Last week, the House of Representatives finally ordered an investigation into allegations of sleaze in the operations of the Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading Company (NBET), after some back and forth attempts at doing so. JOSHUA EGBODO reports.
A history of graft allegations?
To say NBET has over time remained one of the federal government’s owned corporations with a very good history of allegations of corruption would, to many Nigerians, be saying the obvious. At a point in late 2019, the Managing Director of the company, Marilyn Amobi, was compelled to step down, for issues raised in reported multiple petitions needed to be investigated. Amobi was then, asked by the Minister of Power, Sale Mamman, to step down over myriads of complaints against her, and subsequently raised a five-member panel to investigate the issues.
While that lasted, an Acting Managing Director in the person of Nnaemeka Ewelukwa was appointed by the federal government, to oversee the affairs of NBET.
Back on the saddle
When the team that investigated the complaints against Amobi turned in its report, she was dramatically given a clean bill. The same prompted President Muhammadu Buhari to, early in the year, directed her reinstatement. The coming back of Amobi, as expected came with some measure of discomfort among critical stakeholders, including the House of Representatives, which committee on power had raised several issues against the MD.
With the return of Amobi, opposition resurfaced too, especially when President Buhari announced the reconstitution of NBET’s board, a move that suggested an expression of confidence in her capacity.
To followers of the developments, it was akin to a direct invitation to clash between the presidency and the House of Representatives, through its power committee, as the later had repeatedly expressed its aversion to the continued stay of Amobi as head of NBET.
There were earlier issues with the Aliyu Magaji-led committee, on its powers of oversight on NBET, with arguments that it is a limited liability company, licensed under the Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), and already transferred from the Federal Ministry of Power to the Federal Ministry of Finance, which at the moment supervises NBET.
The committee had at one meeting, questioned the rationale behind Buhari’s decision, and under what authority he approved the transfer of the agency, which by the law establishing it, was under the ministry of power. Members were also angry that Buhari, rather than uphold the initial removal of the MD, reinstated her on January 9, 2020.
The Houses of Representatives Committee on Power therefore insisted that it has power to supervise and direct the company, accusing Amobi of incompetence, disrespect to its members as well as corruption. It also cited allegations by a former head of audit in NBET, Sambo Abdullahi, that the MD had been indicted by both the EFCC and ICPC, as one of the reasons why the MD should have been booted.
The multiple of petitions by Sambo Abdullahi against Amobi later to prompt the Power Committee to visit NBET, where it questioned the MD on why she redeployed Abdullahi without the approval of the board. Dissatisfied with her explanations, the committee accused her of being “disrespectful, incompetent”, and unable to provide it with evidences of the alleged offences of Abdulahi.
Motions for probe
A motion, initially pushed by the committee on power, with the intent to getting a resolution of passing a vote of no confidence on Amobi was reportedly turned down by the leadership. According to highlights provided by insiders, the House’s leadership under Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila wanted concrete evidences before it, to warrant such a damning verdict on the NBET boss, a demand the committee reportedly, could not provide at the time.
The committee had further in the reported motion, which did not see the light of the day, accused Amobi of “gross misconduct and insubordination”, and a final call by the National Assembly to ask for her removal from office. The said motion was rested against the planned introduction at one of the phased plenary arrangement in view of the lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic, after the House’s leadership was said to have insisted on the needed details.
Investigation finally ordered
However, the House of Representatives last week ended up mandating its committees on Power and Financial Crimes, to look into the allegations against NBET from 2015 to date. The motion insisting on the need for the house to look into allegations of financial impropriety in the NBET, this time came through Hon Muhammed Wudil, a member on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) from Kano state.
Wudil told his colleagues that reports of fraud in NBET were already provided by anti-corruption agencies, from 2015, citing the legal powers of the house to launch investigation into such allegations when the need arises. “The (House) Committee on Power is in receipt of complaints against Nigeria Bulk Trading Company (NBET) since the inception of the agency”, he had argued.
According to the lawmaker, “several anti-corruption agencies among which are the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, and the Office of the Auditor-General for the Federation, have further investigated the agency, and come out with reports”, which he said needed further scrutiny and action.
He, therefore, called on the House of Representatives to review the reports, make its additional findings and recommend sanctions as may be appropriate. Without debating the motion The House adopted it, mandating its joint Committee on Power, Financial Crimes and Anti-corruption to investigate the operations of NBET from 2015 to date. The joint committee was from last Tuesday, given two weeks to turn in its report.
Wither the probe, outcome?
Now that a joint panel of the House of Representatives has gotten the nod to carry out the investigation, questions in the opinion of analysts have been on the extent to which the committee can go. Would there be can of worms opened? What if the panel bows to external pressure, as is always the public suspicion. What would be the fate of whatever verdict the House eventually passed? These and many more were what Nigerians would be waiting patiently to get answers to.