How corruption whistleblowers are victimised in Nigerian agency, NBET

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The travails of 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.

Mr Sambo maintains that his redeployment and subsequent predicament at NBET is not unconnected with his whistle-blowing on the MD/CEO of NBET, 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 Mr Sambo, NBET’s management, led by Ms Amobi, announced an organizational shakeup that culminated in the redeployment of Mr 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 Mr Sambo’s redeployment was part of “the organizational human capital plan” and based on the need to enhance the company’s internal capabilities.
Mr 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, Mr 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.

Mr Sambo, in his petition, called on Mr Fashola to avert “another crisis in NBET”. He argued that his redeployment and the organisational reshuffling was orchestrated by Mrs Amobi without due recourse to the board (or ministry).

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, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Mr Sambo accused the Accountant General of the Federation of colluding with Mrs Amobi as the duo were colleagues in the defunct Continental Merchant Bank.

Furthermore, Mr Sambo, in his letter, reiterated that Mrs 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 Mr Sambo as NBET’s management informed him of the stoppage of his salary until the board decides his petition against the MD/CEO.

In a letter dated December 27, 2017, NBET accused Mr 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’s management alleged that following his redeployment, Mr Sambo seized two audit stamps the OAGF issued to NBET. Additionally, Mr Sambo was accused of locking the organization’s security safe which forced NBET to replace the safe to the tune of N362, 250.

NBET’s management accordingly concluded that Mr 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, 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.”

Mr Sambo responded to the allegations levelled against him exactly a week after. According to him, 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, Mr 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, Mr 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 meting undeserved sanction on me and to prevent me from performing my domestic responsibilities as I was never involved in any misconduct,” Mr Sambo lamented.
Breakdown of Sambo’s salary and emoluments

As at December 2018, Mr 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 February 19, 2018, to look into the NBET crises involving Messrs Sambo and 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, Mrs Amobi accused Mr Sambo of refusing to be deployed within the company, withholding the audit stamps and locking up the security safe of the company, leading a stoppage of his salary and other emoluments.

On the other hand, she alleged that Mr Bintube proceeded on leave without authorisation and failed to respond to a query within 48 hours, which was then deemed as resignation.

The committee, however, observed that disciplinary actions against Messrs 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 a 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 March 20, 2018.

The ministry also directed the MD/CEO to forward evidence of compliance.

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 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 6thFebruary, 2018 paragraph 3 and 4.”

Despite the ministry’s order that the salary and emoluments of the duo be reinstated, they remain unpaid. Mr 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

Messrs Sambo and Bintube were reportedly invited and detained by the State Security Service (SSS, also called DSS) on July 17, 2018, till the following day, July 18, 2018. They were also asked to report to the SSS 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 Mr Sambo to write to the DSS to ask for evidence of detention which he said has not been provided till date.

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