ICPC/NBET tangle turns political, by Mabel Laide

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Allegations of political manipulation of the operations of the ICPC have erupted as the investigative body launched yet another “media persecution” pre-empting filing of charges at a court of law against the Managing Director of the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading PLC, Dr. M Amobi with a news item planted in several national dailies this week revealing that ICPC “is set to prosecute” the MD of NBET and unnamed others for violation of the Procurement Act and ICPC Act.

The indication of political manipulation of the investigative body were triggered by the startling revelation in the news item that ICPC ‘s decision to prosecute “was contained in a report by the ICPC to Vice President Osinbajo in March, copied to the Deputy Chief of Staff” and signed by the ICPC Chairman, Bolaji Owosanoye.

It was recalled that in recent times the ICPC has been enmeshed in various instances of media trial of certain individuals and agencies of government in a curious departure from its normal modus operandi of concluding investigations and filing charges before going to the media with the decision to prosecute and background to the case.

The NBET had earlier issued a public rejoinder to similar ICPC declaration of intention to prosecute its MD in the news media whereas ICPC was still investigating allegations that the management of the agency had debunked with documentary proof and was convinced that nothing illegal had been done.

The allegations at the centre of the ICPC’s media trial emanated from an NGO, LeaksNG, which took up the petitions by two staff of NBET to the Minister of Finance with a whistle blowing report requesting for urgent intervention to stem fraud in NBET.
The petition highlighted 15 allegations of corrupt activities against the person of the Managing Director, Dr. M Amobi which was later adopted by several NGOs in a preparatory media campaign. The NBET later issued its own statements indicating how it had taken due process administrative action on the petitions as “internal matters” as well as the outcome and necessary disciplinary measures against the petitioners.

Nevertheless, the ICPC embarked on media attacks on the MD of the NBET even as it admitted that further action would be taken “after investigations are concluded” thereby confirming the pre-emptive status of the media attacks prior to indictment and filing of charges as NBET protested.

The latest media blitz by ICPC has, however, gone to the extent of linking the Office of the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo by revealing that its Chairman, Bolaji Owosanye, referred the report on its investigations to the office as far back as March, another indication that the decision to actually prosecute the MD of NBET had not been taken despite the media “indictment”.

The revelation of reference of the matter to the VP’s office has now added a new dimension to the matter as pundits raise eyebrows about political interest or interference in the routine functions of an investigative body acclaimed to be “independent” that also delved into heavy media attacks on the MD of NBET regardless of its evident dependence on external referrals in deciding the next line of action.

*Mabel Laide is a freelance journalist in Abuja.

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