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ExxonMobil and the Evasive Game: The Audacity in Absurdity

By Ekemini Simon



Evading responsibility can lead to a life long pattern of criminal behaviour. — Hetty King

On Tuesday, February 4, 2020, the Akwa Ibom State Internal Revenue Service issued a warning notice to the oil Multinational, ExxonMobil over non remittance of taxes to the coffers of the Akwa Ibom State government.

According to AKIRS, ExxonMobil defaulted in remitting the actual tax deductible from its employees salaries.

What this means in a layman’s language is that ExxonMobil has actually deducted tax from the salary of their workers but failed to remit same to the State.

According to the Executive Director, Enforcement and Recovery of the Board, Mr Leo Umana, all these while, ExxonMobil has been underpaying the State taxes due to the State until the tax authority decided to engage a consultant to investigate their tax liabilities.

The Enforcement Director notes that after thorough investigation, the consultant reported that Mobil was owing the State about N53 billion.

To exemplify that ExxonMobil are treasured as partners with the State, Mr Umana explains the understanding the State displayed.

He notes: “During reconciliation, it was resolved from N53 billion to N24.5billion, Mobil was part of the reconciliation.”

The Tax Director points out that after then, AKIRS has been meeting with ExxonMobil for over a year yet without result.

He said, “They have been playing hide and seek despite our several correspondence; we have asked them to produce document of payment if they say they are not owing but they have not done so, so they have not disputed our figures.”

Umana insists that the notice was served on ExxonMobil after exhausting all negotiations. He says, “We have had series of meetings with their representatives, and we have exhausted all avenues of discussion and negotiation; so the notice today is just a warning.
“We don’t want companies to cheat the government and we don’t want to cheat any taxpayer.”

Considering how absurd it is for an oil giant which exploits the resources of the State yet refuses to remit to the State the taxes it has actually deducted from its employees, it would have been expected that this oil firm will cover their face in shame and without alarm remit what rightly belongs to the State. Alas, they decided to take the ignoble path, displaying in public glare their infantile dance.

Through their agents, they led a campaign for the sack of AKIRS boss and quickly churned out the article “AKIRS: BITING THE NIPPLES OF ITS CASH COW” in a bid to justify why the State should not bother ExxonMobil of taxes and in the process insulted tax officials for carrying out their job.

The said article written by agents of ExxonMobil

In one of the defence, they noted that asking ExxonMobil to remit the tax they deducted from their employees means that Akwa Ibom State Government does not encourage private investments and sustained business.

In fact, they went on to say that ExxonMobil should never be asked to pay tax because “This is a company which operations contribute more than 95 per cent of the monthly revenue accruing to the State from the federation account. “This is a company that has in its employ, more than 640 indigenes of the State.” What an audacity in the face of absurdity.

The cover page of the newspaper publication

By this argument, ExxonMobil is trying to portray to the State that they are rather helping us when they exploit our over 90 offshore platforms comprising about 300 producing wells at a capacity of over 550 thousand barrels a day of crude, condensate and natural gas liquids (NGL).

While raking in to their purse trillions of dollars they make through the exploitation of our waters, ExxonMobil still wants to swallow again the tax they deducted from their employees who by extension have enjoyed the social amenities provided by the State. In practical terms, they are telling the State “shut up! We have done enough by employing your people to work for us”. What an insult! In Ray Ekpu’s word, this is courage to do nonsense.

To even call for the sack of a Chairman who has generated an all time peak internal revenue for the State clearly reveals the criminal intent in the call.

It is important to state that this will not be the first time ExxonMobil will engage in a gimmick of this nature.

It could be recalled that there are still lingering issues over oil blocks questionably sold to ExxonMobil in Akwa Ibom State.

In a recent interview with Okoi Obono-Obla, a former aide to President Muhammadu Buhari who headed a special panel on the recovery of government property, Premium Times quoted him to have said that Mobil had purchased oil blocs below the actual worth.

Obono-Obla noted: “I was also leading an investigation into the oil bloc that was sold to Mobil Nigeria and Mobil paid only 650 million dollars instead of 2.5 billion dollars. In this particular transaction, the eminent human rights activist, Femi Falana, wrote a petition against it and we began asking questions.”

It is rather sad that an oil multinational like ExxonMobil is not new to the game of evasion. It is still fresh on our mind how they have evaded from implementing the supreme court judgment in the case of the sacked 860 spy police. Unfortunately, 360 of these staff have died during the course of their long wait leaving 510 alive.

It is quite worrisome that after the Apex Court had given its judgment in the 18 years legal battle in March 2018, ExxonMobil has not only evaded from complying, it tried to re-litigate the matter even though the Supreme Court is the final authority in all legal matters. It took the matter to the Industrial Court, Ikoyi. When that also failed, it approached the High Court, Igbosere, Lagos for another round of delay tactics; all aimed at evading the execution of the judgment of the highest court in Nigeria.

What is more, their game of evasion continues. How spiting it is to Akwa Ibom State for ExxonMobil to claim that “if the array of top executives running that International oil company were Yorubas from the South West or Hausa Fulanis from Northern Nigeria , AKIRS would not have embarked on that manner of tax drive.” One would want to ask ExxonMobil why they have remitted all their taxes in Lagos but choose to treat the State with ignominy.

With such utterance, they better not remind the State how they milk us dry daily, pollute our land, air and water but keep their headquarters in Lagos leaving the people here to suffer the health consequences of their exploration.

ExxonMobil has to come to the realization that they are no sacred cows simply because they are oil giants operating in the State. They must understand that as long as they operate in the State, they owe the State a responsibility to give it its due. Just as Hetty King quoted at the beginning of this piece had asserted, failure to do that will only reveal the criminal tendency of the organization.

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