• Monday, July 15, 2024
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Unions withhold support as Chevron pushes on with assets sale to Seplat

At 7 a.m. Aero Contractors Flight 6311 touched down in Port Harcourt last Wednesday, carrying officials of both Chevron Nigeria Limited and Seplat Petroleum Development Company, in what was ostensibly believed to be a mission to inspect two of Chevron’s assets that the multinational put up for sale in 2013, the matter of which is now subject to litigations, with the latest about to kick off at the Supreme Court.

The inspection trip came barely a day after the Supreme Court, sitting for the first time over an appeal filed before it, said it was ready to proceed with the main suit and admonished parties to the suit, including Chevron Nigeria Limited, Brittania-U Nigeria Limited (originator of the appeal) and Seplat Petroleum Development Company Limited, to stay any action on the asset sale and not to do anything that would overreach the case.

Seplat had announced last month that it had concluded the acquisition of Chevron’s 40 per cent interest in Oil Mining Lease 53, onshore north eastern Niger Delta for $259.4 million. The company also said it had concluded negotiations to buy 56.25 per cent of Belema Oil Producing Limited, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) that has bought a 40 per cent interest in the producing OML 55, located in the swamp in the coastal zone of south eastern Niger Delta.

But BusinessDay learnt over the weekend that the combined team of Chevron and Seplat visited Chevron’s OIS facilities in Trans-Amadi in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, as well as other offices in the city on Wednesday.

The schedule had also been worked out to include meetings with members of Chevron’s local unions, National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas (NUPENG) and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) in Port Harcourt and would have taken the officials to Onne, also in Rivers State and Yenogoa in Bayelsa State.

Sources close to the meetings said the meetings with workers could not go ahead because workers refused to attend, questioning the procedure used to arrange them. One official particularly said the workers were aware of the pronouncement made by the Supreme Court last week, that all parties should stay action, but that they had also been mindful that such notice for such meetings would normally originate from the national headquarters of the unions. The local Chevron branch of PENGASSAN, which was to be met to discuss the sale of OMLs 53 and 55 allegedly turned down the demand to discuss the matter.

According to sources close to the situation, the union told the delegation that coming directly to them to discuss the matter was not proper, as the right thing was to come through its national secretariat. The union’s national officers were said to be out of the country last week, but expected back this month.

BusinessDay learnt that the Chevron delegation had planned to intimate members of the unions with developments and progress with regards to the sale of the assets to Seplat and its plans to hand them over as announced by the latter, early last month.

One Chevron official in Port Harcourt said that since the sale drama began, the union had been keeping vigil, organising prayer meetings in Port Harcourt, Escravos and Lagos, seeking divine intervention over the asset sale.

Peter Akiakeme, NUPENG Chevron branch chairman, said they were not directly involved in meetings to resolve issues arising from Chevron’s attempt to sell OMLs 52, 53, and 55 to bidders. But he explained that it was PENGASSAN that has begun raising issues over the fate that might befall its members in the event of an eventual sale of the oil mining licenses.

In a telephone interview on Thursday, Akiakeme, who is also the national public relations officer (PRO) of NUPENG, said the union was rather waiting for the national secretary of NUPENG who would write formally to Chevron to invite the interested buyers to meet with them. He said only then would the Chevron NUPENG get involved in the matter.

Akiakeme said: “The national secretary of NUPENG is in a better position to articulate the issues involving the OML 52,53,55 sale.”

Another NUPENG member who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “Everybody is aware of what is going on, but when there is divestment, normally workers are involved because they are also stakeholders.

“We saw the publication on the Supreme Court stating that parties should stay action. Nobody should do anything if that has happened. The in-house unions cannot on their own raise the issues. The issues have to be raised from the national secretariat,” he said.

Explaining the condition under which an action not to speak with the delegation that visited Port Harcourt last week could have been taken, a Chevron staff in Port Harcourt, also said they are aware that there is a Supreme Court order, directing that all parties involved should not do anything that would affect the outcome of the case.

“An order has been given on all the blocks. Nigerian law says when such a thing happens, everyone should stay action,” the source said, adding “that is what we would do.”

When  the position of Chevron was  sought on the matter, Sola Adebawo, manager, Communications and Public Affairs  said: “I thank you for the enquiry. However, we are not able to comment on this matter since it is before the court. Please do not  hesitate to let us know if you have other enquiries. “

Justice Fabiyi, the presiding justice on the Supreme Court panel, who sat on the appeal, had reminded the counsels representing the parties to the case, that it was their duty to advise their clients on the need to respect the authority of the court.

The case is in respect of the acquisition of Chevron’s interest in oil mining leases (OMLS) 52, 53 and 55.

Rickey Tarfa, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) with A. J. Owonikoko (SAN) and others, appeared for Brittainia U – the appellant.

D. D. Dodo (SAN) appeared with other counsel, for Seplat, while Uche Nwokedi  (SAN) and another, appeared for Chevron Nig. Plc.

Olusola Bello & Ignatius Chukwu