American Oil Giant in the Soup Over Activities in Niger Delta

A seeming unwholesome activity of Exxon Mobil, an American big oil corporation operating in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria, has landed the company in the soup.

A senior staff of the oil corporation is in court, seeking among other reliefs, that the mode of operation of the existing Audit Team, is allegedly in breach of the rules of natural Justice and an infringement on his fundamental rights as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.

The underbelly of the big oil is being spew into the open as the Secretary to the Government of Federation, Boss Mustafa, explained that President Muhammadu Buhari’s tough decisions during his second term will be in the best interests of the country.

Mustafa, who spoke in Yola, the Adamawa State capital, allayed public concern that the  Nigerian economy could worsen during Buhari’s second term, however, described the President as ‘’a good man’’ out to improve living standards in the country.

According to him, ‘’when we came to power in 2015 about 27 states couldn’t pay salaries. We had to take tough decisions like giving them bailouts. These are tough decisions. The ban on rice and fertiliser importation is one of the tough decisions taken by the government which yielded positive results because it helped boost local production.

‘’By such tough decisions,  we are able to raise the number of rice farmers from 4 million to 12 million,  and we are about 98 per cent self-sufficient in rice production. Due to the establishment of many fertiliser-blending plants, after we banned the importation of fertiliser and the product is now available and the price is going down.

‘’Anti-graft institutions such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission and  Code of Conduct Bureau are being strengthened to tackle corruption. It’s better to prevent it (corruption) instead of spending a lot of money prosecuting corruption cases.’’

In the mean time, the Exxon Mobil employee is challenging an internal audit review he alleged the company uses to periodically disengage Nigerian workers and replace them with expatriates.

Paul Arinze, the big oil’s General Manager of the Public and Government Affairs Department (P &GA), is asking the court to suspend a Special Review Audit embarked on by the company, to probe the affairs of the P&GA, pending conclusion of a routine audit.

He avers that the Special Review has been the all-purpose vehicle, used by Exxon Mobil to flush out Nigerians from positions of authority in the company, and have them replaced by foreigners.

In his suit, NICN/LA/659/2018, the claimant is challenging the said audit, and calling for a review by an independent auditor.

In an industry where activities of oil majors are seldom vetted by relevant government agencies over labour matters, Arinze’s suit is being seen as an unusual bold challenge of the application of labour laws and expatriate quota administration in the oil sector.

Already, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) has also waded into the dispute.

When the case came before Justice A.N Ubaka of the National Industrial Court in Lagos, Abayomi Osinbajo, counsel to the Arinze, stated that the matter was supposed to be for hearing of his application for interlocutory injunction, adding that the claimant had already been issued a notice of retirement by defendant, even while the case was pending in court.

Osinbajo described this as bad faith and urged the court to view the action of the defendant, adding that same was not duly done. He also informed the court that he was served with the defendant’s notice of preliminary objection and a counter affidavit in opposition to the motion for interlocutory injunction.

Responding, counsel to the defendant, Charles Edosomwan (SAN), argued that the question in issue is whether the court could intervene and stop the ongoing internal audit of the big oil, adding that a company reserves the right to dismiss an employee.

In its remark, the court pointed out that although the case ought to be for hearing, some of the processes were not yet in the court’s file. Justice Ubaka then adjourned the case until May 7, for hearing, by which time the claimant would have responded to the defendant’s counter affidavit.

In the suit, claimant deposed that by a letter dated April 20, 2018 signed by the defendant’s then Area Audit Manager, and copying its Managing Director of Mobil, the defendant instituted an internal audit of its Public and Government Affairs Department, headed by him.

He said that his unit duly participated in the audit with the belief that the audit team would operate within defined scope, and comply with international applicable standards of best practices, labour laws, as well as the Constitution of Nigeria.

According to him, he realised sadly, that in the course of the audit, the defendant repeatedly violated its defined scope, and failed to provide the claimant with an impartial audit proceedings, adding that it had no consideration for resolution of potential conflicts of interest.

Claimant said that the audit which was billed to begin in July 2018, actually began in May 2018, and its end date which was slated for August 2018, continued into December 2018, even after the field’s exit meeting had been held in September 2018.

He said this was in a bid to nail him at all cost, adding that when it became apparent that no significant infraction had been uncovered by audit to entrap him, the defendant set up the Special Review, which scope was inherently unlawful, having been made to cover ten years while the ongoing audit covered only three years.

According to him, the local wing of PENGASSAN wrote two letters to the defendant when it noticed that the Special Review panel it usually sets up, was only geared at getting rid of Nigerian workers, pointing out that he also requested the suspension of the special review, pending conclusion of the audit but his requests was ignored, as the defendant’s MD expressly ordered that both the audit and special review would proceed, in spite of all reported breaches.

He is therefore, seeking an order, that the existing Audit Team set up to probe the affairs of his department, be recomposed and replaced with impartial and unbiased auditors who have no conflict of interest.

But, in its counter affidavit, the defendant averred that every department of the company undergoes an internal audit once every three years, adding that there were audits in the years 2012, 2015, and 2018. The defendant said that it is a standard routine process of the defendant to check the effectiveness of its controls and internal processes, and where necessary, make recommendations for improvement.

Besides, in the notice of preliminary objection, the defendant is urging the court to dismiss and strike out the suit in its entirety, for being incompetent and for lack of jurisdiction.

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