On February 27th, 2013, I along with 36 other MPS contract staff received the following email invitation:
Please take note of new time.
L & G,
You are invited to an interactive engagement session aimed at discussing
various MPS contractual and performance matters.
Kindly confirm your availability and please share with those omitted in
the address list.
Venue will be advised shortly.
Olufunmilayo (Funmilayo) Ojo was the SNEPCo contract holder for the Midis MPS contract. The meeting was held on the 28th of February.
One of the issues discussed was that Midis had either not provided any form of tax receipt for PAYE (Pay as You Earn – Nigerian income tax) or had provided hand written tax receipts from Rivers or Delta state for as long as they had been in business. Under Nigerian law, PAYE taxes must be paid in the state of the employees residence – we all lived in Lagos state.
Nigerian law also required that employees have a taxpayer ID number; equivalent to the US Social Security number. No one present had even seen a Nigerian Taxpayer ID card let alone been issued one.
SNEPCo pays Midis Energy Services and the other MPS contractors the 25% PAYE tax and the MPS Contractors remit it to the Lagos State Revenue Service but without tax ID numbers, how were our individual accounts credited?
By February 15th, 2013, I was getting pretty frustrated with the problems with Midis Energy Services and asked another American expat who worked with a different agent for contact information for his agent. He provided the phone and email address for Brilliant Anaro, general manager, Servitico Limited – another SNEPCo MPS contractor.
I would meet Brilliant for the first and last time on June 4th, 2013.
Brilliant was shot in the head and killed while I was in Houston for Christmas break in 2014.
Again, a departure from the chronology. The Tide, an online news magazine published an undated article Atamuno’s Vision For His People by Soye Wilson Jamabo. Following are some excerpts from that article:
Until his enlistment into the long list of governorship aspirants under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atamuno Ajubo Atamuno was a relatively quiet philanthropist not given to partisan politics. But when he finally emerged, many realised that he indeed meant business.
That business is to contribute to the well-being of the thoroughly impoverished Rivers people in general, and men and women of his immediate constituency the Okrika speaking Ijaws of Rivers State. To be seen as a serious contender, an aspirant under the PDP, according to him, would require an initial investment of N100 million [$500,000].
Note that the half million dollars is an “investment” in something.
Atamuno, an International Business mogul with offices in Asia, Europe, and the Americas, said his preference to assist the needy was indeed deliberate. “I have seen poverty. I have tasted it. I have fought poverty. And I can tell you, it is not easy.
According to him, he had tried his hands in many ventures, including buying and selling detergents in the open Lagos market and streets to break even. Such travails with-out support can never be easy and was not.
I’ll look into Atamuno’s Houston shell corporations and his Americas office in the next post.
When I started writing this blog, I intended to start with a chronological summary of working and living in Lagos primarily to provide education for prospective “fresh fish” that may be moving to Lagos and to provide an insight into the pervasive culture of corruption. This post will depart from the chronology and flash forward to today.
A Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship aspirant in Rivers State, Atamuno Ajubo Atamuno, has unveiled his plans for the state should he eventually picks the party’s ticket, saying he would take the state to unimaginable level of development.
In a chat with journalists in Abuja, Atamuno, who disclosed that he is pursuing the governorship seat under Rivers Mandate Group, said his aspiration “is based on the agony our long suffering Rivers people have endured since 1999.”
The article then goes on to describe the “unimaginable level of development.” Atamuno was not selected in the PDP primary but the connections to Rivers and Delta states will come up again when I go back to the chronology.
The day after the Midis Energy Services Staff meeting described in my last post, I sent the following email to Atamuno Atamuno, owner of Midis:
Subject: Midis Vehicles
CC: “Ehirim, Iyke I [######]-PTP/D/NP”; “Ojo, Olufunmilayo O [######]-HRUI/FNG”
Last night at the meeting, you stated that all of the Midis provided vehicles had been purchased new. I pointed out this could not be true as the current vehicle provided for my transportation was over 10 years old and had 218,124 miles (351,037 kilometers) when it was exported from the USA to Benin in 2011. It is my understanding that it is not legal to import passenger vehicles that are older than 10 years into Nigeria.
I understand that you are very busy and frequently travel due to your business interests and have not been directly involved in the details of your business with [Company] lately. I know that you would not intentionally misrepresent the situation with the vehicles so you may have been misinformed by your staff here. In order that you are fully informed, I will describe the recent chronology of my current Midis provided vehicle:
Tuesday 22 January. I was picked up at [Company] by my assigned driver in a Toyota Camry LE. This was the second vehicle used for my transport that day and the third different vehicle in a week.
Wednesday 23 January. I sent an email to Chris Effiom expressing concern about the safety of the Midis provided vehicle. Chris visited me after work at my apartment and we discussed a steward for my apartment and the situation with the vehicles. I indicated that I felt a suitable vehicle for the road, traffic, safety and security conditions in Lagos was a small SUV that was not so old that maintenance would be a constant hassle. Chris appeared to agree with me.
Monday 28 January. My driver called me about 6:15 am to tell me to get a ride with another expat as the tire was flat on the Toyota and there was no spare tire. I did so and was able to get to the office on time.
Tuesday 29 January. The flat tire was fixed. I checked the trunk for a spare tire and other legally required safety equipment but it was empty except for some trash. I told the driver this was unacceptable to Shell and that I expected the vehicle to have a spare tire and the required safety equipment when he picked me up after work.
Wednesday 30 January. I checked the trunk again before going to work and found a spare tire and a fire extinguisher loose in the trunk. The spare tire did not appear to be the same size as the tires on the vehicle but the bolt pattern did appear to be the same so it would probably work.
Thursday 31 January. The driver’s side window was covered with water and impairing vision to the left as we were waiting to make a left turn at an intersection. I asked the driver to put the window down to clear the water or to be able to see clearly out the open window. He told me the window would not go down and pushed on the switch to demonstrate the problem. When I got to the office, I again sent an email to Chris to advise him of this problem.
Sunday 3 February. I observe the vehicle parked on the North side of the apartments with plastic sheeting over the fully opened window. See the attached photo.
Monday 4 February. The window is in the fully down position and will not go up. I am taken to Shell with the window stuck down.
Tuesday 5 February. I receive a text from driver at 3:51 pm telling me to get a ride home with another expat as the car is in the shop.
Wednesday 6 February. Vehicle is available to take me to and from work but window switch was still not repaired and vehicle was back in shop during day. The window was stuck in an intermediate position between up and down. I checked the mileage on the vehicle and it was a little over 5,000 miles.
Thursday 7 February. I receive a text from driver at 3:38 pm telling me to get a ride home with another expat as the car is in the shop again.
Friday 8 February. Meeting with you at Four Points Hotel. Driver advises me that the window is fixed after four trips to the shop but that the driver side door will not lock.
[Company’s] HSSE New Arrivals Information document version 1.0 dated June 2012 for Lagos section 5.1 VII says: “Keep the window of the vehicle you are traveling in, fully would up and the door locked.” I therefore consider working windows, locks and air conditioning critical safety equipment.
I believe the failures of the window switches and door locks are entirely due to the age and high mileage of this vehicle. The odometer has been “rolled back” to conceal the high mileage of the vehicle. When I inspected the vehicle, I found that the data plate that should be on the driver’s side door jamb that would typically show the date of manufacture and VIN number had been removed. The VIN number was intact on the dash and I was able to order a vehicle history report from CarFax based on the VIN number. Following is a short summary of the report and a longer summary is attached. The full report is of course available if you are interested.
The vehicle was manufactured on 1 Oct 2001. It was exported to Benin on 31 Oct 2011 with 218,124 miles (351,037 kilometers) 10 years and 30 days after manufacture. Since it is my understanding that it is not even legal to import vehicles over 10 years old into Nigeria, I don’t know how it got from Benin into the Midis fleet. Perhaps you can find out. The data plate from the driver’s side door jamb has been removed and the odometer rolled back to conceal the actual mileage and age (probably when it was smuggled into Nigeria from Benin).
I do not consider this a satisfactory vehicle and request that Midis provide a SUV suitable for the poor road conditions in Lagos with low enough mileage to be reliable considering the road, traffic, safety and security environment in Lagos and a with documented history to facilitate maintenance including implementation of manufacturer’s safety recalls.
Since you said that Midis only buys new vehicles, a new SUV will be acceptable of course.
I am sure this vehicle was acquired for my transportation by your staff without your knowledge and I trust that you will correct the situation in a timely manner.
[company email signature]
Later in the day, I received the following reply from Atamuno:
Dear Mr. Terry,
We thank you for the observations and will act according to the contract.
Within a few days, I was provided with a 2009 model year Toyota Corolla VIN JTDBL40E399035174. I imagine that the next “fresh fish” to go to work through Midis got the 2001 Camry.
Atamuno Atamuno, the owner of Midis, called a meeting of the 30 or so Shell contractors working for Midis on February 8th, 2013 at the Sheraton Four Points Hotel on Victoria Island. Presumably, a separate meeting was held for the 40 or so Chevron contractors working for Midis. Atamuno introduced Yusuf Omane as the new General Manager. Atamuno also introduced Abere Innocent, who also went by Abere Dick, as his new accountant. Although Chris Henshaw was present, he stayed in the background and kept quiet. Chris still had the remnants of the black eye and bruises from the police beating. I smile at Chris when we make eye contact.
It is notable that Atamuno responded to complaints from several of us concerning the vehicles that Midis provided by stating that all of the vehicles in the Midis fleet had been bought “brand new”. It is certainly true that all vehicles are bought “brand new” by someone but often later sold as used vehicles when the “brand new” buyer disposes of them.
I pointed out to Atamuno that the Toyota that they provided for me was manufactured on 1 Oct 2001 and was bought “brand new” but not by Midis. It was over 10 years old with 218,124 miles when it was exported on 31 Oct 2011 from New Jersey to the Republic of Benin, the odometer reset and the data plate on the door jamb removed, and then smuggled into Nigeria. Atamuno seemed shocked that I would know these details and call him out on the lie. Apparently Nigeria’s tropical gangsters do not understand Google. Google is your friend.
On January 23, 2013, Chris Henshaw, General Manager for Midis Energy Services, came to my apartment after work to discuss getting a steward or house keeper and better vehicle for me. He had a black eye and several bruises and responded to my inquiry about his condition saying he had been mugged. There were rumors a few days later that Chris had been arrested. I told other expats that he had met me at my apartment on the 23rd and suggested that by his appearance, the police had beaten a confession from him. A Nigerian said that Chris had indeed been beaten by the police but they were not interested in a confession. They had beaten him to extort some of the money he had misappropriated. I still thought Chris was just a typical Nigerian petty criminal settling (paying bribes to) people to look the other way at the inflated invoices for our apartment rent and cancel the safety inspections on the junk cars.
My next lesson in the culture of corruption came at the Shell “year end celebration” at the Eko Hotel in early December 2012 (it is understandably not PC to have a Christmas Party in a country that is half Muslim). The invitations stated that the party would start at 5 pm and I arrived a little “late”. I found that there was almost no one there and the doors to the banquet hall at the Eko were still locked. Fashionably late in Nigeria is not arriving at 5:15 for a party that starts at 5:00 pm but is arriving about 8:00 pm. I met another Shell expat and we chatted while we waited for the doors to be unlocked.
I related the story of my illegally imported car to him. My colleague told me that Shell’s contract with the MPS contractors actually required that they provide vehicles that were less than one year old and that the vehicles used to be inspected for safety by Shell but someone had stopped the safety inspections by Shell. The Shell Code of Conduct was starting to seem pretty empty when someone could get away this but as the saying in the Ozarks goes “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Midis Energy Services Limited and the other MPS (Man Power Services) contractors invoice SNEPCo $55.00 per working day for “logistics” – the provision of a vehicle and driver for each contract staff for the commute to the office. The Nigerian drivers are paid from 30,000 to 50,000 Naira per month depending on the MPS contractor with Midis at the lowest end of the scale. This was about $190.00 to $312.00 in 2012 and about $158.00 to $263.00 at today’s exchange rate.
The streets in Lagos are in very poor condition and deteriorating every year due to poor governance and corruption. Small 4 wheel drive SUVs are ideal for the poor road conditions and crowded streets. With a driver costing $13 a day at the high end of the pay scale, $42/working day (about $1000/month) remains to pay for the vehicle. If cheap enough vehicles can be used, this can be highly profitable for the MPS contractor.
Although $1000/month would easily pay for a luxury Infinity SUV or a B6 armored Suburban with some money left over for profit, there is an incentive for the MPS contractor to provide a “junk” vehicle if they can get away with it.
The Toyota Camry that was provided by Midis Energy Services Limited when I came to Nigeria in August 2012 was manufactured on 1 Oct 2001. It was exported from New Jersey to Benin on 31 Oct 2011 with 218,124 miles (351,037 kilometers) 10 years and 30 days after manufacture. Since it is not legal to import vehicles over 10 years old into Nigeria, it was smuggled into Nigeria from Benin. The data plate from the driver’s side door jamb had been removed and the odometer rolled back to conceal the actual mileage and age (probably when it was smuggled into Nigeria from Benin).
I had my first introduction to the culture of corruption when my Nigerian colleague, who sits next to me, asked me about the invoice Midis had submitted for $170,000.00 for 2 years advance rent for my apartment. As my immediate superior, he would have to approve the invoice. The OFFER FOR LEASE OF FURNISHED THREE BEDROOM FLAT AT 31 GUEENS (sic) DRIVE, IKOYE, LAGOS that was submitted as back-up for the invoice, written with the Nigerian grammar familiar to anyone who has read a 419 email from Nigeria, described the apartment as:
[A] 3 bedroom furnished luxury flat on the 3rd floor of a high rise residential building. Each apartment is artfully furnished with hugh (sic) bay windows and balconies for sunny, bright cheerful living and panoramic view of the Atlantics (sic) ocean. Also provided are recreational facilities and a bedroom for the steward in the domestics’ staff quarters.
The Offer for Lease was dated July 19th, 2012, over a month before I arrived in Nigeria, and also stated:
We refer to our joint inspections of the above stated premises with your Terry Thompson subsequent discussions on same.
The reality was that I was given a dingy first floor apartment in a two story building that had been vacated a few months before Midis lease was up by an expat who left the country before the end of his contract. The apartment had been empty and closed up for two months and mold and mildew was growing everywhere. Since Lagos Island is between the mainland and Victoria Island, no one living on Lagos Island has a view of the Atlantic Ocean but I had a panoramic view of the car park from the front, the standby generator twelve feet from the bedroom window and the eight foot compound wall six feet from the kitchen window.
Rent would be $60,000 plus $25,000 “Service Charge” per year with additional charges of $6,000 legal fees and $6,000 Agency fee.
Payment was to be made to Standard Hatered (sic) Bank, New York SWIFT code SCBLUS33 with beneficiary Institution FBN Bank (UK) Limited account 3582-059969-001 and Final Beneficiary Enrish Limited, First Bank of Nigeria PLC sort code 011.154.453 and account number 2013938329.
I would later find that this was about three times the rent for comparable apartments in the area when I went to an Estate Agent to find an apartment on my own.