One of the perils of public office in Nigeria is the victimization of innocent persons in prominent positions through orchestrated false and malicious allegations designed to do maximum damage to their reputations. In the current social media era, this capacity to hurt and tarnish has vastly increased. Mercifully the victims of such vicious assaults are sometimes rewarded for their pain with total vindication.
Consider the advertisement placed by the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), power sector regulator on Thursday, February 28, 2019 in several national papers. The context is that over the past two years, the leadership of the government agency responsible for ensuring that the nation’s power sector is in investment-friendly condition has been embroiled in an orchestrated low-level but serious crisis ignited by allegations against its chief executive by two senior management staff.
The NERC investigation into the allegations against the Managing Director of the Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading Company (NBET), Dr. Marilyn Amobi, included extensive review of relevant material as well as detailed interviews of top management of NBET involved in Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) as well as the petitioners.
Titled “Allegations of Fraudulent Payments of N2 Billion to the Olorunsogo and Omotosho Power Plants by the Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading Company PLC”, the advertisement summarized the findings of the investigation. The key allegation was that Amobi approved fraudulent payments to the two generation companies based in Ogun and Ondo states.
The claims of impropriety were made by two top management staff of NBET – Mallam Waziri Bintube, former General Manager/Chief Financial Officer and Mallam Abdullahi Sambo, former Deputy General Manager/Head of Internal Audit.
Over the past two years, these lurid allegations have been splashed on some online media platforms who had published them as fact without the benefit of the necessary professional due diligence.
The advertisement in question set out the context and rationale for the NERC investigation: “Following the allegations of N2billion fraudulent payments to the Olorunsogo and Omotosho power plants by Waziri Bintube and Abdullahi Sambo, staff of the NBET, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, which oversees key aspects of the company’s operations, investigated the claims to address tensions among investors and lenders especially, who are afraid that the management of a company carrying such a vital task as the NBET is being mismanaged…”
The summary of the 15-point advertisement was clear and to the point. In unmistakable terms, the report stated that Amobi was completely innocent of the charges. In fact, the findings are a comprehensive repudiation of the campaign against Amobi, a quiet and seasoned technocrat who has been leading the hardworking and professional team in the institution to progress the mandate of the important agency in the midst of many challenges.
It is noteworthy that the two accusers had taken their campaign against the NBET MD to several online and traditional media platforms, including a prominent radio station. The debunking of their accusations underscores the flagrant abuse and associated agony that innocent persons in prominent public office suffer in the hands of malicious persons determined to bring them down in pursuit of their often selfish interest.
The kernel of NERC’s findings is 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”.
Incredibly, the report also stated that Messers Bintube and Sambo “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 alleged.”
Other fascinating revelations were captured in the NERC advertisement. Perhaps the most astonishing is the revelation that during the period one of Amobi’s accusers – Bintube – acted as MD of NBET prior to Amobi’s assumption of office, he had approved the same long-standing structured payment which he later based his false allegations against Amobi. Here are the exact words from the advertisement:
• “Payments to the 2 power plants, in compliance with the terms of the PPAs, were carried out and maintained by past MDs of the NBET, Mr. Rumundaka Wonodi, and Mallam Waziri Bintube who was Acting Managing Director of NBET before Dr. Amobi’s appointment, and continued by Dr. Amobi upon her assumption on duty as Managing Director of NBET.
• “It is noteworthy that Mallam Waziri Bintube provided legal justification for the payments to these 2 power plants vide an email dated 17 August 2016 to the Permanent Secretary (Power) of the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing wherein he stated that “for Olorunsogo and Omotosho PPAs, their capacity payments are based on the minimum capacity of 161.8mw in the first 2 contract years and 186.3mw from the third contract year onward.”
The NERC report is direct and frontal in its description of the damage done by the false allegations of the duo: “These unfounded allegations by Mallam Waziri Bintube and Mallam Abdullahi Sambo have brought Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (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”.
Time will tell if this well documented and brazen assault on truth by the two accusers will be sanctioned. For now, what matters is that the outcome of the process initiated by NERC and the transparent and unassailable findings constitute a victory for due process and justice. It deserves to be celebrated because, sadly, the truth doesn’t always prevail.
– Oche is a public affairs analyst
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