By Jeremy Godson
The last may never be heard on the scandalous case between the NLNG and Macobarb International Limited over a contract gone sour.
The N4.2Bn contract scandal between the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) and one of its contractors, Macobarb International Limited, which has lingered for years seems to enter a sharp stage.
This is because the Managing Director of Macobarb, Mr Shedrack Ogboru, has called upon the Inspector-General of police to cause the police to release the report of criminal investigation required to resume criminal proceedings filed in court against the gas company and two of its officials.
Ogboru had written a petition to the IG of Police on the matter after the failure of the Rivers State Police Command to comply to court order had frustrated the court proceedings. The IG was said to have directed the Interpol to take over the case so as to comply with court order.
The Interpol is understood to have actually visited Port Harcourt in July 2022 and in fact began investigations before the case was said to have been yanked off Interpol to another wing of the police, a move believed to have stalled the investigations.
Now, the contractor has renewed the call for the IG to see the case through so that a report can be turned in. The report is said to be a requirement of the Rivers State private prosecution law in criminal matters.
Macobarb had filed a criminal case before a Port Harcourt Chief Magistrate, Blessings Vic-Jumbo, as part of the N4.2Bn scandal asking the court to find the NLNG, its then managing director (Tony Atah), and the head of legal (Akachukwu Nwokedi) liable for criminal misrepresentation and fraud by obtaining value from Macobarb with false pretence.
The court granted the request of the complainants but asked the police to carry out investigation to warrant trial to begin, but the police which had begun investigations went dead when it got to getting the side of the story from the multinational gas corporation.
After many adjournments to wait for the police report, the Chief Magistrate struck out the case to avoid it clustering her docket, but urged the complainant to feel free to return to court whenever the police completed their investigation.
Reminding the IG of the pending matter, Macorbarb’s CEO who said his firm had had worked for many oil companies and proved competent what the NLNG did in the contract they awarded to Macobarb in 2014 titled No. B130140PPI (Access Control to CCR, Lab, Shutdown Village and Gas Plant Area Project) is full of crimes. He said refusing to pay agreed amounts was on itself a crime for which they initiated a charge of 419 fraud, obtaining money, items and services from them under false pretences and malicious criminal misrepresentations.
The Chief Magistrate ruled that the matter was brought under the right laws and could stand as a criminal suit and thus directed the police to investigate the crime brought before the court.
He said the police saw the contract papers, saw their evidences, and all materials particular in the allegation to form the prima facie. “We submitted evidence of forgery of the signature of an important staff of the NLNG to have attended a meeting of July 28, 2015, whereas such a staff did not attend such a meeting. We showed the police how we acted on the contract terms to manufacture abroad a product at $134,000 and cleared it with N7m and delivered to the NLNG, and how they turned round to say that action was not to be paid for.
“The NLNG forged documents to deny us payment. They also seized our equipment from 2010 to date and falsely claimed that they paid us all monies whereas the money they owe us is there with all evidence documented. Anywhere we drag them to, they claim they owed us nothing.
“We strongly believe that these actions are criminal in nature though there are civil aspects. Imagine where the immediate past managing director would write to Senate Committee on Gas that our contract is a lump sum one to be paid for at the end of contract delivery whereas it is written in black and white that it is to be paid for in milestones based on value of work done. We deemed this as criminal misrepresentation of the contract terms. Akachukwu Nwokedi would write to Festus Keyamo Chambers who petitioned them on our behalf that our contract does not have downtown provision whereas it has all of that clearly written. This too we viewed as criminal representation of facts.”
He went on the explain that at this point, Macobarb felt duped; for a contract to have one set of provisions in writing for which they committed funds only for you to put in writing another set of rules just to escape payment and liability. “So, we felt that fraud had occurred.
He said the most alarming was when a document surfaced showing the signature of the then Principal Project Engineer of the project whereas the expatriate was never in attendance. He said this was pure forgery.
He said the PPE gad rather raised certificate of work done in his right as the man mandated by the terms of the contract to so do, and that the NLNG was only expected to pay according to the certificate, but failed to do this severally, leading to frustrations and eventual termination of the contract without paying the various aspects of payments stipulated by the contract (claims for this one are now in civil suit in the High Court).
He said all evidence were made available to the police in Port Harcourt and later to the Interpol but that the silence on the matter was worrisome.
He went on: “I have reported this frustration to the new Managing Director of the NLNG, Dr Philip Mshelbila, hoping the forces in the place would allow him intervene so Macobarb could be paid so as to bring this saga to an amicable end. It is the NLNG that crafted the contract terms and gave us to sign. We executed the project along the provisions of the contract. It was at payment time that the officials began to change the terms we knew and we say this is criminal breach. Coming to court to prove us wrong is what has been difficult to them.
“Our lawyer wrote a reminder to the police as directed by the court but the police failed to accept the letter. We reported back to the court. In striking out the case, the court blamed the police for failing to do their part. The court ruled that any time we are ready, we can come back to the court. The court clearly saw crime but needed the police to say so to allow the court to start trial.
“We later reported the matter to the IG of police and he minuted it to Interpol probably because the Rivers State police disobeyed court order and the other party in the case appeared to be a multinational entity.
“Interpol moved in, took over the file from Rivers State Police Command and drilled Macobarb and we also submitted all evidence of crime against the NLNG. We are also aware they invited the NLNG especially the persons accused. This was in 2022.”
He said instead, the NLNG arrested him in July 2022 for alleged perjury, that he lied by saying the MD (Tony Attah) and Head of Legal (Akachukwu Nwokedi) were physically present when the Rivers State House of Assembly heard his petition. “My lawyers secured my release but the office of the IG saw volumes of documented evidence showing that I never said such a thing. Instead, they saw that the Rivers State House of Assembly which once intervened in this matter at Macobarb’s instance had agreed to allow NLNG management who pleaded to be allowed to go and resolve the matter. The RSHA graciously allowed them but the NLNG did exactly nothing thereafter, thus making the Honourable House look like fools.
“Macobarb is still waiting for the police to give the outcome of their investigation on our claim that NLNG committed crime. We learnt that there was an order to hand over the case to O/C Legal of the police headquarters.
“Everybody can see a clear pattern: any time the case of crime is about to be investigated, something would happen to cause a handover of the case to another unit, and the case goes quiet. So, if the NLNG and those officers accused in this matter think Macobarb is lying, why don’t they allow investigation or allow hearing to take place in court? If they have any single fact or evidence, why don’t they allow hearing to take place. Two courts have ruled that they have right to hear it, but the NLNG would use the biggest lawyers to stop them from hearing it, always on appeal, and using technicality to stop hearing in a simple allegation of using tricks to obtain goods worth millions from a Nigerian contractor in what we think is criminal representation. Why not prove it wrong in court or before the police? Why block investigation from year to year?”
On what Macobarb wants, Ogboru said: “We have given all evidence of crime we believe the NLNG committed in the contract. The police has not contradicted any; forgery, falsification, falsely claiming to have paid me, seizing our caravan claiming to have paid for them without showing one document of paying for them. These are all criminal in nature. If the police see all these and decide not to submit a report for whatever reason and allow a Nigerian citizen to be crushed by a multinational corporation under their nose, so be it. This is a local contractor that has demonstrated competence and skill in the industry and has made Nigeria proud, and a multinational is stifling him in all weights with their contacts and resources. If the Nigerian Police decide to stand and watch, so be it, but if a multinational corporation had reported a Nigerian citizen for crime, the police would be swift to crush the citizen.”
In conclusion, Ogboru stated thus: “We do not have the resources to fight the Nigeria Police. What we can assure is that the police cannot write under any circumstance that Macobarb has said one lie in this matter; or that the NLNG has shown them that they have completely paid us or has paid for our caravan or demobilization, etc. If they choose not to document the truth starring them in the face, well, ok.
“The matter is in court and at the appropriate time, my lawyer will know what to do.”