Tuesday, 30 May, 2023



The Seplat issue should be handled transparently and dispassionately, writes Dan Aibangbe 

Events breaking within the corridors of Nigeria’s energy giant, SEPLAT Energy PLC, (SEPL) is assuming a dangerous dimension. The intrigues being initiated by the dramatis personae are upping the ante with rapid acceleration. The Investors, the oil and gas industry and the federal government appear to be deeply involved and intertwined in a typical Russian Roulette!

For the keenly interested, the first twin-salvo was fired by a shadowy band of stakeholders, who dragged the de facto CEO of Seplat, Mr Roger Brown (a Briton) before the Nigerian courts on a number of seemingly contrived issues including abusing the Nigerian President Buhari; racist practices; establishing of foreign office and other spurious issues. At the same time, the same group petitioned the Ministry of the Interior to the effect that the immigration documents of Mr Brown should be repudiated with immediate effect in the best interest of Nigeria. Needless to say, the group succeeded in obtaining an ex-parte judgement to the effect that Mr Brown was suspended from acting as Seplat CEO.

In response to the perceived injustice due to unfair hearing and outright misrepresentations, the Seplat Board quickly scrambled a legal response that ensured the ex-parte order was promptly vacated and Mr Brown was free to return to the country to fully answer the charges during the hearing of the substantive suit. 

To further shed more light on the issues at stake, Seplat is a company of interest to international investors, it is worth close to one trillion naira. Seplat is in the process of completing the acquisition of Mobil Producing Nigeria Limited; Seplat is the foremost Nigerian operator in the on-shore fields of the oil and gas industry. It is the leading supplier of Gas fueling the Nigerian Gencos. The prospects are high.

The worrisome intrigues spiked by the recent Suit No FHC/AB/CR/149/2023 instituted by the federal government, against Seplat Energy, Mr Brown (the CEO), Independent Non-Executive Directors (INEDs) Dr Charles Okeahalam, Mrs Bashirat Odunewu, Prof Fabian Ajogwu, Mr Rabiu Bello, Ms Emma Fitzegerald and the Company Secretary, Mrs Edith Onwuchukwu appears to be stoking the embers of a dying fire. The defendants are being accused of four criminal offences purported to be in breach of Nigerian Immigration Act, 2015.

A cursory examination of the particulars of the charges reveals a lot of contradictions. For instance, the set were accused of employing the CEO without the consent of the Comptroller of Immigration! The relevant sections of Company and Allied Matters Act, place the responsibility for the appointment of CEO on the Board of Directors, subject to ratification of the shareholders at the next general meeting or extra-ordinary general meeting of the company. Mr Brown is also not a new employee of the company. He has been with Seplat in one form or the order since 2013. 

Another issue is why bring these charges after you have already expelled the man and not before? Conviction on the charges ought to have been the grounds for expulsion. Also, the content of earlier publications reveals that the immigration documents of Mr Brown were repudiated sometimes after the Ministry of Interior received a petition bordering on racist acts of the CEO, which implies that he had valid documents while serving as CEO! So, at what point were the criminal offences against the immigration laws committed?

To the best of my knowledge, Mr Brown did not enter Nigeria as an Illegal immigrant, neither did he sojourn as an illegal worker. The minute his valid immigration documents were repudiated, the man left the country promptly, pending when the authorities properly and justly resolve the issues. As we speak, Mr Brown is outside the shores of Nigeria. So, why these new criminal charges, which appear like an overkill and an attempt to put paid to his ability to work in Nigeria.

A number of questions and concerns become pertinent at this point. What effect can the persecutions of Mr Brown in Nigeria have on his employment as CEO of a company that operates actively in two prominent jurisdictions? How does this affect diplomatic relations with Britain, if and when the Nigerian courts complete their hearings? How does this epic story help Nigeria’s quest for Foreign Direct Investments, which recent reports say has nose-dived from an average of 25 billion dollars to five billion per annum this year? How does this episode help the corporate governance and ease of doing business perception index of our dear country?

In another development, Seplat has issued a public notice dated April 13, 2023 on this latest development in line with the extant regulations of the Stock Exchange.

In my opinion, the federal government needs to handle this case with diligence and in such a transparent manner that assures the whole world of justice and fairness, because a lot of Nigerians are rising up the corporate ladders in the diaspora.

We must be careful to ensure entrenched personal interests and power-play do not obscure patriotic necessities and long-term national interests. What goes around comes around. Hopefully, our courts will do justice to this situation as usual and sustain its fort as the last hope of our democratic society.

 Aibangbe is a Media & Public Relations Consultant

Credit: This Day



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