Shareholders under the Independent Shareholders Association of Nigeria, have asked for a probe into the affairs of Seplat Energy Plc.
This, they said, has become necessary in order to ascertain the amount the indigenous oil company spent on legal fees defending its Chief Executive Office, Roger Brown, in the first half of the year.
This was contained in a statement signed by the National Coordinator of ISAN, Moses Igbrude, and the Executive Director of Make A Difference Initiative, Lemmy Ughegbe.
Brown had faced allegations of racism, discrimination and improper immigration status in the first half of the year, which led to lawsuits and withdrawal of his working permit, combined expatriate residence permit and aliens card and other visas for the entry or stay in Nigeria, by the Ministry of Interior and the Nigeria Immigration Service.
In its half-year report, Seplat said its “General and administrative expenses amounted to $65.8m, 42.0 per cent higher than the G&A costs of $46.4m incurred in 6M 2022.
“This increase in G&A costs was mainly due to professional fees associated with the litigation costs in response to the unprecedented and intense period of minority shareholder actions through the Courts and some costs associated with the MPNU transaction.
“Excluding these exceptional items, G&A costs would have closed relatively flat compared to the previous year.”
From Seplat’s financial report, professional and consulting fees stood at N14.13bn at the end of June 2023 compared to N2.42bn, same period of 2022, marking a 484.24 per cent hike.
Reacting to this surge, ISAN said that the admission by Seplat in its 2023 half-year result of the amount spent as professional legal fees to defend Brown in the lawsuits brought against him by shareholders vindicated them.
The stakeholders called for a probe as well as the sack of Seplat’s CEO and the board.
They said, “We earnestly call on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to direct the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria and the Security and Exchange Commission to do their jobs by taking disciplinary actions and carrying out a thorough investigation into the perpetual breach of corporate governance codes to save Seplat and the investments of Nigerians and international investors from going down the drains.
“We also urge the President to institute a probe panel composed of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, and other relevant bodies to investigate the circumstances surrounding the so-called legal fees and other related matters in Seplat Energy Plc.”
The shareholders demanded to know the lawyers who were paid the legal fees and how much each lawyer or law firm got.
“We demand the immediate resignation or removal of Seplat CEO, Roger Brown, and Independent Non-Executive Directors to ensure an unimpeded investigation into the rot in Seplat before it is too late,” the statement said.