July 22, 2024

EKEDC Chairman, Dere Otubu Fingered In Multi-Million Naira Ghost Worker Fraud

8 min read

The chairman of Eko Electricity Distribution Company, Dere Otubu, has been fingered in alleged multiple attempts to cover up massive ghost worker fraud rocking the organization by scheming to obstruct the company’s investigation processes.

In several email exchanges seen leaked out, Otubu made repeated attempts to sabotage the efforts of board members to investigate allegations of fraud levelled against the company’s Chief Legal Officer, Mrs Wola Joseph-Condotti.

He also reportedly made attempts to compromise the company’s internal disciplinary processes and cover up the allegations levelled against Mrs Joseph-Condotti.

Boardroom Crises: The Genesis

Recall that members of the board of the Eko Electricity Distribution Company have in recent times been at loggerheads over the alleged sack of the company’s Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Dr Tinuade Sanda.

Media reports showed that the firm replaced Sanda with Mrs Rekhiat Momoh. It was gathered that Sanda’s alleged sack was communicated through a letter signed by the EKEDC Chairman, Dere Otubu, on March 25.

According to Otubu, the decision to relieve Sanda of her duties followed a directive from the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission.

“We have received a directive from NERC stating that all staff working for the utility must be employed directly by the utility, bound by applicable service conditions that are applicable to the employees of the utility, and paid through the utility’s payroll.

“The Disco is obligated to comply with these directives due to the powers of NERC as stipulated in the Electricity Act 2023. In compliance with the aforementioned directive, all seconded staff from WPG Ltd are being released by Eko Electricity Distribution Plc and returned to WPG Ltd.

“Accordingly, you are hereby relieved of your role, office, and position at Eko Electricity Distribution Plc effectively immediately, and returned to your employer, WPG Ltd,” Otubu said last month.

Prior to Tinuade’s alleged sack which many have viewed as not following due process, some senior staff members of the Eko DisCo were accused of ghost worker recruitment, fraud and negligence, a claim the firm said was ‘unfounded’. Reacting to the allegation, NERC ordered thorough investigations, while directing that all existing WPG secondees who were identified as defaulting, be returned to their original employer.

“We wish to inform the general public that Mrs Rekhiat Momoh has on 26th March 2024 assumed the role of Acting CEO of Eko Disco. This follows the redeployment of our erstwhile MD/CEO, Mrs Tinuade Sanda back to WPG Ltd, the core investor who seconded her to Eko Disco. We have great confidence in her ability to perform this role effectively and take the company to greater heights,” the company said in response to the directive.

Experts however argue that only WPG can effect NERC’s recall and not the chairman of the board who seems to be acting in an executive role in a breach of corporate governance rules. NERC’s ambiguous correspondences also add to the confusion.

Rebuttal

But in a subsequent rebuttal, the Director and Chairman of the Legal & Regulatory Committee, Mr Babor Egeregor, disagreed with the chairman over the sack of Sanda. He said the NERC did not order the removal of any staff either seconded to or hired by EKEDC, except those connected to the alleged fraud and negligence.

“It has come to my notice that by a letter dated 26th of March 2024, the Chairman of EKEDC, Mr Dere Otubu, purportedly terminated the Contract of Employment of Dr Tinuade Sanda, the MD/CEO of EKEDC, allegedly in compliance with orders/directives issued by the NERC.

“The said order of the NERC, herein displayed, are unambiguous, incapable of, and unyielding to plural interpretations. There was nowhere in the order where NERC requested the removal of any staff either seconded to or hired by EKEDC, except those connected to the alleged fraud and negligence i.e., Wola Joseph Condotti, Sheri Adegbenro, and Aik Alenkhe,” he said.

According to Egregor, NERC’s directives were issued to compel the board of EKEDC to act appropriately in the face of the determined position of a majority of the board members to cover up the alleged use of ghost workers together with the alleged fraud and protect Wola Joseph Condotti.

“Mr Dere Otubu’s letter, therefore, was done in bad faith and in vengeful revenge against the MD/CEO for escalating the alleged fraud and issuing queries against one of his protégés, whom he has desperately sworn to protect by all means.

“Rather than comply with the orders of NERC, a recourse to subterfuge was hatched with the purported termination. There are no doubts about a deliberate agenda and unconcealed mischief to misread the orders of the NERC to malign Dr Sanda’s reputation for daring to escalate and issue queries to Wola Joseph Condotti for alleged fraud through the use of ghost workers for three years, and continuous payment of salaries to exited staff despite personally receiving their resignation letters,” Egregor stated.

Analysts also argue that following Otubu’s action which he based on a misinterpretation of NERC directive, then he Anne other members of the board who were seconded to represent WPG on the board ought to leave – if the NERC order is meant to be followed as the chairman has erroneously described. This argument is also supported by the earlier email correspondences this publication saw in which such an argument was posed reacting to the recall of Ms Condotti by the core I investor, WPG.

Otubu Exposed

Meanwhile, multiple messages leaked out and seen by this medium have revealed the backend details of Otubu’s attempt to cover-up for Condotti and the real reasons for his “vendetta” against the MD, Tinuade.

Last November, immediately the allegation of fraud was escalated by Tinuade, the chairman of WPG limited, the employers of Wola Jospeh Condotti, recalled her to WPG to avoid obstruction of investigation in line with best practices. But in a shocking twist of events, Dere Otubu unilaterally instructed Condotti to disregard the recall with the pretense to fairly apply the conditions of service of EKEDP.

“I was copied in a letter from Chairman of WPG dated 5th of Dec 2023 recalling you From the position of Chief Legal Officer to EKO DISCO,” he wrote in an email to Condotti.

“Kindly disregard this letter in its Entirety. Eko Disco will Continue with its process of looking into the matter. Eko Disco MD who is copied should note accordingly.”

Although he was immediately confronted by members of the board, who indicated the existence of disciplinary process and showed that EKEDP’s punishment for the offence was sacrosanct. Amid the insistence of the union and other board members that due process be followed, it became clear to him that the law would be adhered to.

Not relenting in his scheming, Otubu told the full board of the NERC that the condition of service of EKEDP does not apply to seconded staff. At that point, it had become apparent to the entire boards of both EKEDP and WPG that Dere Otubu was hell bent on compromising the disciplinary process to cover-up for Mrs Condotti.

Another board person, George Etomi, fired back at him to ensure that due process was followed.

“Let me remind you that when you spoke to me it was more about how this matter can be suppressed and I told you very clearly that I would not stand for that,” Etomi wrote in an email exchange.

“Given the reference to GEP of course I will recuse myself from any investigative panel that will be set up to look into this matter. I do not see how recalling a WPG employee that serious allegations have been made against can be wrong. On the contrary, your assumption of my guilt is what shows your bias and I do not trust any process in this matter that is chaired by you.”

Following the principled objections to Dere’s scheming, there was a constitution of a disciplinary committee by the board of EKEDP headed by Dr. Tunji Olowolafe and Otubu again tried to unilaterally expand the committee’s scope of reference to provide latitude to surreptiously indict the MD/CEO, Tinuade Sanda, and then negotiate the release or cover up of Wola Joseph Condotti.

For instance, he took over the responsibility of the company secretariat to personally ‘extract’ and prepare terms of reference that were unknown to the collective board of EKEDP.

That prompted Babor Egeregor, Chairman Legal Corporate Governance and Regulatory Compliance Committee, to raise the alarm about Otubu’s conduct in another email to Dr Olowolafe.

“Dr, Please Deliberating on this extraneous Terms of Reference as singularly and surreptitiously introduced by Mr.Otubu who openly admitted to being conflicted will be tantamount to deliberating on falsehood and illegality,” he wrote in an email.

“We must be governed by the resolutions of the board, which is the highest decision making body of the company. Mr Otubu is acting as an executive chairman which he is not and definitely not an emperor as he is attempting to be. When we do things like this then we are saying we have thrown caution, corporate and good governance out the window. When we get to that meeting I won’t be a part of this fake and fabricated term of reference. God forbid!”

See the Emails below;

What Next?

Following committee’s impasse on complying fairly, prompting the resultant media escalation and union agitations, Dere Otubu wrote Dr. Tinuade Sanda with threats of possible sanctions. He acknowledged calls from whistle blowers and bad press but refused to acknowledge that the trigger is connected to the failure of the board under his leadership.

He then mandated the MD to ‘wave the wand’ to dispel consequences. In her response, Dr. Tinuade restated her fidelity to corporate governance crisis management and also urged Otubu to honourably stop duplicitous outlook towards the staff and the union by following the rules of the company.

The exchange snowballed to the unease that got to its crescendo with the removal of Tinuade from office and subsequent reversal of the decisions. Insiders say that Dere Otubu’s near-unilateral decisions and refusal to adhere to internal corporate governance frameworks casts a shadow of doubts on EKEDP’s ability to manage its affairs, ensure compliance with regulations among staff, and nip corrupt practices in the bud.

It remains unclear how long this would linger until something gives way. NERC on the other hand seems to have found itself in a web of corporate scheming which they were probably unaware of when they wrote their letter.

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