The Nigerian media space has for the past few days occupied with recurrent stories about Seplat Energy Plc, Nigeria’s leading independent energy provider that is listed on both the Nigerian Stock Exchange and the London Stock Exchange.

Lately, this indigenous global brand has suffered spurious, smear campaign in the media.

The rate at which top line news medium in Nigeria has been publishing contentious editorial content capable of eroding the corporate goodwill, and even sink the corporate entity called Seplat Energy, leaves much to be desired.

The media however, cannot be blamed, they published what was available to them due to non-response vacuum.

However, from the initial details published in most of the online and offline media, there were allegations that range from racism against the Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Roger Brown, who has stepped aside; there was indictment of infringement on poor governance in the organisation, there were claims of forced resignations and sacking of Nigerian staff based on discriminatory policies.

Also, there was alleged enforcement of manipulative ranking scheme in the company, and there was allegation of different retirement ages for Nigerians and expatriates and other sundry claims.

The news of the deportation of the Seplat CEO Mr. Roger Brown, a British national, by the Federal Government of Nigeria, caught global attention.

It has created some discomfort in the diplomatic community and is capable of stirring diplomatic row between Nigeria and United Kingdom, especially if the UK government decides to retaliate against millions of Nigerians working in their country.

More so, it may affect the drive for foreign direct investment as foreigners may not want to invest or live in a country that may treat them shabbily based on frivolous charges that were not thoroughly investigated.

A part of the stories coming out also pitched Seplat against the host communities who are being alleged to be up in arms against the leading independent energy provider.

The reality now is that all the media allegations have been found to be a result of high wired boardroom brawl being climaxed strategically with media war.

According to a veritable source at Seplat who craved anonymity, some disgruntled outgoing members of the board who were part of the re-organisation otherwise termed “Transformational Agenda’ jointly embarked upon after the appointment of Mr. Brown, are now fighting back when the transformational policies they created are now biting them.

These powerful forces made up of principally indigenous retired executive and non-executive directors, have managed to infiltrate the management; polarizing the system along tribal and portfolio lines.

The allegation that must have irked the Ministry of Interior the most is that Mr. Brown’s work permit is fake, expired or illegally obtained; which are not so.

When the Immigration Service were to decide on the matter, Brown was said to have deliberately absented himself despite being served invitations.

Sources familiar with the case said that though the letters inviting Mr. Roger Brown by the Ministry of Interior were delivered to Seplat, but those bent on seeing Brown out of position ensured the letter never got to him.

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Those who know Brown said he would not have disrespected the Ministry of Interior as the situation portrays him.

There is more going on at Seplat than meets the eye. For instance, on the allegations of racism laid against Mr. Roger Brown, Seplat’s Chief Executive Officer who has been asked to step aside, his visa and work permit withdrawn, the Hon Minister of Interior Rauf Aregbesola was fed with pack of lies that bordered on racial discrimination and nationalism sentiment.

These disgruntled forces are ready to tear down the corporate entity called Seplat; believing that they have nothing to lose.

They recruited and bank rolled some young men and women and formed them into a concerned non-governmental organisation (NGO). It is this so-called NGO they are using to push their agenda.

According inside sources, part of the brief to this NGO is to awash the media with calumny campaign that will put Seplat in the public court, weep up spirit of nationalism against the firm’s top management actions and inactions, and make the firm to lose public confidence and goodwill locally and in the international community.

The campaign initially affected the value of the firm’s stock price at the London Stock Exchange but it later picked up when it became obvious that the bad press was the handiworks of people who had been consumed by the re-engineering going on in the firm.

“Most of these people were perpetrating some dubious transactions, sponsoring local contractors and suppliers who are not ready to follow due process. Our best-practice structures, uncompromising accountability policy, ethics and excellence principles will not allow us to work against acceptable global practice.

That is why some people are fighting us dirty, because it is no longer business as usual.

“Mr Brown was the immediate past chief financial officer, and is aware of some of these unacceptable norms.

The board and management sat when Mr. Brown became the CEO, and jointly agreed on the way forward from the old order.

That is what brought out the “Transformational Agenda that is now in practice and has become a thorn in the flesh of some hitherto powerful forces”, explained an anonymous source in top management of the firm.

As the Seplat case is becoming more and more interesting, critical stakeholders within the oil and gas operative environment who have been following the developments are now coming out to say “enough is enough”.

They are coming out to lay bare the facts based on their relationship with the firm and their understanding of the true situation of things.

These concerned stakeholders include: Empower Nigeria, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) dedicated to the protection and enhancement of civil liberties, and, Seplat Awesome Women’s Network, SWAN, a body of Seplat women employees, and predominantly made up of Nigerian employees.

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In a statement posted on Seplat social media platform, the women employee group stated that “some certain petitions to the Ministry of Interior and the courts against Brown, were false allegations and blatant lies”.

For instance, SWAN explained in the post that the age retirement differences between staff engaged in England and those working in Nigeria are matters of applicable laws between Nigeria and the UK.

This is one of the contentious areas. “The different retirement ages for Nigerians and foreign nationals is not discriminatory but a dictate of the law.

The company explained that the practice on retirement age is driven by local laws.

For instance, employees working in Nigeria – both local and expatriate retire at age 60 in line with Nigerian law while the maximum retirement age in UK private sector is 65”. Board squabbles tend to reflect the interests of board members.

Sometimes external influences that want to get into or get at a company can put some of its members up to internal fights.

On the other hand, Empower Nigeria, in a statement, said it launched an investigation with the determination to get to the bottom of the issues thrown up by these allegations and in the process, unveiled the truth.

According to the statement signed by the Spokesperson for Empower Nigeria, Mr. Yemi Aderemi,

“The claim of forced resignations and sacking of Nigerian staff based on discriminatory policies, was not true.

As against this claim, there was no mass sack or forced retirements of Nigerians at Seplat with Roger Brown as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

The true state of affairs is that between 2020 and 2022, eight Nigerian staff of the company voluntarily resigned or opted to take early retirement in the exercise of their rights as spelt out and protected by the law.

Their decision was conveyed to the management of the company in writing via official channels.

Seplat paid the affected staff generous end of service benefits and thereafter made appropriate notifications to NUPRC in accordance with Notification schedule as per their exit.

“Allegation of enforcement of manipulative ranking scheme was not also true.

We found out that this allegation is not supported by facts but is a product of a hunting expedition.

Arising from the observations and input made by the staff on the need to review the former 5-point ranking system which the staff considered to limit opportunities especially around the 75 per cent cut off mark required for promotion, management reviewed and replaced it with a 3-point ranking scheme.”

The statement further said that the aim of the 3-point scheme (Outstanding Strong and Average), was to ensure that staff rewards are tied to results which are transparent and verifiable.

More importantly, it laid to rest staff complaints about the 5-point system which they believe limited opportunities for promotion.

The claim that the Average rating applied only to Nigerian staff is untrue as out of the 5% of staff (24 persons) ranked Average, includes an expatriate.

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This is without prejudice to the fact that expatriates constitute a small part of the entire workforce of over 500 workers in the company.

“The claim that Seplat operates different retirement age for Nigerian and expatriate staff, is an allegation that is false and a disingenuous ploy to sow seeds of discord among the staff of the company.

The retirement policy of the company is not discriminatory but is based on the laws of Nigeria stipulating that all employees from Nigeria retire at 60 years.

This has been the practice in Seplat since it commenced operations” Empower Nigeria stated.

The concerned NGO further averred that “given the delicate nature of these claims and its implications for industrial harmony, it is our considered position that news organisations who publicised these allegations should carry out thorough investigation to ascertain the veracity of the claims therein. This is in the interest of equity, fairness and justice.

Seplat has been an exemplary player within the country’s oil sector.

The current attempt to impugn its hard earned reputation is indeed regrettable”, the statement further explained.

Seplat, once prided as the best-governed and biggest Nigerian-home grown company, has 515 employees – regular and direct contract. Only 24 of these are non-Nigerians from other nationalities. This is verifiable on the company’s website.

So where is the local content accusation against the CEO Mr. Brown coming from, as he was alleged to have sacked majority of Nigerians and replaced them with Europeans and Asians? In the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) made up of 14 executives, only 4 are Foreigners.

This is in compliant with the Local Content Laws operative in the oil & gas industry.

Those who orchestrated this smear campaign did not stop at damning Mr Brown, they are also out to impugn on the impeccable character of the Independent Non-Executive Board Chairman Mr. Basil Omiyi.

It is foolhardy to believe Omiyi who fought hard to promote indigenous ownership and participation of Nigerians in the oil and gas industry, dominated majorly by foreigners at Royal Dutch Shell where he rose through the ranks to become the first indigenous Nigerian Managing Director of Shell Petroleum Development Company, and later became the Country Chairman of Shell till 2009, will now connived with Mr Brown to perpetrate racism against fellow Nigerians as being alleged in the media reports in circulation?.

The business of Seplat is built on effective corporate governance framework and corporate governance standards.

These standards dictate how Seplat operates as a business and the way in which the firm is governed.

Seplat owns seven oil blocks, produced 44,104 boepd (working interest) in 2022 and had 438 MMboe 2P reserves at the end of the year.

 

By Edmond Esi

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