The Economic and Financial Crimes (EFCC) yesterday took a gang of 20 men including one Captain Daniel Lebile before a Federal High Court in Lagos for allegedly dealing in petroleum products without lawful authority.
The accused were arraigned before Justice Ibrahim Buba on three counts in relation to the offence.
Apart from Lebile, the others are Ala Ibanibo, Wole Ajayi, Adesunloye Fani-Kayode, Michael Mgbanwa, Segun Ekundemi, Johnson Mashebinu, Ndidi Benjamin, Bright Nwaezuoke, Blessing Omoviye and Kayode Ireti.
Others are Chuks Isiwepkweni, Friday Nchikpa, Peter Bayo, Ubom Amos, Zuopamo Embiowei, Olabamerun Owolemi, Adams Husseini, Ebisingha Timmy and Godwin Oputeh.
The accused were arraigned alongside their vessel, MV Long Island and their companies Afa Global Impex Services Limited and GFL Marine Service Limited.
As contained in the charge sheet numbered FHC/L/38C/15, the accused, on or about December 2, 2014, allegedly conspired and dealt in about 200 metric tons of petroleum products without lawful authority or appropriate licence.
The EFCC prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo, said the offence ran afoul of sections 17 and 19(6) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act, Cap M17, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
The offence was also said to contravene Section 4 of the Petroleum Act, Cap P10, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
But the 23 accused persons denied being culpable and pleaded not guilty upon reading the charges to them.
Oyedepo thereafter urged the court to grant him a short adjournment to enable him to gather his witnesses and bring them to court. He also urged the court to order the prison remand of the accused person while the trial lasted.
“My Lord, in view of the plea of the accused, we shall be asking for a short adjourned date to allow us to assemble our witnesses. We shall also be asking the court that the accused persons should be remanded in the prison custody,” Oyedepo said.
But a counsel from the defence, L.M. Alozie, opposed Oyedepo’s prayer to remand the defendants in prison custody.
Alozie urged the court to admit the accused persons to bail in liberal conditions pursuant to Section 36 of the Constitution, just as he informed the court that some of them were already on administrative bail by the EFCC.
While conceding to the prayer for bail, Oyedepo, however, urged the court to grant the bail only in conditions that would guarantee the attendance of the accused persons in court for trial.
He said, “My Lord, I leave the issue of bail at the discretion of the court, but I am only praying that My Lord will grant bail in conditions that will ensure that the accused persons attend trial.”
He also urged the court to order the remand of the 12th and 17th accused persons in the custody of the Nigerian Navy along with the vessel seized from them on the high sea.
But, Buba, in a short ruling, said the prayer to remand the accused on the high sea with a vessel was novel to him, adding that he would require legal authority before he could make such an order.
The judge, while emphasising that an accused was to be presumed innocent until otherwise proven, said he was inclined to exercise his discretion in granting bail in favour of the accused. He, however, warned that failure to attend trial would result in the bail being revoked.
Buba, therefore, admitted each of the 23 accused persons to bail in the sum of N50m with one surety in like sum. He said the surety must be resident in Lagos and must be an owner of landed property. The surety is to deposit into the court’s custody the title documents of his landed property; he is also to file before the court an evidence of means in form of his bank statement of account, which were to be verified by the court officials and the prosecution.
Buba also ordered each accused persons to sign an undertaking that they would not stall trial on account of the bail, just as he ordered them to submit two recent passport photographs each.
The judge subsequently adjourned till March 23 and 24 and April 2, 2015 for commencement of trial. He ordered the prison remand of the accused persons pending the fulfillment of their bail conditions.
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