Palpable tension enveloped the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading PLC following the recent arrest and detention for several hours of nine top officials of the bulk trader by the State Security Services (SSS, also called DSS).
Sources close to the agency said most of the workers stayed away from work for fear of being arrested by the security operatives said to have been invited by the managing director, Marilyn Amobi.
Prior to the arrest of the nine senior staff on Tuesday, one of the traumatised staff, Obinna Nnadozie, on November 21 resigned as a Projects & Research Officer.
In a letter addressed to his head of department, a copy obtained by PREMIUM TIMES on Friday in Abuja, Mr Nnadozie hinged his decision to quit on the “extremely toxic work environment at NBET, which has started impacting his health and family negatively.”
“The increasingly virulent work conditions, coupled with the culture of victimisation at NBET in which employees are discouraged from speaking the truth due to fear of retaliation, have forced me to resign. My health, moral compass, and peace of mind cannot allow me to continue to be employed by this company,” Mr Nnadozie lamented.
It was gathered on Friday that the company may witness more resignations by other staff in the coming days over the tense atmosphere in the company.
Members of the top management on Wednesday petitioned the Chairman of the NBET Board and Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, about the fast deteriorating situation.
Copies of the petition sent to the Minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola, and the Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), James Momoh, demanded the immediate removal of Ms Amobi from office.
“We invite the Federal Government to intervene urgently to save the staff from physical internal threat to staff by Ms Amobi,” the management staff said.
They accused the MD of constituting herself into a “clear and present threat to staff” by inviting the SSS to invade their office under her watch.
Two of the workers who spoke with our reporter on telephone on Friday recalled what led to the arrest and detention of the nine senior staff by the DSS last Tuesday.
They spoke on condition of anonymity, for fear of victimisation.
“Penultimate Friday, the MD assaulted the deputy General Manager, Corporate Services, Itohan Ehiedo, during a meeting in her (MD’s) office. But, Mrs Ehiedo was rescued by the General Counsel and Company Secretary,” one of the officials told our reporter on Friday.
After the incident on Friday (December 6), the official said some select staff received an email on Sunday (December 8) inviting them for a meeting with the MD on Monday at 1.45 p.m. in the NBET Boardroom.
When the MD did not show up for the meeting on Monday, the official said the meeting was shifted to the next day.
On Tuesday, shortly after the invited staff sat down for the meeting, about six plainclothes security operatives from the SSS stormed the meeting room.
Surprised that the operatives showed neither their official identity cards, letters of invitation, nor arrest warrant, the official said they demanded to know from the MD why the operatives were at the meeting.
“Her explanation was that they were there to carry out the vetting of staff because of the several petitions against NBET,” the official said.
The official said the operatives, during the vetting exercise, said they would check personal files of all the staff for the next three months, “and that the nine of them in the room were the first batch.”
Although the official said the MD assured that people were not being targeted deliberately, the operatives did not allow anybody in the room to go out.
“Everybody was restricted from leaving the room. People were called one after the other and taken to their different offices or workstations, their personal or desk top computers removed, along with their personal telephones seized. They were returned and held up in another room till others have all gone through the process,” he said.
After that, the official said the nine staff were reportedly escorted to two waiting vehicles downstairs.
But, when the two vehicles the SSS operatives came with did not accommodate them, he said the MD deployed additional NBET vehicles to move them to the SSS headquarters.
Although they said the SSS released them the same day at about 6.40 p.m. after five hours, they were directed to return the following day for further questioning.
The affected officials sàid they returned to the SSS on Friday.
At the SSS office on Friday, the official said rather than staff vetting, they were asked to call people to stand sureties and bail them.
“The sureties were directed to come with their international passports, national identity cards or driver’s licence to sign undertakings. Nothing was said about our offences. Those who did not have their laptops in the office were taken by the DSS operatives to their houses to pick them,” the official said.
Another official who also spoke on their experience at the DSS said as they returned the following day for the staff vetting, “they were kept in a room for five hours before they were asked to make statements”.
“Contrary to what the MD said that it was purely a human resources process everyone would have to go through in the next three months.
“We found out that the MD lied, as the operatives said their invitation was about a petition she wrote about alleged visa racketeering in the NBET.”
She said in the petition to the SSS, they learnt the MD had actually ‘selected’ the staff to be invited by the security outfit.
The officials said no further communication has since been given to them on what was going on in NBET.
“It is a scheme by the MD in her desperate move to get the DSS to implicate staff so that she can find a way to get rid of them. She’s desperate to get information that are in peoples’ telephones and computers on allegations against her, particularly those concerning several corrupt procurements,” the official said.
When our reporter contacted Ms Amobi for her reaction to the allegations, she refused to pick her call. Also, a text message sent to her was delivered without a response.
Also, the spokesperson of the DSS, Peter Afunanya, did not answer calls to his phone. He did not respond to the text message sent to him on Saturday.
Not new to controversies
The MD of NBET has been enmeshed in several allegations of corruption, resulting in the House of Representatives instituting a probe into her activities.
Also, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) indicted her of alleged violation of the Public Procurement Act.
Last month, electricity generation companies (GENCos) threatened to shut down power generation across the country over the controversial order by the NBET MD for them to pay 0.75 per cent administrative charge on all collated and submitted gas and transportation cost invoices to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for payment.
Following the protest by the GENCOs, the NBET MD sued the Executive Secretary of the Association of Power Generating Companies (APGC), Joy Ogaji, over alleged ‘malicious’ statements about NBET.
A legal process filed on her behalf by B & C Babalakin & Co, Ms Amobi accused Mrs Ogaji of making false statements designed to ruin the Power Sector in Nigeria.
She said “NBET is demanding a quid pro quo in the exercise of its statutory functions; seeking to extort 0.075 per cent of the money paid by NBET to the GENCOs.”
When contacted on Friday for her reaction, Mrs Ogaji described Ms Amobi’s legal action against her as a ‘declaration of war’ against all the GENCOs, adding that she was speaking in her capacity as their representative on issues affecting their interest.