19 May 2017

Nigeria: Ifeanyi Ubah Committed Economic Sabotage, NNPC Says

The Chairman of Capital Oil and Gas Limited, Ifeanyi Ubah, is in the custody of the State Security Service because he committed economic sabotage by diverting petroleum products stored in his tank farm, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, has said.

Kabiru Turaki, counsel to the NNPC, told a Lagos Division of the Federal High Court on Thursday that security agencies have inherent power under the constitution to investigate economic crimes, including diversion of petroleum products.

The secret police arrested Mr. Ubah on May 6, and he has been in detention ever since.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how Capital Oil diverted tens of millions of petrol stored in its tank farm by the NNPC, a development that led to the sack of the former head of NNPC Retail.

On May 9, a federal judge in Lagos ordered the SSS to produce Mr. Ubah in court on the next adjourned date, on May 12, and show cause why hebshould not be released unconditionally.

However, on the adjourned date, the court was informed that the SSS had filed an order before another federal court, in Abuja, seeking the detention of Mr. Ubah for another 14 days pending the completion of their investigation.

On Thursday, Peter Okerinmodu, counsel to the SSS, told the court in Lagos that the alleged infringement committed by Mr. Ubah took place in Abuja and, as a result, the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit.

Mr. Okerinmodu, while adopting the SSS's counter affidavit and preliminary objection, said Mr. Ubah's motion is aimed at fraustrating the agency's ongoing investigation on the allegation made against him by the NNPC.

He urged the court to dismiss the motion.

Furthermore, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) through its lawyer, A. M. Ocholi, argued that going through the affidavit filed by the applicant, there was nowhere the commission is alleged of any breach of the applicant rights.‎

He equally urged the court to dismiss the suit.

Justice Mohammed Idris fixed May 25 to rule on whether the court has jurisdiction to hear the suit.

Earlier, Ifeoma Esom, counsel to Mr. Ubah, informed the court how she received processes filed by the 7th and 8th respondents on their notice of preliminary objection on Wednesday.

"They were served the processes as far back as 28th April and this is meant to distort proceedings before this court as well as prolong the detention of the first applicant. This suit was brought under the fundamental human rights rule," said Ms. Esom.

"And rather than respond to the processes, the 4th and 5threspondents illegally, after they have been served with an order to produce the applicant, they went ahead to obtain another order in Abuja."

Ms. Esom also urged the court to allow her orally respond to the processes received yesterday and "in the circumstance make an order that the 1st applicant be released as it's obvious the respondents don't want the matter to be heard as they want to keep the applicant in detention."

Responding to the claims of Ms. Esom, counsel to 2nd and 3rdrespondents, Mr. Ocholi informed the court that the processes were not filed on Wednesday as alleged by Mrs. Esom, but on 9th May.

"The fourth and fifth respondents have pending applications before this court where the jurisdiction of my lordship was challenged. If my lord is disposed to hear this matter, we are prepared for that," said Mr. Ocholi.

When allowed to move her originating motion which sought twelve relieves, Ms. Esom urged the court "to make an order to protect the fundamental human rights of the first applicant."

"The first to sixth respondents have been harassing the applicant because the seventh to ninth respondents say the applicant is indebted to them. The through-put agreement recognises that there are some instances where products are diverted and the contracts shows that and is nothing that would warrant a criminal offence."

Mr. Ocholi, in his response filed a counter affidavit, dated May 9, 2017, where he observed that "there is no infraction alleged in the 103 paragraph of the originating motion. They haven't said we did anything to bring us to court. I therefore urge my lord to dismiss this application."

While also responding to the originating motion, Mr. Okerinmodu told the court that the applicant through his application intends to distract the agencies ongoing investigation.

"This is a case of economic sabotage which a court in Abuja have ordered we go on with our investigation. I urge this court to dismiss this application."

"This suit should be struck out because this court don't have the jurisdiction to hear this matter. The court in Lagos lacks the jurisdiction to hear this matter as there is also a federal court in Abuja," said Mr. Okerinmodu.

Mr. Turaki, a senior lawyer, while aligning with Mr. Okerinmodu, challenged the jurisdiction of the court as he also submitted that the matter before the court should not be considered a human rights matter.

According to him "that one comes to court and cries that my rights have been taken does not make it a fundamental rights issue."

"Since the beginning of this administration, several allegations have been levelled against the 8th respondent and investigations have been carried out and we need to tell the people where the money has been. Why did they not write, indicating the whereabouts of the products," said Mr. Turaki.

In response, Ms. Esom told the court that "the second respondent is a statutory body as it's a creation of a statute, that is, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC Act and have taken steps to infringe the rights of the 1st applicant as they deployed their operatives to the Lagos office of the 1stapplicant seeking to arrest the chief operating officer and that's why we brought them to court."

"Even if money were owed, it is not still enough for an arrest. The functions and duties of State Security Service are clearly stated in the NSA and does not include recovery of debts. There is no correlation of national security and the facts presented before this court."

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