“I was dismissed after saving N25bn in contract bid”- Olatokunbo Arigbabu

A former employee of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited, Olatokunbo Arigbabu, in this interview with Dayo Oyewo, explains how he was allegedly unjustly dismissed and his entitlements withheld for exposing a contract deal that saved the company over N25bn

When did you join NNPC?

I was recruited from London, Great Britain by the Federal Civil Service Commission and seconded to the Ministry of Petroleum Resources in 1977.

How did this whole issue start?

It was at the end of 1992, to early 1993, in my capacity as Chief Engineer, my employer (then), the  Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation sent me on an assignment involving the Mobil-NNPC Joint Venture in Princeton, New Jersey, USA. The team included 10 expatriate management our assignment was to verify and confirm the representations made by different consortiums that submitted bids for the EPC contract of the Quo-Ibow (QIT) Terminal (Upgrade) Expansion. Three consortia eventually emerged, namely; JGC/BOS, ABB Group and Spie-Sofresid. We accordingly sent questionnaires to them to clarify the deficiencies and grey areas in their bid documents.

The bid evaluation work went well as scheduled but at a crucial level of the bid analysis, the team leader of the Task Force and a Manager with the partner, began to wind up the exercise and adjudged, Spie-Sofresid the most competitive bidder and winner of the contract (being the last day of the programme), while Spie-Sofresid had not submitted or given a reply to the questionnaire. He therefore called a Task Force meeting in Princeton, where I pointed out the grey areas that Spie-Sofresid needed to clarify especially prices in certain areas.

So was it clarified?

The team leader promised the confirmation would come in a few minutes. Incidentally, a telephone call came in, which he answered alone without putting it on speaker. However, he gave the verdict, that Spie-Sofresid had come down on all the grey areas, and thereby adjudged the winner. I was not satisfied with the way the exercise was concluded and I told the committee that my unilateral report would be submitted to my employer-NNPC. However, to my utmost surprise, I was the only NNPC representative on the team and was not availed of any further information until I left Princeton for Houston (where I was seconded) to the Princeton Job.

How did you both go about submitting the separate reports?

Surprisingly, the partner deceived me to leave Princeton and maintained its earlier decision to recommend the partner’s contractor. Then, afterward, they forwarded the report to the NNPC, and NAPIMS office for approval which was granted to the contractor- Spie-Sofresid before I arrived in Nigeria. It took me almost two weeks to wind up another assignment in Houston to get to Nigeria. And upon my arrival, I submitted my unilateral report, which contradicted that of our partner. After the presentation of my report, I started getting anonymous phone calls, pleading that I withdraw my report in exchange for gifts (bribe) of $1.0m, a house in London or America. My General Manager in NNPC then was charged to say “Go and withdraw your useless report or I will sack you”. At this juncture; I was worried and feared for my life. I confided my worries to my (then), Head of Department, who assured me that the truth in my report would vindicate me.

Does that mean there was no effort to re-examine the process?

My defence for the report with my General Manager proved abortive and I was waiting for the query at least before the sacking letter. Eventually, the bids and other contract documents were forwarded to Nigeria and an independent committee constituted by the then GED NAPIMS, Alhaji Dalhatu Bayero, consisting of NNPC and partner’s managers to re-examine the whole exercise. At the end of the said exercise, the independent committee’s report corroborated (agreed) with my own. It was after this that the General Manager of the NNPC Joint Ventures changed the award letter from faulty contractor to the right contractor, with the lowest bid that made the difference of the sum of US$200m in savings as a direct result of my brave observation and intervention. After the independent committee that was set up by NNPC vindicated me of any wrong report, the partner also apologized for their omission or commission and wrote a letter to that effect to NNPC- NAPIMS for not heeding my observation. The partner did not stop reprimanding its officers but was sent back to the USA to face further disciplinary action also reprimanded the team Manager, on the project and sent him back to the USA for further investigation.

Were you rewarded for this?

Yes, I was rewarded. A Citation was written on me for a bold, brilliant, and courageous effort amid 10 expatriate Senior Managers of the multi-national oil company, and in further recognition of that excellent performance, I was recommended for the position of Manager as well as a Merit Award in 1993. However, my general manager refused to endorse the recommendations made above to the Corporate NNPC for implantation. I was needlessly victimized in the course of my work. In 1995, I was made a project manager for another contract involving NNPC/ELF in France, but as soon as my general became aware of it in July 1996; I was recalled back home undeservedly for no tangible reason and as a result, lost all my personal properties worth over $50,000.00 in France till today. The sudden retirement contrary to my expectation was too much of a burden for me to bear for a family of eleven (11) and I was thinking along the line of committing suicide. Because I murmured this statement out in my sleep, my family quickly took me to the hospital to calm me down and counselled me but vowed to fight the injustice to the knowledge of Corporate NNPC, the Government, and the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

What efforts did you make to ensure this was reversed?

I went to court after I was unlawfully dismissed in 1996 and the court case lasted till 1998. I won the three cases. I won the case of allegations of a false report against me, I won against the letter of dismissal and against the rejection of the letter citing abrogated Decree 17 of 1984 in which civil servants were punished with this decree in various ministries and parastatals were recalled. The reason why NNPC lost some cases including mine was that the legal department did not scrutinise these cases well; they were full of unwarranted and intangible defenses that did not hold water in the court of law. Since the year 2000, when Decree 17 of 1984 and obnoxious laws were abrogated in Nigeria, ministries and agencies were reviewing how it affected their staff and calling them back to work where applicable. I have also been pleading with the NNPC Group Managing Director to use this opportunity to settle my case and call me back to NNPC since I fell in the category of Decree 17 brutality. I also wrote many letters to NNPC Management to remind her of the many good feats I did for NNPC including saving over N25bn and more. My enthusiasm for the honour at home made me reject the bribes but the honour at home is now tearing me to pieces. For my ingenuity boldness, honesty, and loyalty to my employer- NNPC helped me to save over US$200m.

What efforts have you made to reach out to NNPC under the new leadership?

The current GMD of NNPCL, Mallam Mele Kyari asked for the letters of appeal sent to his predecessors on the subject matter and I sent him a catalogue which I have a copy with me. This was about 4 years ago and I must have sent him more than 10 letters and this year alone 2 letters but no response whatsoever. He is very aware of the matter.

What are your demands?

In all my letters to NNPC, I always include my prayers and that is to be returned to NNPC even if it is one day and then resign honourably since no allegation of any offence against me. I did not steal or given any query unanswered. Secondly, to have all my entitlements as a manager from 1993 till today, then include the added value of “Citation” in my honour by NNPC. Citation here means double promotions. I also demand a National Merit Award Honour for the damages done to me and my family of 11. I have been destroyed physically, mentally, and materially for over 25 years for the offence I did not commit. I brought development, honour and dignity to NNPC and Nigeria.

Culled from Punch