MEET FRANK OSHANUGOR
By Braxton Ilobah
The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) acting on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria in curious twist on April 6, 2023, withdrew a criminal charges filed same day against Seplat Energy Plc and its Board at the Federal High Court, Abuja.
Ironically, in spite of the publicity given to the filing of the criminal charges against the company and its Board, the withdrawal/discontinuation of the charges remained unannounced. It is curious that only the news of the Charges was made known without a mention that it was withdrawn immediately.
Analysts have been left to wonder what the purpose of the filing and withdrawing of the ill-conceived charge was. Were there motives behind it? Was it done to intimidate the Board? It is not clear.
What is clear is a host of inconsistencies contained in the Charge. On the one hand, it was alleged that its Chief Executive Officer was employed without work permit. On the other hand, it was alleged that the Board encouraged the Chief Executive Officer to accept employment without work permit. Can the Nigeria Immigration Service withdraw the work permit if it did not grant it?
Nigeria Immigration Service alleged that it withdrew the work permit on March 3, 2023, and alleged that the Chief Executive Officer accepted employment without work permit. When the entire industry knew that he was working with work permit since 2013. Since the withdrawal of his work permit, he has been abroad in compliance with the law and as a believer in the due process.
How then could he be said to be working in contravention with the law when he has not been in Nigeria to undertake employment or duties as the Chief Executive Officer? All of these are glaring contradictions by the Nigeria Immigration Service on the unfounded allegations of some persons said to be unknown third parties.
According to court sources, the defendants are yet to be served with the charge, and interestingly, a Notice of Withdrawal or Discontinuance of the Charge was filed the same day, April 6, 2023, the charge was filed in court.
It is not unlikely that the withdrawal of the charge was founded on what some have termed the contradictions in the charge filed by a Federal Government Agency, the Nigerian Immigration Service, given that the Chief Executive Officer was appointed as Chief Executive since August 2020, and had served as the Chief Financial Officer since July 2013.
The Chief Executive was known popularly to be instrumental in completing the dual listing of the company on the Nigerian and London Stock Exchanges, which was the first for a Nigerian corporate. He was also known to be instrumental in broadening the capital base of the company and increasing Seplat Energy’s footprint in Nigeria by acquiring oil and gas assets.
The withdrawal of his immigration documents was in March 2023, over 30 months after his appointment as Chief Executive and about nine years and nine months after his appointment as CFO.
Some anonymous sources have also concluded that the criminal charge is another typical example of unknown forces misleading an agency of the federal government to frustrate lawful businesses, destroy shareholders’ investments and harass law abiding citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and intimidate Seplat and its board for doing the right thing.
Since the news of the cancellation of the immigration documents of the Chief Executive Officer of Seplat Energy Plc broke out, the company’s shares have suffered a sharp decline, and all manners of suits aimed at scuttling the smooth running of the business of the company have been filed in various courts both in Lagos State and the Federal Capital Territory against the company and the Board.
One can guess whether the unending legal battles and trumped-up criminal charge is another case of ‘the voice of Jacob and the hand of Esau”. Time will tell, but clearly these inconsistencies will not help attract Foreign Direct Investment (,FDI).
More likely, this kind of actions end up shaking the confidence of foreign investors and scaring away good people from company administration.