Seplat – When boardroom brawl goes overboard

THERE is more going on at Seplat than the allegations of racism that have been laid on Mr. Roger Brown, Seplat’s Chief Executive Officer who has been asked to step aside, his visa and work permit withdrawn. None of these moves have resolved the matters at hand.

If anything they have escalated the Seplat affair, externalised it, and have steadily knocked the Seplat brand. Just a search on Seplat will show when last a story promoting the brand was told.

The listing of Seplat in London increased its stakeholders and ownership to different jurisdictions. Governance practices in those jurisdictions reflect in appropriate decisions in Seplat.

An example is in the age retirement differences between staff engaged in England and those working in Nigeria. It is one of the contentious areas.

The different retirement age 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 ok influences that want to get into or get at a company can put some of its members up to internal fights. These all seem available in the Seplat brawl has drawn the attention of the Ministry of Interior which acted decisively.

Brown is accused of being a racist who bullies Nigerians to resignation. The allegation that must have irked the Ministry of Interior the most is that his work permit is fake, expired or illegally obtained.

When the Immigration Service decided on the matter, Brown was absent on the two occasions the meetings. Sources familiar with the case said that though the letters were delivered to Seplat, those bent on seeing Brown out of position ensured the letter never got to him. Those who know Brown said he would not have disrespected Ministry of Interior as the situation portrays him.

Seplat Awesome Women’s Network, SWAN, a body of Seplat women employees, and predominantly made up of Nigerian employees, in its statement posted on Seplat platform said certain petitions to the Ministry of Interior and the courts against Brown, were false allegations and blatant lies.

‘’Curiously, we are unable to identify any of the individuals alleging these falsehoods as our fellow employees – past or present. It is therefore concerning that persons outside of our employee population can purport to speak so purposefully and publicly on our welfare. The unfortunate (but perhaps intended) consequence of these efforts is to disparage the sterling record of our corporate champion and steadfast cheerleader while diverting the much-needed time and resources of our Ministry of Interior and Courts away from legitimate concerns requiring their attention,” SWAN said.

Brown was the Chief Finance Officer of Seplat before the CEO role.

Will to he authorities listen? Will those taking the decisions ponder for awhile why it has taken 10 years of Mr. Brown’s services as CFO and CEO for these allegations to be made?

Had he always be a racist or it is a new behaviour?

Will the CEO of an international company listed in Lagos and London Stock Exchanges act consistently without board approvals?

Did Brown assume the powers of the boards over the 10 years of his service? The questions are pertinent because of the issues have been parlayed to stretch across the tenure of another board.

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

Among other beneficiaries of Seplat’s oil and gas operations are host communities and hosts of companies that are service providers. These fights affect them and Seplat in different ways.

They also have great new grounds for new investors in Nigeria to weigh their options. Would their investments be safe? How would Nigerian companies treat foreign nationals who are their staff? Would the companies abide with their agreed conflict resolution agreements?

Read also: 11 things to note from Seplat Energy’s 2022 financials

Brown could be a victim of the new governance regime that Seplat implemented. Some influential former board members who are affected feel affronted. They are fighting back.

Global business news agency, Bloomberg, in September 2022 reported that Seplat awarded contract worth over $450 million, over 12 years to companies linked to its former board members. Seplat banned party related transactions in 2021. Could this be one of the issues in this boardroom war?

The authorities have to look deeper to resolve the issues without destroying a thriving Nigerian company over the greed of a few.

ELECTIONS have come and gone or have they? One matter that would stick around much longer is the hate speeches generated around the elections. Some were sublime. Others were outrageously provocative. Maybe the knowledge that the security agencies would not arrest anyone for incitements caused the incidents where a woman was stabbed at a polling. No arrests were made and none is about to be made.

It was in the same Lagos that people were told they would not be allowed to vote, except for a particular political party. The threats, execution of the threats and violence needed to be addressed. Security agents on duty just looked away. Their refusal to act emboldened criminals that should have been put away.

At least, in Abia State, they arrested someone threatening voters. The standards for preventing crimes or going after suspects should be the same. If that is the only thing the security agencies decide to take away from the elections, they would have learnt a lot for a better society.

.Isiguzo is a major commentator on minor issues

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