The revocation of Visa, Work and Residence Permit of Seplat CEO is one bold move by the Nigerian government that Nigerians are eager to see how it ends, writes Oluchi Chibuzor
The decision of the Federal Government (FG) to revoke the Visa, Residence and Work Permits of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Seplat Energy Plc, Mr. Roger Brown, over alleged racism, favouring of foreign workers, and discriminating against Nigerian employees has continued to re-echo across the country. Mr. Akinola Adesina Director II, Citizenship and Business conveyed it to Seplat in a March 3, 2023 letter entitled “Withdrawal of Work Permit, CERPAC, Visa/Residence Permit of Mr. Roger Thompson Brown – CEO, SEPLAT Energy PLC”.
The letter read: “I write to inform you that the Ministry is in receipt of a petition from the Solicitor to the concerned workers and stakeholders of Seplat Energy PLC accusing Mr. Rogers Thomson Brown, the CEO of the companies of various allegations.
“These accusations include racism, favouring foreign workers and discriminating against Nigerian employees. Testimony was received from several witnesses, which supported the allegations. Mr. Roger T. Brown declined to attend despite two invitations, claiming to be unavailable even though we learnt he was in Abuja for other purposes at the time.
“Investigation and records in the Ministry also revealed that Mr. Roger Brown was in possession of CERPAC that was not based on validly issued Expatriate Quota approved by the Ministry of Interior resulting to the violation of relevant Immigration Laws and Regulations. As a result of these, the Honourable Minister has determined that Mr. Brown’s continued stay in Nigeria is contrary to national interest.
“Consequently, the Ministry has withdrawn the Work Permit CERPAC, Visa, Residence Permit and all relevant documents that authorised Mr. Roger Thomson Brown’s entry or stay in Nigeria.” But the letter did not give further details.
Petition that nailed Brown
However, processes filed by aggrieved shareholders at the Federal High Court, Lagos, have thrown more light on the alleged breaches by the British, which informed FG’s decision. One of them is Exhibit A to the lawsuit marked FHC/L/402/2023 being the petition by the aggrieved Seplat workers to the Ministry of Interior.
Writing through their solicitors, Hakeem Kareem & Co on March 31, 2023, the employees accused Brown of criminal and anti-Nigeria actions and warned that the “brazen practice of discrimination and victimization of Nigerians by Mr. Brown, if not checked, will ruin the gains made by this Nigerian company of the last 13 years of existence”.
They accused Brown of “intimidation, bullying, and sacking of Nigerian staff of Seplat; intimidation of senior staff and members of senior management team; abuse of corporate governance, relegation of host communities, relocation of Seplat technology office to Aberdeen; bullying of Nigerian staff by foreign nationals; and refusal to fully relocate to Nigeria after many years.
“Since Mr. Roger Brown took over power in Seplat as CEO, he has unleashed intimidation, active and passive aggression towards Nigerian staff. This has led to forced retirement or sacking of Nigerian staff, both junior and senior”, the staff alleged.
They also alleged that Mr. Brown forced the resignation of about 23 senior and middle level staff of Seplat without the approval of the Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Commission (formerly DPR).
Brown, the workers further alleged, set different assessment and retirement standards for Nigerian and expatriate workers, leading a hemorrhage of indigenous staff of Seplat.
They accused their CEO of “the worst form of racism and systemic discrimination”, citing the example of the London office of Seplat set up in 2013 to be under the headship of the Chief Finance Officer (CFO), and therefore occupied by Brown while he held the position. However, they allege that Brown has refused to hand over to his Nigerian successor, Mr. Emeka Onwuka, and instead employed an Irish “stooge”, Mr. Alaisdair Mackenzie, to take charge of the London office.
“This is ridiculous when the company is a Nigerian company, producing Nigerian oil and gas and selling to the international and Nigerian market, ”they complained.
On alleged abuse of corporate governance, they stated, “Mr. Roger Brown has perpetrated abuse of corporate governance by giving racist South African investors preferential treatment amongst other shareholders of Seplat. He recently brought these investors to Nigeria without other investors from sub-Saharan Africa and Nigeria. This is gross abuse of corporate governance, which prescribes that all shareholders should be treated equally. This is a market practice abuse by the CEO. There is also information that Mr. brown wants to secretly acquire Seplat from the capital market, using his South African fronts”.
The workers were also aggrieved that proactive host communities’ engagement hitherto mastered by Seplat had suffered greatly under Brown.
“He has no regards to the community leaders, kings, and chiefs, as well as the youth. He stopped simple community contracts such as catering and landscaping. Consequently Seplat has been having incessant demonstration by communities. Seplat now suffers vandalisation of Seplat oil and gas assets across the Nigeria Delta, ”they complained.
Also, they alleged a deliberate deprivation of Nigerians the career opportunities to grow in the oil and gas industry by Brown’s unilateral decision to move the technical/subsurface department of Seplat to Aberdeen and appointing Irish and British nationals as heads of these sensitive and essential department in total violation of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry Content Development Act and “in perpetration of his racist practices”. They claimed the Aberdeen office costs Seplat avoidable millions of dollars annually.
They equally expressed displeasure at the culture of bullying of indigenous workers by foreign nationals established by Brown.
They further alleged that Roger Brown had failed to relocate his family to Nigeria in accordance with his condition of service despite making the company pay for an accommodation for him in Ikoyi.
“He fraudulently collected extra remuneration from the company to relocate his wife and children. Three years have passed and Mr. Brown has refused to relocate. Instead, he has been shuttling between London and Nigeria at great expense to the company at the cost of over $5 million, ”they told the Ministry.
They expressed displeasure over alleged constant abuse of President Muhammadu Buhari by their CEO, especially among his expatriate friends, saying it amounts to an abuse and disrespect on the entire nation and all Nigerians.
They said given the alleged circumstances, a recent staff survey showed large-scale staff dissatisfaction at Seplat.
They therefore prayed the Minister to: “Declare Mr. Roger Brown, Persona non grata for violation of Nigerian local content regulations and discriminatory treatment of Nigerian nationals; revoke Mr. Roger Brown’s Residence Permit and work visa as a matter of urgency; and ban Mr. Roger Brown from holding any employment in Nigeria.”
Lastly, they prayed the Federal Government to, “direct Seplat’s board of Directors to immediately terminate Mr. Roger Brown’s employment as a director and CEO of Seplat Energy Plc. as he is not fit and proper person to hold such an office.”
Enter Aggrieved Stakeholders
Meanwhile, shareholders of the foremost indigenous oil and gas firm have also joined the fray as a Federal High Court in Lagos on Wednesday restrained Mr. Roger Brown from parading himself as the CEO of the company pending the determination of a suit instituted against him and others by shareholders.
The Chairman, Board of Directors, Mr. Basil Omiyi, as well as the Non-Executive Directors under him were not spared as the court equally restrained them from, “continuing to run the affairs of Seplat in an illegal, unfair, prejudicial, and oppressive manner pending the hearing and determination of the Petitioner’s Motion on Notice for interlocutory injunction.”
Justice C.J Aneke of the Federal High Court, Lagos, made the ex parte orders following an application brought by angry stakeholders, namely of Moses Igbrude, Sarat Kudaisi, Kenneth Nnabike, Ajani Abidoye, and Robert Ibekwe, against Seplat Energy PLC, Mr. Roger Brown, and Mr. Basil Omiyi.
In the affidavit in support of the suit, Robert Ibekwe restated all the allegations made by the Seplat workers to the Ministry of Interior, but went further to say that all the breaches and Brown’s continued engagement as Seplat CEO amounted to complicity and dereliction of responsibilities on the path of the Board Chairman and Non-executive Directors.
In their suit filed by Jeph Njikonye (SAN), the aggrieved shareholders seek a declaration that the affairs of Seplat have been conducted in a manner that is illegal, oppressive and unfairly prejudicial to the petitioners and other members of Seplat and in total disregard to the interest of the petitioners, other employees, and Seplat as a whole.
Also, they want a declaration that by their failure to stop or sanction the alleged unlawful, discriminatory, and abusive conducts of the CEO, Roger Brown, the Board Chairman, Basil Omiyi, and the Non-executive Directors are unfit to continue to function in the Board of Directors of Seplat. The court has adjourned the matter to March 23.
Seplat Denies any wrongdoing
Meanwhile, Seplat Energy has denied any wrongdoing as presented to the Ministry of Interior by the petitioners, saying the allegations were “spurious and vindictive” and orchestrated “to spread false information.”
It said Seplat Energy would be, “engaging with the Ministry to reject the impressions created by these allegations.”
However, a fellow of the Abuja School of Social and Political Thought, Dr. Law Mefor, has faulted Seplat, saying its CEO had the opportunity to state his own side of the story before the ministry, but snubbed the Federal Government of Nigeria.
“It is too late to begin to claim that the allegations were false when Brown snubbed invitations by the Ministry. Can a Nigerian resident in the UK do the same to the UK authorities? Nigeria is a nation guided by laws. Seplat and Brown are not above the Law. They should obey before they complain. In any case, this is a matter we will rise as Nigerians pursue even if for the sake of our dignity, ”he stated.