In a landmark suit, an employee of Exxon Mobil has challenged an internal audit review he alleged the company uses to periodically disengage Nigerian employees and replace them with expatriates.
Mr. Paul Arinze, General Manager of the Public and Government Affairs Department (P &GA) of Mobil, is asking the court to suspend a “Special Review” Audit embarked on by Mobil, 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 the defendant to “flush” out Nigerians from positions of authority in the company, and have them replaced by foreigners.
In his suit marked NICN/LA/659/2018, claimant is challenging the said audit, and calling for a review by an independent auditor.
In an industry where the international oil companies are seldom vetted by relevant government agencies over labour matters, Arinze’s suit is an unusual but bold challenge of the application of labour laws and expatriate quota administration in the oil sector. The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) has also waded into the dispute.
When the case was called before Justice A.N Ubaka of the National Industrial Court in Lagos on Monday, Mr. Abayomi Osinbajo, counsel to the Arinze, the claimant, stated that the court that the case was supposed to be for hearing of his application for interlocutory injunction, but informed the court that the claimant had already been issued a notice of retirement by defendant, even while the case was pending in court.
He described this as bad faith and urged the court to view the action of the defendant, adding that same was not duly done.
Responding, counsel to the defendant, Mr. Charles Edosomwan (SAN), argued that the question in issue is whether the court could intervene and stop the ongoing internal audit of Mobil, 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 accordingly, 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 is seeking among other reliefs, that the mode of operation of the existing Audit Team, is in breach of the rules of natural Justice and an infringement on his fundamental rights as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, according to a report by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
He said 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 realized 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.
He avers 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.
He said 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, therefore, seeks 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.
Meanwhile, 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.