CORRUPTION: Whistle-blowers face gruelling ordeal in NBET

The travails of Messrs Abdullahi Sambo and Waziri Bintube at Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET) began in June 2017 after the former wrote to the Ministry of Power, Works, and Housing challenging his redeployment in the company. Sambo maintains that his redeployment and subsequent predicament at NBET is not unconnected with his whistle-blowing on the MD/CEO of NBET, Dr Marilyn Amobi, whom he accuses of mismanagement and misappropriation of funds. Mr Bintube, who is an official in the finance department, co-authored the petition against the MD.

Redeployment and stoppage of salaries

In a letter dated June 13, 2017, and addressed to Abdullahi Sambo, NBET management led by Amobi announced an organizational shakeup that culminated in the redeployment of Sambo from (Head) Internal Audit Unit to Project, Research and Peoples Development Department on his extant salary grade level.

In the letter signed by NBET’s Head of Corporate Services, Itohan Ehiede, management noted that Sambo’s redeployment was part of “the organizational human capital plan” and based on the need to enhance the company’s internal capabilities. Sambo was directed to report to the GM, Project, Research and Peoples Development Department who will advise him on his functions accordingly.

A week earlier, the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation had written to NBET to inform the organization that one Hauwa Bello will resume to the Internal Audit Unit.

On receipt of the redeployment letter, Sambo said he wrote a petition to Babatunde Fashola, the Minister of Power, Works, and Housing as the Ministry exercised a supervisory role over NBET in the absence of a board. Sambo in his petition called on Fashola to avert “another crisis in NBET”. He argued that his redeployment and the organizational reshuffling was orchestrated by Mrs Amobi without due recourse to the board (or Ministry).

Babatunde Fashola

He further said his replacement by staff the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation was based on a letter written in 2012 and discarded on the order of the then Finance Minister and Chairperson of NBET, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Sambo accused the Accountant General of the Federation of colluding with Amobi as the duo were colleagues in the defunct continental merchant bank.

Furthermore, Sambo in his letter reiterated that Amobi had been involved in the abuse of office and financial infractions since her assumption of office in July 2016.

Six months later, things would go from bad to worse for Sambo as NBET management informed him of the stoppage of his salary until the board decides his petition against the MD/CEO. In a letter dated 27th December 2017 NBET accused Sambo of refusing his redeployment from Head of Internal Audit to Head of the Learning and Development Unit.

“As you know, your redeployment became necessary following an organizational refinement that was made to accommodate the Treasury Accountants the Head of Service of the Federation approved to be deployed to NBET, pursuant to the request that NBET made in 2012 to the Office of Account General of the Federation (OAGF) for grant of self-serving status, as provided for in the Financial Regulations (Revised Edition, 2009), Government Notice No. 291.

“As you are aware, the deployment of a Deputy Director (DD), Mrs Hauwa Bello as the new Head of Internal Audit was with immediate effect. Regardless, you refused to prepare and handover to her,” the letter said.

Furthermore, NBET management alleged that following his redeployment, Sambo seized two audit stamps the OAGF issued to NBET. Additionally, Sambo was accused of locking the organization’s security safe which forced NBET to replace the safe to the tune of N362, 250.

NBET management accordingly concluded that Sambo had become redundant: “Since June 2017 that you have refused to accept your redeployment, you have become redundant, yet you earned the total sum of N11,272,505.07; whilst the organization spent N1,355,959 only, for fuelling and maintaining a project vehicle that you use,” a letter to him read.

Signed by the Head, Corporate Service of NBET, Mrs Itohan Ehiede, the letter added that “it is not in the public interest to continue paying you for being redundant. Based on this, I am directed to convey to you the company’s decision to stop further payments of your salary and emoluments effective from Friday 22nd day of December until the board decides your petition.”

Sambo responded to the allegations levelled against him exactly a week after. According to Sambo, the redeployment served to him did not contain a job description of his new role as it merely stated that the General Manager, Project, Research and Peoples Development Department (GM, PRPD) would advise him of his functions accordingly.

“To that extent, I have been carrying out my duties in my redeployed department as directed by the GM, PRPD including attending meetings, leave and excuse duty requests,” he said.

On the issue of audit stamps, Sambo explained that he temporarily held them because of his complaint to the Minister following his redeployment. He, however, revealed that he had since handed over the stamp to the Permanent Secretary (Power) being the supervisory Ministry for further directives.

On the safe, Sambo stated that: “The security safe in my custody was retained as that was where the audit stamps were kept. The stamps were security instruments that must be kept in the safe as required by the Financial Regulations. As such, there is no way I would have handed over the safe to you prior to when the stamps were returned to the Permanent Secretary (Power).”

He urged the management to rescind its decision to stop his salary and emoluments as he could not direct the Minister on when to decide his petition.

“The sequence of the stoppage of my salary is aimed at meeting undeserved sanction on me and to prevent me from performing my domestic responsibilities as I was never involved in any misconduct,” Sambo lamented.

Breakdown of Sambo’s salary and emoluments

As at December 2018, Sambo’s owed salary and emoluments hit N18.5 million.

The breakdown is shown below:

    • Basic Salary: N4,048,062
    • Transport Allowance: N734,516
    • Rent Allowance: N4,700,900
    • Entertainment Allowance: N352,567
    • Medical Allowance: N734,516
    • Vehicle Maintenance: N734,516
    • Housing maintenance: N1,028,322
    • Education Allowance: N734,516
    • Annual leave allowance: N587,612
    • Furniture Grant: N1,828,062
    • Utility Allowance: N636,580
    • Domestic Servant: N1,713,870
  • Meal Subsidy: N665,961

He is yet to be paid any salary or emolument as at the time of writing this report.

Ministry’s intervention

The Ministry of Power, Works, and Housing set up an investigative panel on the 19th February 2018 to look into the NBET crises involving the Abdullahi Sambo and Waziri Bintube.

At the end of the committee’s work in March 2018 the report noted that “there were several management crises involving the MD/CEO, Dr Marilyn Amobi and some other management staff on policy issues and decisions which in essence is hindering smooth running of the company”.

In her submission to the Committee, Amobi accused Sambo of refusing to be deployed within the company, withheld the audit stamps and locked up the security safe of the company leading a stoppage of his salary and other emoluments. On the other hand, she alleged that Bintube proceeded on leave without authorization and failing to respond to a query within 48 hours which was then deemed as resignation.

The Committee, however, observed that disciplinary actions against Sambo and Bintube did not follow NBET’s Human Resource Policy Manual and the Federal Government Public Service Rules (PSR).

“In NBET, the power to exercise disciplinary control over the management staff especially as it relates to termination of appointment, suspension or stoppage of salaries is vested on its Board.

“In the absence of a Board, the Ministry takes over this responsibility. The Board/Ministry has not delegated such powers/authority to the MD/CEO,” it said in a report seen by Leaks NG.

Some of the key recommendations of the Committee include that “Bintube and Abdullahi should be allocated offices and their schedules restored.

“That NBET should restore the salaries and emoluments of the affected staff with immediate effect as earlier directed by the Honourable Minister and discountenance its decision of terminating the appointment of Waziri Bintube which is not in good standing since she does not possess such powers of dismissal.”

Furthermore, the Committee recommended that “the internal re-organization should be suspended until the Board/Ministry is informed and approval granted.”           

Continued Stoppage of salary despite the Ministry’s directive

Sequel to a directive to the MD/CEO NBET to effect the payment of salaries and emoluments of Abdullahi Sambo and Waziri Bintube, the Ministry of Power, Works, and Housing sent a reminder to Marilyn Amobi in a letter dated 20 March 2018. The Ministry also directed the MD/CEO to forward evidence of compliance.

Marilyn Amobi

Marilyn Amobi

The Ministry stressed that NBET management should “refrain from taking any action that will give effect to the report that Waziri Bintube – GM/Finance Officer and Sambo Abdullahi – DGM/Head of Internal Audit have ceased to be staff of NBET, until appropriate authority has determined that they have in fact ceased to be staff of NBET, after considering their petitions contesting the veracity of the report. And for the avoidance of any doubt, activity (sic) of NBET management should refrain from taking decisions which includes suspension of their salaries and emoluments as contained in the Ministry’s earlier letter No. FMP/OPS/S.19?T dated 6th February 2018 paragraph 3 and 4.”

Despite the Ministry’s order that the salary and emoluments of the duo of Sambo and Bintube be reinstated, they remain unpaid. Sambo repeatedly wrote letters to the Ministry of Power, Works, and Housing informing the Minister that NBET management is yet to comply with his directive.

Detention by DSS

Abdullahi Sambo and Waziri Bintube were reportedly invited and detained by the Department of State Services (DSS) on July 17, 2018, till the following day, July 18, 2018. They were also asked to report to the DSS on July 19, 2018.

The duo was later queried by NBET for their absence on the days they claimed that they were in detention prompting Sambo to write to the DSS to ask for evidence of detention which he said has not been provided till date.

“I received a phone call from the Economic Intelligent Unit of the Directorate of the State Security Services through Mr Waziri Bintube inviting me for a chat on a petition allegedly sponsored by Dr Marilyn Amobi the MD/CEO of NBET on a matter bothering on my official assignment and I was asked to report immediately. I got to the DSS office not later than thirty minutes that I received the call but to my dismay, I was detained till the next day 18 July when I was asked to provide answers to the accusations contained in Dr Amobi’s petition,” he said in response to the query issued on July 20, 2018.

Sambo explained further that the petitioner and CEO of NBET, Marilyn Amobi was present at the point of his release. Sambo added that he reported back to the DSS on the 19th of July as directed by the security agency. Sambo informed NBET that he had written for evidence of detention from the DSS while encouraging them to enquire from the agency to verify his claims.

Meanwhile in a letter to the Minister of Power, Works, and Housing informing him of their arrest, the duo alleged that police officers from the Special Protection Unit were deployed to the premises of NBET and were harassing staff of the organization.

Suspension of health insurance; withdrawal of official car and driver; exclusion from official benefits

On the 3rd of September 2018, Sambo wrote a letter to Mrs Amobi, urging her to “avert the economic, social and psychological injustices” being meted out on him.

According to him, his NHIS had been suspended in addition to the withdrawal of his official vehicle and driver. He accused the management of attempting to pre-empt the outcome of the investigation by the Ministry and the DSS.

“I perceived the exploitation of the instruments of office to ensure that I am completely dehumanised and possibly unable to honour future invitations from government authorities such as the ministerial committee and SSS.

“To further express the level of devastation and tactical humiliation by the office on my person, I was excluded in the recent laptop and desktop distributions to staff in the newly relocated office; to which to the best of my knowledge the entire staff of NBET were allocated. I was perturbed about this development and on my enquiry at the Head of Corporate Services on the reason why the devices were not allocated to me, the Head, Corporate Services confirmed that it was on the instruction of the MD/CEO.”

Sambo called on Amobi to allow due process and the rule of law to prevail pending the conclusion of the investigation by the Ministry of Power, Works, and Housing and DSS.

Human Rights Radio and dismissal

Abdullahi Sambo courted more trouble after he featured in the popular brekete family broadcast on Human Rights Radio 101.1 Fm on 2nd November 2018 during which he spoke on his running battle with Marilyn Amobi.

Five days later, he received a query for his appearance on the show. The query letter was signed by Itohan Ehiede, Head Corporate Services of NBET.

Itohan Ehiede

Itohan Ehiede

The query accused Sambo of abandoning his official duties to feature on the programme during which he revealed confidential information to the public. The information according to letter was in relation to the Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) the company executed with some power plants in its portfolio.

“Furthermore you discussed the contents of several internal communication that you alleged exists in the organization,” the query noted.

The letter then listed several allegations of corruption that Sambo hurled at the MD/CEO. According to the query, Sambo’s actions constituted gross misconduct based on the Human Resources Policy Manual of the organization.

NBET demanded that Sambo provides written consent that he obtained to attend the live broadcast.

“Furthermore, given the reputational damage that you caused the company, kindly within the next forty-eight hours provide compelling reasons on why appropriate disciplinary actions should not be taken against you in line with the Human Policy Manual of NBET and the Public Service Rules,” the letter concluded.

In his response two days later, Sambo noted that all the allegations of corruption that he labelled against the MD/CEO were already in the public domain through social media as far back as early 2018. Sambo also said that MD/CEO in the past granted interviews during which she divulged information and raised allegations against him. He also said many media houses including the Human Rights Radio were independently investigating the corruption allegations against the CEO.

“The anchor of the programme, “Brekete Family” contacted me in the same vein for clarification on the issues relating to the unlawful stoppage of my salary and other emoluments since December 22, 2017 and the genesis of my problem with the MD/CEO – Dr Marilyn Amobi so as to confirm the authenticity of his investigation (as a human right activist) and stories as published on social media. I responded to questions put forward to me by the anchor based on my personal ordeals,” he explained.

He stressed that when he was asked questions which bothers on NBET official matters he declined comment choosing to rather focus on matters which affected “financial injury into which NBET management” put him into.

The management of NBET was however unsatisfied with Sambo’s response and consequently constituted a Disciplinary Hearing Committee (DHC) to hear various complaints and allegations against him. The hearing was scheduled for 10th December 2018 by 10 am to be chaired by the General Counsel and Company Secretary, Dr Nnaemeka Ewelukwa with two members, namely, Mrs Itohan Ehiede – Head, Corporate Services and Dr Eugene Edeoga – Head, Procurement.

Before the hearing date, Sambo wrote to the Head of Corporate Services requesting additional documents including a certified true copy of the confidentiality undertaking he executed with the company in 2015, approved NBET guidelines on the application of Public Service Rule, and NBET Human Resources Manual where there is conflict amongst others. He also bemoaned that he had been denied working tools since the office relocated in addition to his blocked email. His request was however rejected amidst protests that he was lawfully entitled to such documents.

Next, Sambo notified NBET management that he would not be attending the hearing because he had instituted a legal case at the National Industrial Court over the matter and it will amount to subjudice for him to be part of the hearing.

However, a week after, Sambo received communication on the decision of the Hearing Committee which found him guilty of disclosing sensitive and confidential information that negatively affected the image of the organization and amounted to gross misconduct. The committee, therefore, recommended his summary dismissal. The recommendation of the committee was approved by the management.

Sambo, however, appealed his dismissal in a letter dated 20th December 2018 and addressed to the MD/CEO. In the letter he stated that he objected to appearing before the disciplinary hearing committee because it was in gross violation of the Human Resources Policy Manual which provides that members of the disciplinary committee cannot be a judge in their own case.

He explained that he was convinced that he would not be availed a fair hearing. He also noted that the DHC failed to appoint an independent and impartial investigator to investigate the allegations against him. He further argued that for an officer of his cadre, only the Board could reach the conclusion to dismiss him in accordance with section 6.2.5(iv) of the Human Resources Policy Manual of NBET. He further stressed that he was not provided with the documents that would have enabled him to prepare for his defence.

Sambo added that: “The NBET management kept mute when I filed a memo to halt the DHC process when I perceived that fairness and justice would not be guaranteed to me and this in law implies acceptance on the part of the DHC that the process will not proceed as no communication was passed to me that DHC would continue with its sitting on that date. More so, the management of NBET was served with my complaint from the National Industrial Court and a motion for an injunction restraining the management of NBET or its agents from any threat to my employment.”

Sambo added that he observed the venue of the hearing on the scheduled date and noticed that none of the Committee members went to the venue up till the close of work.

Nevertheless, Sambo has continued to report to the office till date as his access to the office via thumbprint and the key card still functions unhindered. Furthermore, Sambo has taken his case to several bodies including Presidential Advisory Committee Against corruption (PACA), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Nigeria Police Force among others.

In a series of identical letters on 19th December 2018, Sambo sought the intervention of the various bodies in his face off with the MD/CEO of NBET, Marilyn Amobi.

His letters were titled: “A Cry for Justice: Threat to Life, Stoppage of my Salary and Other Emoluments, purported dismissal from the services of NBET for raising fraudulent activities against Dr Marilyn Amobi (MD/CEO)”

Helpless Ministry seeks SGF intervention

Following several directives from the Ministry of Power, Works, and Housing which was playing the role of the board of NBET for the reinstatement of the salaries and emoluments of Abdullahi Sambo and Waziri Bintube, the Ministry sought the intervention of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in a letter dated 26th November, 2018.

The Ministry noted that that it had severally directed the MD/CEO of NBET to refrain from any action that would give effect to the report that Waziri Bintube and Abdullahi Sambo have ceased to be staff of NBET which included the withholding of their salaries and emoluments until appropriate authority had reviewed and determined the cases against the officers. However, the MD/CEO failed to comply.

“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,” the Ministry said.

The Office of the Secretary-General of the Federation on its own part has written to the Chairman of the Governing Board of NBET in a letter dated 18th January 2019 to ensure a resolution on the matter and revert to the SGF although no timeframe was given for the execution of the directive.

However, The African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL) has taken up the case of Sambo and Bintube. The organization’s whose work includes the protection of whistle-blowers recently wrote the MD/CEO of NBET to furnish it with evidence of implementation of the directive of the Ministry of Power, Works, Housing to reinstate the salary and emoluments of Sambo and Bintube.

AFRICMIL also wrote to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, urging it to resolve the matter rather than refer it an “unknown” Board.

“We appeal to you, Sir, to act faithfully to resolve this matter once and for all in the absence of any known Board. In the interest of justice, and in the interest of reversing the old and appalling ways of conducting public affairs which this administration promised the Nigerian people, we humbly request you to direct Dr Amobi to comply with the directives of the Ministry of Power, Works, and Housing as contained in the letters dated January 22, 2018, and February 6, 2018, and addressed to her,” AFRICMIL said in its letter of January 30, 2019.

NBET: It is an internal matter

Leaks.NG contacted Henrietta Ighomrore, a staff of NBET who insisted that due to ongoing restructuring at NBET, she was at the time of interaction, not the Head of Corporate Communications. Nevertheless, she still offered to speak on the matter.

When asked if NBET has complied with directives from the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing concerning the reinstatement of the salaries and emoluments of Abdullahi Sambo and Waziri Bintube, she first of all clarified that the Ministry was not the board of NBET but only a “supervisory Ministry”.

Our reporter then reminded her that the board of NBET was only reconstituted in August 2018 while the Ministry of Power, Works, and Housing issued its directive earlier in February and March 2018. Ighomrore then refused to confirm if the directive had been complied with but was however at pains to explain that NBET enjoys a “good relationship” with the Ministry.

“One thing I can tell you is that the Ministry and the management of NBET are constantly in touch and collaborating with each other. If there is anything pending that NBET was supposed to do but did not do, I am sure the Ministry would have taken action,” she began.

Ighomrore continued: “I cannot confirm the status of what you have asked but I can tell you NBET enjoys a good relationship with the Ministry and does its normal business processes with it as required.”

She then declined further comments on other issues raised by this reporter including denial of work tools to Sambo and his continued access to the office despite his dismissal by the Disciplinary Hearing Committee last December. Ighomrore insisted that they were “internal issues” which will be dealt with internally and not meant to “make front page news.”

According to Ighomrore, “Most of the things you have raised are internal processes issues. NBET as an organization has a process manual, so if there are internal issues they will be dealt with internally. I am not sure if the day to day work of a staff is what should make front page news.

“NBET has over 40 staff, if there are any issues, it will be dealt with internally. There is also a board for that”.

Ighomrore then provided a telephone number which she said is the official communications line. That number has however not been reachable as at the time of filing this report.

For now, Sambo’s faceoff with NBET’s Management rumbles on with no definite end in sight.