By Zainab Suleiman Okino
On the 24th of December, 2019 last year, Marilyn Amobi (PhD), the Managing Director of Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading (NBET) Plc got a rather upsetting Christmas gift. She was suspended from her office by the Minister of Power, Sale Mamman for high handedness and for constituting herself into a “clear and present threat to staff”.
She was also said to have contravened the Public Procurement Act. This is in addition to her running battle with Electricity Generation Companies (GenCos). In other words, her battles are both external and internal.
Surprisingly, barely two weeks after, President Muhammadu Buhari reversed her suspension and moved NBET to the Ministry of Finance. The President might have acted with the benefit of hindsight. However, typical of Nigerians’ pessimism about public officials’ capacity to lobby and scheme, many thought of the suspension and reversal as high-wire politics and power game playing out. So I thought too, until I had the opportunity to meet and interact with the “controversial” MD of MBET. Innocent or not, she can be likened to a cat with nine lives.
As it turned out, most of the allegations were false and the President’s action somehow validated her determination to re-position the company even as many (some staff and their trading partners) were averse to reforms.
Public sector is conservative; it resists business unusual and prefers to stick to existing structure even when it doesn’t suit the purpose. However, apart from other innovations, Amobi was determined to bridge what she called the “skills and knowledge gap” she has identified in the sub-sector. All these set the stage for the clash and crisis that had dogged her intervention, then the suspension, and until Daniel came to judgment, in her favour though.
So, what is the buzz about the much talked about bridging skills and knowledge gap and the corporate academy at NBET? What are those new ways of doing things brought about by Amobi, that have got tongues wagging and attracting criticisms to her style of leadership?
By the way, Amobi is an academic, teacher, business analyst, forensic data analyst, consultant and an economist. She had 16 years of experience in the energy sector (electricity and natural gas) with a grasp of economic regulation, regulatory reform, markets and prices, having worked at British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority in Vancouver, Canada, Hydro One Network, Toronto, Canada and Gas and Electricity Market, in London.
The NBET MD bagged a PhD in Economics from CASS Business School, London, MSc in Economic Regulation and Competition from City University, London and BSc in Economics from University of Nigeria, Nsukka. She came to NBET with a bagful of distinctions and had garnered experiences tailor-made for an organisation like NBET before she was probably head-hunted for the job.
Clearly she had made her mark, but is Nigeria’s cut-throat elite competition for top jobs ready? Well, time will unravel our curiosity.
Notwithstanding being a square peg in a square hole as Nigerians have always mouthed, and now seem unready to accept in her person, there are contentious issues begging for answers such as corruption charges and her journey to the EFCC, allegation of favouritism, and the concept of corporate academy. The corporate academy was Amobi’s attempt to recreate NBET, and if she succeeds, she will etch her name in gold. You can describe her as a disrupter, and you won’t be far from it. Otherwise how many MDs in Nigeria’s corporate world would reject a Harvard training and choose to apply the fund differently: build and develop the staff’s capacity. This she did as was corroborated by the staff themselves.
“On arrival, I met that the knowledge gap was wide; most of the consultants did not have requisite qualification while the critical staff did not have requisite skills and knowledge to meet the requirements of NBET. The existing training was all about getting per diem abroad and not skills specific or relevant to the organisation. So, I began to develop courses out of the shelf, to change the narrative and to prove that the content of a course has got nothing to do with destination.
So, I developed course modules to meet the needs of NBET in managing and administering electricity pool, as a research-based organisation for the industry and a trading company. We created infectious and burning ideas to want to learn and an opportunity for further professional development”, she said.
Explaining further, Amobi said the corporate academy maximises resources by “developing our own institute where we do forensic data analysis, design courses that took staff in batches to some of the best energy schools in the world, such as Aarhus University, Denmark under the supervision of Erik Larsen; University of Lancaster to work with PhD students and University of Florida, all in a bid, and have indeed taken the outputs of staff to top notch”.
The corporate academy also includes a library project which also serves as a resource and research centre to the power sector and anything public utility. A tour of the library project is a revelation in knowledge-based corporate identity. There were lots of books mostly donated by some of the best institutions in the subject matter of economics, econometrics, energy economics and regulation in the market. Such books in an MDA and not an academic environment is a marvel. Again, this is against the tide of the Nigerian public sector.
Talking about books, Amobi’s love for books became her albatross in NBET. One of the allegations against her in a petition to the EFCC was her request for refund for books she bought for staff to improve them for the task ahead. The other one is the purchase of rice for stakeholders. An idea was mooted for a Christmas party and she thought otherwise; because of prevalence of hunger in the land, she suggested buying rice which others can benefit from apart from the privileged few that would be present at the Christmas party. This was part of the questions she had to answer even though every stakeholder did sign to collect their own share of the rice.
Over-invoicing for two generation plants-Olorunsogo and Omotosho is another allegation. In her defence, the MD stated that NBET does not issue invoice, not to talk of over-invoicing as it is practically impossible to change a generation company’s invoice. The same generation companies also have their own grouse against her for not complying with the “business as usual standards” of the past. The accusation today is that she is surrounded by Northerners and Muslims, against her Southern and Christian brethren, contrary to the earlier one that she did not like Muslims and Northerners.
Such is the dilemma of one of a few leading lights of the Buhari administration. Since all this back and forth, is not about incompetence and lack of knowledgeable of the job but mere spoils/perks of office, you’d wonder what we really want as a nation– a patronising novice who uses his/her office to embezzle and dispense favours recklessly or an accomplished, competent and skillful professional whose impact and footprints can engender the attainment of overall organisational goals and objectives. From all available sources and resources, I dare say Amobi belongs to the second category.
A woman whose fragile frame, humility and open door policy belly her brilliance, giant footprints and efficiency, she has been able to impact on staff, despite the distraction.
Although, they (the staff) did not want their names mentioned, they spoke glowingly of their re-education, courtesy of their boss, such that, as ambassadors of NBET, they do serve as resource persons to some MDAs; how inspired and motivated they have been, and how their capacity has been enhanced. Commenting on the allegation of fraud against the MD, they said it was an unnecessary distraction to take the shine off the good work they are doing in the company. Young, talented, educated and yearning to set example of how transparent a public office should be, they revealed how in conjunction with their MD, they administered and structured a payment assurance facility of N701billion and saved Nigeria the sum of N30 billion.
For them the accusation of diversion of N2 billion never happened, just as Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) absolved the NBET MD of fraud of over-invoicing in the payment to Olorunsogo and Omotosho power plants, in tandem with power purchase agreement which the previous MD and the petitioners equally did when they were at the helms at NBET.
Thus NERC’s assertion after their investigation that: “Malam Waziri Bintube and Malam 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 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”.
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