In an email response from NBET’s Corporate Communication department under the MD’s office, the agency said, “The service of the erstwhile Chief Finance Officer, Waziri Bintube, ended in December, 2017, having been documented as having resigned, not in good standing, in accordance with the company’s governing rules.”

For Mr. Abdullahi, NBET said, “Mr. Sambo Abdullahi has a pending lawsuit against the company before the National Industrial Court (NIC), Abuja. Given that the matter is sub judice, we cannot comment any further on this.” When contacted on the matter, Bintube who confirmed the crisis said he and Abdullahi had lodged complaint at the Ministry of Power. He added that they wrote a petition in which they sought for the ministry’s intervention under the purview of the then Minister, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, and the current Permanent Secretary, Engr. Edozien. He further said for the fact that they were yet to be allowed access to their offices at NBET, they were now working from the conference room of the ministry.

He explained that, “I was barred from going to the office since July, 2018. I continued going even after that, but after a while, she brought in the police to prevent me from going to the office.” Bintube also spoke about Mr. Abdullahi thus, “Sambo goes to office every work day but hasn’t been paid salary and allowances from January, 2018, to date. The Federal Civil Service rules say a staff is entitled to half pay even if on suspension.”

Lawyers speak A lawyer with knowledge of the energy sector, said Amobi could not be flouting orders unilaterally, saying some powerful forces somewhere must have been supporting her. The lawyer who does not want his name in print, said, “She can’t be alone in this act of impunity. Obviously, she has the backing of some forces and that is why she singlehandedly forced two senior officials out of their offices and nothing happened.

“I strongly suggest that some people with superior powers should wade into the matter. Impunity kills systems and breeds indiscipline and corruption. An important agency such as NBET should not be allowed to descend to this level,” he said.

The Civil Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights (CASER) said the NBET case was not the only one as there were others, including at the Police Service Commission (PSC). The Executive Director of CASER, Frank Tietie, told Daily Trust that those exposing corruption by engaging in whistle blowing were taking a big risk in the interest of the country, and thus must be protected if the anti-corruption war was to be won.

Tietie, a lawyer and rights activist, said, “It is the absence of enabling laws to protect whistle blowers that make parastatals or offices concerned to ignore directives from the ministries or from superior bodies on cases bordering on reinstating those unlawfully suspended or sacked.” Mandate of the agency NBET was established in July, 2010, and got its board of directors on August 10, 2011, with the Minister of Finance as its chairperson. Other members of the board included the Minister of Power, the Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), representatives of power firms and some independent professionals.

Part of the roles of NBET is to purchase and resale electricity. It also acts as a guarantor between the Generation Companies (GenCos) and the Distribution Companies (DisCos) by collecting proceeds of energy sales from the DisCos on behalf of the GenCos with a service charge of 2.5 per cent under the existing electricity tariff. As a critical stakeholder, a crisis within the organisation could have multiple effects on the Nigerian Electricity Market (NEM), observers in the energy sector have said.


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