Seplat: Who’s behind disputes between stakeholders and authorities?
In the last couple of years, Nigeria left the legislative labour room, with the Petroleum Industry Act, a much cherished postdate baby. The general expectation is that Nigeria should be headed for utopia and self-actualisation at the highest levels within the industry. It is no wonder that the authorities were excited to accept the takeover of assets and interests of the exiting Mobil Producing Nigeria by Seplat Energy, the new titan in the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry.
Seplat Energy PLC, established in 2009 with about 600 strong human resource base (as at 2022) and market value of GBP628.56 million (about 352 billion naira at current rate) has come a long way such that it achieved prime positioning both at the Nigerian Stock Exchange, NGX and the London Stock Exchange.
With the corporate posture presented above, one should not be too surprised that such a big company would desire the profile of an international citizen as its Chief Executive Officer, having already secured a Nigerian as Board Chairman. Seplat started out with a Nigerian CEO Austin Avuru, who retired voluntarily in 2020 and was replaced with a British national. The executive management is rich in Nigerian nationals, including Mr Basil Omiyi (Chairman), Mr Emeka Onwuka, CFO; Mr Samuel Ezeuguorie, COO; Uche Lotanna-Anajemba, HR Leader; etc.
For those who are familiar with corporate structures, it is easy to discern that every facet of power in this organisation is held by Nigerians and one should wonder how a ‘racist’ CEO could freely practice his racism in such an environment. It is more intriguing why a clique of minority stakeholders could make such frightening accusations without any such incident having been captured in the whistleblower structure of the internal corporate governance system. We must bear in mind that the oil industry in Nigeria is highly unionised, so why would the courts be the first recourse of such people if the interests are genuine?
Another worrisome issue is the first accusation in the writ which mentioned the attitude of the CEO, Mr Roger Brown in abusing the Nigerian President in his privacy. How should this be of such concern that would warrant a court action, even if such was true? Are we no longer practising democracy in Nigeria, such that comes with freedom of speech? Is the private conversation of a CEO now a matter of urgent corporate importance? The immediate past President of Nigeria, Dr Goodluck Jonathan himself held the unofficial title of ‘The Most Abused Nigerian President’, yet, he is alive, well and glowing as Nigeria’s Peace Ambassador Plenipotentiary! There’s a great adage attributed to the Poet General of Nigeria, Late Mamman Vatsa, “when a man begins to abuse himself, others will join him.” That said, what is the nature of such derogatory remarks or “unprintable” words used against the President of Nigeria that are tantamount to ‘high treason’ as being suggested by these plaintiffs? Is Seplat Energy now a government parastatal, where such mundane issues can be treated as insubordination? The Nigerian President and his presidency are far bigger, stronger and smarter than that!
On the whole, I am seriously concerned at the extent to which Nigerians would haunt foreigners, just because of new found powers under a deregulated oil industry. How have we addressed the deficiencies and inefficiencies of our national corporation and regulator in this same oil industry? Nigeria has suffered serious pains due to the inefficiencies of NNPCL at great cost to our national productivity and cost of doing business, but here we have a few apparently disgruntled stakeholders, trying to hold a private entity to a higher responsibility than our national asset in the same industry!
Upon enquiries from the Seplat Energy Executive management as to the origin of this legal action and the possible angst of the plaintiffs, I learnt it is not unconnected to the efforts of the new executive headed by Mr Brown to sanitise the system to shape up to higher performance and position for greater capacity as demanded by the rapid growth in stature and scale of operation. Another angle to the litigation is suggested as the desire to force the removal of the incumbent, with the infantile hope that a softer personality may emerge as replacement to enable a certain cabal to continue to undermine the company through conflict of interest act for personal benefits rather than corporate advancement.
As gleaned from one of the news pages of the company website, seplatenergy.com, Seplat Women’s Awesome Network (fondly known as SWAN) is totally dismayed by the misleading and distasteful public propaganda against the CEO, Roger Brown. They consider allegations contained in the petitions to the Ministry of Interior and the Federal High Court as full of blatant lies and uncharitable insinuations. They are unable to identify any of the individuals alleging these falsehoods as their fellow employees – past or present. They are seriously concerned that persons outside their employee population can purport to speak so purposefully and publicly on their welfare.
They also believe that the unfortunate (but perhaps intended) consequence of these efforts is to disparage the sterling record of their corporate champion and steadfast cheerleader while diverting the much-needed time and resources of the Ministry of Interior and courts away from legitimate concerns requiring their attention.
As a body of women who stand for the utmost truth and equity for all, they are resolved to rise in support of their beloved CEO and take a firm stand against the public attacks on his person and leadership. Therefore, the SWAN proudly stands alongside Brown and joins the Seplat Board of Directors to declare their utmost confidence in him as CEO and foremost champion for diversity and equality. They also consider their existence as a testament to Brown’s drive for equality and mutual advancement.
It was under the new CEO’s leadership that a vision for gender equality finally crystallised at Seplat – after a decade of the company’s corporate existence. Persons external to Seplat can only speculate about (or worse still, maliciously fabricate) the disposition of the CEO on this subject. But in the interest of equity and truth, they have come forward to authoritatively and unequivocally underscore the CEO’s unblemished record of diversity, equality, and inclusion at Seplat.
On this matter, there can be no stronger voice or authority than the SWAN because it is a body of Seplat employees comprised only of women (the gender globally recognised as victims of workplace discrimination, prejudice, and inequality). The SWAN is predominantly comprised Nigerian employees. As a predominantly Nigerian female body of employees, they urge all stakeholders to heed their collective voice of truth and first-hand experience and to further disregard all malicious allegations circulating against Brown, their champion-in-chief, whose leadership achieved the following feats:
- The SWAN was formally launched with a diversity champion appointed from the highest level of management and a dedicated diversity & inclusion manager.
- A Nigerian female staff member with longstanding service at Seplat, was appointed as the first female managing director of the Oil & Gas subsidiary operating our Eastern Asset.
- Brown instituted a striking increase in the maternity and paternity leave periods for Nigerian staff, after many years of desperate calls for the increase.
- Going further, a pioneer crèche facility was launched at our Temple Towers office, with ongoing plans to launch crèches across other locations.
- In the past 17 months of SWAN’s existence, Brown has consistently (and sometimes, sacrificially) provided funding for all SWAN activities in support of our collective works on gender diversity and equality. This critical funding enabled our collaboration with industry partners and other key stakeholders on high-impact and upskilling programmes to break the bias and advance the cause of women at Seplat and at large.
- In 2022, the first audit was conducted on Seplat’s facilities at its field locations to ensure equal access and use for women. This resulted in upgrades to our field facilities, which was much celebrated within our company, especially by the women who proudly represent us at the field operations.
Clearly, the bulk of staff at Seplat cannot wait enough to have Brown back at his seat to continue the reformative standards and objectives he has been setting and achieving for the company.
Would the courts and the Ministry of Interior come to the same conclusion? Would we arrive at ‘res ipsa loquitur’ in this case? Only time will tell!
- Aibangbe is a media and public relations consultant