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Ministers clash over removal of NBET’s Amobi

Marilyn Amobi may now serve out her tenure as the Managing Director of bulk electricity trader, NBET, following a letter to that effect conveyed to her late Monday by the finance ministry, a few moments after power minister, Saleh Mamman, had announced her removal “with immediate effect”.


The counteractions of the finance minister, Zainab Ahmed, and her power ministry counterpart, Mr Mamman, underscored the confusion and power play in the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.


The two ministers separately said Mr Buhari authorised their opposing actions.


In a statement on Monday evening, Mr Mamman said Mr Buhari had approved the removal of Ms Amobi, asking her to proceed on terminal leave and hand over to NBET’s General Counsel and Secretary, Nnaemeka Eweluka, as the new substantive boss of the agency immediately.


That was five days after PREMIUM TIMES exposed Ms Amobi’s continued violation of Nigeria’s code of conduct for public officials as she runs a private company, ESL Economics and Management Limited, and operates foreign bank account in the United Kingdom.


Mrs Amobi’s four-year tenure is to end July 24 this year.


Top government officials said our report on Ms Amobi’s abuse of code of conduct, indeed a constitutional breach, angered Mr Buhari who immediately ordered her removal.


However, shortly after Mr Mamman announced the removal, based on Mr Buhari’s approval, it emerged the president had earlier, through his Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari, given an instruction that Ms Amobi is allowed to serve out her tenure.

The approval to serve out her tenure was given in a June 8 memo, obtained by PREMIUM TIMES late Monday. That memo was then attached to a June 15 letter from the finance ministry to Ms Amobi asking her to serve out her tenure ending in July, thereby countering Mr Mamman’s earlier announcement.


The finance ministry’s letter was signed by the permanent secretary at the finance ministry, Mahmoud Isa-Dutse.


Although the correspondence gave Ms Amobi a temporary reprieve, it, nevertheless, asked the embattled official to hand over to Mr Eweluka at the completion of her tenure in July. But Mr Mamman’s instruction was that the replacement should take place immediately.


Insiders said the clash on the fate of Ms Amobi between the two ministers was indicative of the confusion in the administration of Mr Buhari, said to have a way of giving conflicting instructions and approvals to his officials on a single subject.


Regardless of the approval of June 8 to allow Ms Amobi serve out her tenure, the president gave another instruction that the official be removed immediately PREMIUM TIMES’ report of June 11 and the previous reporting by Leaks.ng on Ms Amobi’s abuses were brought to his (president’s) notice, insiders said.


The finance minister, Ms Usman, is the chairperson of NBET board but the company is a major player in the power sector overseen by Mr Mamman, the power minister.


In the power industry, NBET is the “manager and administrator of the electricity pool.” It has been covering the market shortfall using public funds to shore up the revenue of the electricity generation companies to prevent the collapse of the system that is perpetually afflicted by liquidity crisis.

In 2018, N701 billion was released for this purpose from the Central Bank of Nigeria for the 2017-2019 period.


After becoming a public official as the chief executive of NBET, a wholly-owned Nigerian government company, Ms Amobi did not withdraw from running ESL in the UK, management and accounting filings obtained by PREMIUM TIMES from UK authorities showed. This was first reported on June 10.


But during the weekend, she distributed a statement trying to deny this newspaper’s report. She said her company had become inactive and thus she was not running it.


She lied. According to records the UK authorities hold and which PREMIUM TIMES still accessed Tuesday morning before this publication, ESL, with company number 06413894, still holds an “active” business status and Ms Amobi’s running of the company remains “active”.

Also, several accounting filings, including yearly balance sheets, including the latest, submitted in 2019, were signed by Ms Amobi as the sole director of the consultancy firm.


Ms Amobi wholly owns ESL, which she registered in 2007 in London. But she did not withdraw from the running of the company as a director, after her appointment into public office in Nigeria as the country’s law requires.


She said she had resigned from the Nigerian version of ESL. PREMIUM TIMES cannot verify this claim immediately although records suggest her claim needs to be authenticated.


However, we can authoritatively report that she remains active running the private firm, ESL, in the UK and the firm is not inactive contrary to her claim.


The development on Monday evening is a new chapter in Ms Amobi’s controversial stint at NBET. She has variously been accused of abuses, including misuse of funds and maladministration.

On December 24, Ms Amobi was suspended by the power minister, 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 levelled against Ms Amobi.


The suspension, last December, 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 failing teamwork protocol among staff members.

But in January, Mr Buhari curiously overruled the minister, reinstating Ms Amobi despite indictments by anti-graft agencies — the EFCC and ICPC.


Apart from the two main antigraft agencies, (EFCC and ICPC), Nigeria’s auditor-general also found Ms Amobi culpable of maladministration.


Earlier in February 2019, PREMIUM TIMES reported how Ms Amobi controversially paid at least N2 billion to two power generating companies and made controversial 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, was also involved in a series of alleged corrupt acts such as subversion of board approvals and infraction of procurement laws. She had denied all the allegations.

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