On April 22, 2015, SaharaReporters published a report titled “Bart Nwibe, Other Directors Of SDS Accused Of Plotting To Push Out Founding MD.” The report highlighted an apparent scheme by Bart Nwibe and a group of other directors close to him to seize control of a Port Harcourt-based company, Smart Drilling Services Limited (SDS), by removing Ukpai I. Ukpai, the firm’s founding managing director. The firm is in oil services, focusing on directional surveys, measurement while drilling, wireline services, and petroleum geo-mechanics services.
Even though Mr. Ukpai had teamed up with Mr. Nwibe to start off the firm, and ran the business out of his residence for 11 months before the company relocated to a corporate address, the MD had been effectively sidelined, with Mr. Nwibe now running the SDS as its de facto MD, even though he is officially the MD of another incorporated firm, Segofs Energy Services Limited, also based in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State.
Our original report pointed to a series of high-handed maneuvers by Mr. Nwibe, the SDS’s co-founder and chairman, and several of his cohorts who are members of the board of SDS. That report also detailed accusations of how Mr. Nwibe and other board members had used oppressive means to push out Mr. Ukpai after he had opposed a few of their controversial corporate activities, some of them bordering on criminal violations.
Our earlier report disclosed that, along with Mr. Nwibe, Ben-Chika Uzoagu, Uche Ejiogu, and Tim Okeke were reportedly at the center of the corporate controversy, with one Justus Elijah and others serving as small players in the corporate plot.
SaharaReporters has learned that the embattled MD may soon take Mr. Nwibe and his co-conspirators to court to challenge their activities in the company, including their scheme to alienate him from a firm he co-founded and in which he owns a significant stake.
After our earlier report, SaharaReporters learned that Mr. Nwibe and his clique, April 30, 2015, summarily terminated the employment of SDS employees they deemed close to Mr. Ukpai. One of the sacked workers told SaharaReporters that the company claimed that the low level of activities necessitated the terminations. Two of the sacked workers are relations of Mr. Ukpai. The third, who is not related to the MD, is an engineer and the first person hired by SDS in 2012.
Another fired staff told SaharaReporters that the manner of his summary termination raised questions. “It’s not true that the company is not doing well. In any case, in cases of redundancy, the oil industry follows [the policy] of last in first out (LIFO). Most companies don’t lay off staff members who occupy critical positions, especially where the concerned staff members do not have bad reports in their files. Clearly, all terminations were a case of witch-hunt,” said the source.
SaharaReporters learned that Mr. Nwibe, who once ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Nigerian House of Representatives, has a history of using terminations or threats of them to intimidate or punish staff. After the police visited Segofs in 2014 to investigate Mr. Nwibe and his cohorts, Mr. Nwibe reportedly suspended one of Segofs’ departmental managers, accusing the man for not showing sufficient solidarity to him during police questioning. The manager was later recalled. At about the same time, Mr. Nwibe terminated the employment of another relative of Mr. Ukpai’s employed at Segofs. He used the familiar excuse of “low activity” to justify that termination.
Our earlier report disclosed that the conflict between Mr. Ukpai, on the one hand, and Mr. Nwibe and his cohorts, on the other, began in 2013 when the MD wrote an email reminding Mr. Nwibe and two other board members that their business dealings with a third party contractor amounted to a conflict of interest. The corporate feud worsened in 2014 when Mr. Ukpai opposed an even more scandalous scheme by Mr. Nwibe and three other directors. The directors were intent on using a company they owned, OILER Limited, to buy and supply drop gyro and running gears to SDS. At the time, SDS was expecting a survey contract with the NPDC, with expected invoice of over one million dollars. Even though Mr. Ukpai warned that the directors’ action was illegal, since it amounted to taking undue advantage of their positions, he was overruled by a majority of board members who backed Mr. Nwibe. In the end, OILER Ltd, which is owned by Mr. Nwibe and several other directors, supplied the gyro to SDS.
As a lawsuit looms in the case, our follow-up investigation revealed several disturbing instances of failure by the Nigeria police, the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), and the board of Segofs to demand compliance with corporate regulations, standards and practices. In addition, the entities appear indifferent to the issues of fraud, oppression, high-handedness, impunity, lockout, and threats to life that were raised by the goings-on at SDS.
In November 2014, Mr. Ukpai had petitioned the police regarding the alleged fraud and other illicit actions by the Nwibe group at SDS. Our sources said the police have never communicated with Mr. Ukpai to notify him of the outcome of their investigation. Yet, the same police authorities curiously seem to have handed Mr. Nwibe a report exonerating him of any wrongdoing. This emerged in an ostensible response to our earlier report written by one Igboeli Arinze, a self-described “consultant” to Mr. Nwibe. Mr. Arinze referred to a police report reportedly prepared by “ACP Nura Yakubu of the Special Fraud Unit” that had cleared Mr. Nwibe of wrongdoing. Mr. Arinze also made the spurious claim that a correspondent of our website had demanded a pay-off from Mr. Nwibe, a cheap and blatant lie.
Like the police, the compliance department of the CAC appears to have shirked its responsibility to investigate the series of alleged illicit actions by the majority of SDS board members. Our correspondent rang the CAC’s public affairs telephone number, but the call was not answered.
A lawyer who examined documents obtained by SaharaReporters remarked on what he called “apparent investigative lapses by the police, the Corrupt Affairs Commission, and even though the board of Segofs.” He said the appearance of corporate high-handedness and conflicts of interest in the SDS fiasco called for “vigorous investigation by the police and serious attention by regulatory bodies.” Noting that most of the players in the SDS corporate drama were either directors or staff of Segofs, the lawyer added, “Unless the board of Segofs is a party to the corporate turmoil in SDS, I don’t see why they would sit idly and allow their full-time MD and staff to meddle in the affairs of SDS, a different corporate entity. It seems to me that the board of Segofs would want their MD and staff to focus on their primary jobs, rather than usurping the management of another company, in this case SDS.”