An indigenous entrepreneur doing business under ‘minor civil contractor’ category with the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) has cried out saying his enterprise has been ruined through alleged acts of vindictiveness, wickedness and total suppression, leading to the eventual termination of contract and mounting debts.
The Delta State-born entrepreneur, Shedrack Ogboru, cried to newsmen in Port Harcourt at a press briefing, saying his firm, Macobarb International, was now heavily indebted to a commercial bank due to the N68 million loan obtained since 2014 to execute the first phase of the job that had turned into a protracted debt with unmentionable interest accumulation, all due to the NLNG refusal to release payment.
He said the failure of the NLNG to honour payment schedules without any reason led to his firm being blacklisted by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for bad debt, all because of contract liability of N1.147 billion that the multinational corporation (NLNG) had refused to redress to this moment.
The indigenous contractor wondered if the NLNG would do this to any foreign company that did not do anything wrong, at a time the Federal Government was striving to assist indigenous businesses get ahead. His surprise is that no government agency he cried to had been able to go beyond preliminary responses, only to go silent after interacting with those he called NLNG demigods.
Narrating his ordeal to newsmen, Ogboru said his firm, Macobarb, got a job on January 9, 2014, to fabricate and install world-class access entry system called ‘Integrated Turnstiles and Vehicle Barriers System” that must be fabricated in Europe for security and seamless entry into the world-class facilities of the NLNG. He said this contract worth N95 million was to be executed in phases supervised by a team of experts and engineers from the NLNG.
Ogboru said the contract term insisted that there would be no mobilisation fee or upfront payment but that each milestone executed and certified by the supervision team that included expatriates would not be delayed in payment so as to move to the next phase.
He said the bitterest part of the agony was that the contract terms insisted that the staff and equipment procured for the project must never be removed from site nor be used to do any other job until completion of project, except with express approval in writing by the NLNG. Trouble came, he said, when he fabricated the turnstiles in Europe and met the first payment milestone, only for request of about N30 million payment be rejected despite endorsement by all the four engineers supervising the project in Bonny, just because a Nigerian that did not want him on the job declined assent without pointing out justification.
He said NLNG nominated foreign experts that must inspect the fabricated equipment abroad and confirm before payment would be made, and that the experts inspected and issued approval letter of correctness, yet, only one man in the NLNG stopped payment.
When contacted, the NLNG, through Andy Odeh, its corporate communications and public affairs manager, said; “A contract was signed between NLNG and Macobarb and valued N95,479,057.86with 18 months delivery schedule commencing in January 2014. It was never contemplated, neither was it written into the Contract Documents, that the contractor would take a loan to execute this project. The decision for any contractor to take a loan is purely on its own account and for its independent purposes. In this case, that delineation was prominent as NLNG was not privy to any loan transaction by Macobarb.
“Macobarb was unable to execute the project, thereby incurring protracted delays, despite several interventions by NLNG to help the company overcome its inability to finance the project in line with its obligations.
“It should be stated clearly that it was on this ground of non-performance, not on any act or omission attributable to NLNG or any of its personnel, that the contract was terminated in November 2015, after the date stipulated for its completion. Upon termination, Macobarb was paid N41,261,155.91 for work it was able to accomplish and the materials it elected to handover to NLNG during the close-out process.
Ogboru however countered that it was NLNG that caused the said delays and that the contract agreement clearly stated that whoever failed to do its own part must bear the consequences.
Ogboru said he went and knelt down and pleaded with the man not to strangulate the project but the oppression and suppression continued. As a result of this, the N68m loan turned into bad debt with accumulated interest. “Important people lost their jobs in the commercial bank that funded the project, the CBN blacklisted us, and the equipment and men trapped in NLNG ran into several hundred millions of naira”.
Tendering volumes of documents, Ogboru said he reported the actions of the man to the management of the NLNG but efforts to resolve the matter proved abortive as the man worked round the system as an insider against all rules and all contract terms until the contract was terminated after several years.
He lamented thus, “Do you know that the moment this man got this contract terminated, he now got the NLNG to pay the money he refused to approve, which now meant nothing because the trapped equipment and men have attracted loss of over N1Bn at that time. I had written the NLNG to warn them that by continued refusal to pay, and by trapping all equipment and men on site, that liability was piling up hugely.”
He also said the NLNG held several meetings under the former managing director, Babs Omotowa, on the matter and even offered him back the contract after seeing how he had been oppressed, but that he was asked to take back the remaining part of the job at the same old contract rate of 2012 evaluation when the Dollar was a mere N150.
Ogboru said he has petitioned to the senate, the Rivers State House of Assembly, and several other bodies but that the same forces inside the NLNG suppressed the efforts only for the authorities to ask him to go to court, if he wished.
He said this same official who was even not part of the project team but who held oversight authority over the real supervisors, stepped in and wanted to change the payment terms one and half years into the contract just to hide his repeated payment denials that he fostered on the contract. This action caused crisis and ruined the contract.
On why no one could control this office since the contract terms were straight and simple, Ogboru said some persons are believed in the place to belong to a powerful and dreaded society that is believed to control everything there.
He said the official in the NLNG, after holding down payment for over a year, started canvassing for cancellation of the contract. The management at that point said cancellation was not an option. At last, however, the NLNG ended up doing exactly that, cancellation.
He asked: “Must a citizen be suppressed and maltreated so much? They know that a small firm like Macobarb cannot stand the financial power and wide connections of the NLNG and some evil desks in the place that can reach any authority and suppress any matter”.
He said the NLNG repeatedly avoided all the mediation clauses provided for in the contract only to openly taunt the contractor to go to court. He said, “Why would a world class corporation such as the NLNG boldly breach all clauses of the contract and reject arbitration clauses only to nudge the hapless contractor to go to court. Does this mean that multinationals think that Nigerians courts are not for the ordinary Nigerians?”
Ogboru appealed to all authorities to compel the NLNG to pay his firm the over N1Bn that they owed him so that he could offset the numerous liabilities on Macobarb and begin life afresh. He said he was prepared to go to any length to ensure that justice is done because an indigene has a right to do business in his fatherland. He also wondered why a corporation of world-class status has done this without any worry.
He said all documents are intact to show that Macobarb won the job neatly, executed it to the satisfaction of all experts on the project and was entitled to payments when each milestone was reached. He said the contract provided for penalty for any party that defaulted in meeting milestones at the right time and wondered why the NLNG would be guilty and still pass the liability to Macobarb.