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Revealed: The hasty N289 million vacation allowance provided by NBET to employees one day following Tinubu’s 60% travel expense cut directive

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The Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading (NBET) Plc has hurriedly paid its senior management staff N289 million as travel allowance for 2024, TheCable can report. Although there is no suggestion of wrongdoing, the timing of the payments is raising eyebrows.

Payments were made on January 10 — a day after President Bola Tinubu slashedthe expenditure and number of people in the entourage for international and local travels by 60 percent.

“If there is anybody who feels that the directive of the president is not binding on them, who feels that the president will not uphold this directive in implementation and seeks to test it, they will do so at their own peril,” Ajuri Ngelale, presidential spokesperson, had said while announcing the downsizing.

Nevertheless, NBET — the body that buys power from the generating companies (GenCos) and sells to the distribution companies (DisCos) — issued a memo dated January 8, titled ‘Holiday Travels, Air Ticket and Per Diem for Senior Management’.

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TheCable, however, learnt that the memo was quickly drafted after the presidential order on Tuesday, January 9, and backdated to the previous day.

Meanwhile, the payment request was sent to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on Tuesday as soon as it was authored, while the staff members started to receive the 100% travel allowance payment on Wednesday.

Tinubu ordered public officials to slash expenditure on official travel by 60 percent

“The Ag MD/CEO may please approve the sum of N289,850,656.59 (Two hundred and Eighty-Nine Million, Eight Hundred and Fifty Thousand, Six Hundred and Fifty-Six Naira, Fifty-Nine Kobo) as vacation allowance in-lieu of holiday allowance for 20 senior management staff as approved by the NBET board of directors on 2nd April, 2012 (please see page 66 to 67),” the memo reads.

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“The Ag MD/CEO may kindly see below the entitlements for the Twenty-Four Senior Management staff for the period of January – October 2024 are as follows.

“Business Class roundtrip to the United States of America (USA) for two persons, and per diem of two weeks for one person at a daily rate of $600 in favour of MD/CEO.

“Business Class roundtrip flight tickets to the United Kingdom for two persons, and per diem of one week for one person at a daily rate of $425 in favour of eligible persons within the AGM-GM cadre (11 persons). Apex class roundtrip ticket to United Kingdom for two persons in favour of eligible persons within senior management cadre (8 persons).”

TheCable further learnt that while the payment was being processed on Tuesday night after the presidential order, Sambo Abdullahi, NBET’s chief financial officer, sent an email to the beneficiary staff members saying that he was just informed of the new directive after the payment had been concluded.

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“Kindly note that the holiday allowance payment was concluded today but my attention has just been drawn to Mr President’s directive on slashing of travel expenses across all cadres of government. NBET as a government agency must adhere strictly to this directive,” the email stated.

“Consequently, beneficiaries must freeze their respective account for the amount received for refund to the e-collection account while we reinitiate the payment in line with the directive of Mr President.”

Also, the payment might have contravened financial regulations and budgetary expenditures as the government has not started implementing the 2024 budget. This raises the question of where the agency drew the funds for the 2024 travel allowance.

NBET: WE DON’T RELY ON MEDIA REPORTAGE

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Ewelukwa, NBET MD, who is said to be going on terminal leave by July, is also a beneficiary of the travel allowance

In a phone call with TheCable, Abdullahi denied that the memo was backdated. He said there was no circular sent to the agency to back up the presidential directive on the 60 percent slash in travel allowances.

“The memo was not backdated. The allowance is approved by the National Salary Income and Wages Commission (NSIWC) and I can provide you with a copy of the approval,” Abdullahi told TheCable.

“We are not bound by media reportage to direct agency. However, we have the circular. The circular signed by SGF does not affect the payment of our allowance.”

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On the email sent to staff on the eve of the payment immediately after the presidential directive was announced, Abdullahi said he was trying to be on the side of caution.

“The payment was finalised that day, and I saw the media report. But we are not supposed to rely on media publications. It will be a directive in writing. It was to tread on the side of caution that the email was sent out. The circular eventually came out despite the payment being approved by the (NSIWC) as the entitlement of staff. The circular did not even talk in that line. The directive did not talk about travel allowance; it only talked about the entourage,” he said.

The circular sent by Abdullahi from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation was dated December 11 and titled ‘RE-GUIDELINES ON CONDUCT OF OFFICIAL TRAVELS BY CABINET MEMBERS, HEADS OF AGENCIES, AND PUBLIC OFFICIALS’. The circular was sent after the backlash against the Nigerian delegation at COP28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

When TheCable raised the question that the circular was old while there was a new presidential directive, Abdullahi said: “Federal Government directives on travel and expenses are communicated to FGN MDAs in writing through Circulars issued by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). The circular I shared is the most recent and up-to-date communication on the issue. You may wish to clarify directly from the SGF’s Office.”

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