N11bn petroleum products diversion: Court to rule on Ubah’s detention May 25

Federal High Court, Lagos

A Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday fixed May 25 to rule on the application for the release from detention the Chairman of Capital Oil and Gas Ltd, Ifeanyi Ubah.

Justice Mohammed Idris had reserved the date for ruling after listening to arguments from counsel to both the applicant and the respondents.

Ubah had filed the suit through his lawyer, Isioma Esom, seeking an order to compel his release from the custody of the Department of State Security (DSS).

Joined as respondents in suit are the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Department of State Security(DSS) Director-General.

Also joined are: the DSS, Inspector-General of Police, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), NNPC Retail Ltd, and Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria.

The DSS had on May 12 taken Ubah into custody on allegations of economic sabotage and diversion of petroleum products to the tune of N11 billion.

The petroleum products were said to have been stored by NNPC Retail in Capital Oil’s tank farm in Lagos.

They were stored under a “throughput” agreement, but the products got “missing” under controversial circumstances.

However, Ubah in his suit is urging the court to declare his detention unlawful and to direct his immediate and unconditional release from the custody of the DSS.

In a preliminary objection to the suit on Thursday, counsel to the NNPC, K.C. Turaki (SAN), urged the court to strike out the applicant’s suit for lack of merit.

He argued that the applicant diverted petroleum products kept in his custody and was, therefore, guilty of economic sabotage.

According to him, the corporation had in recent past been subjected to various investigations, particularly on issues of fuel diversion.

Turaki said the NNPC had a duty to inform investigating agencies where the petroleum products were kept for them to carryout further investigations.

He argued that even if an agreement existed between the applicant and the NNPC, the position of the law is that a crime has been committed by the diversion of the products.

According to him, it is the law that no party in an agreement has the right to “decriminalize” the Criminal Act.

Turaki also submitted that the security agencies have inherent powers under the Constitution to investigate economic crimes which included diversion of petroleum products.

In challenging the court’s jurisdiction to hear the applicant’s suit, Turaki stated that all the alleged infringements committed by the plaintiff took place in Abuja.

He, therefore, urged the court to decline jurisdiction in the case and strike out suit .

In the same vein, counsel to the DSS, Peter Okerinmade, also urged the court to dismiss the plaintiff”s suit for want of jurisdiction.

He argued that the applicant’s motion was aimed at frustrating ongoing investigations on allegations made against him by the NNPC.

On his part, counsel to the EFCC , A. M. Ocholi, argued that after going through the affidavit filed by the applicant, there was no allegation of any breach of the applicant’s rights by the Commission.

He also urged the court to dismiss the suit.

Meanwhile, in arguing the applicant’s motion on notice, Ubah’s counsel, also told the court to discountenance all the objections raised by the respondents.

Esom brought her originating summons pursuant to order 2, Rule 1 of the Federal High Court Civil procedure rules and supported by an affidavit of 103 paragraphs deposed to by the applicant’s company Secretary.

She told the court that the only reason why Ubah was being “harassed” by the first to sixth respondents was solely on allegations of his indebtedness to the NNPC.

She also informed the court that the debt arose from a contractual arrangement which she argued was not a criminal offence.

Esom said the NNPC was currently indebted to the applicant’s firm — Capital Oil and Gas Ltd — to the tune of N10 billion and eight million dollars.

She also argued that in spite of the indebtedness, the applicant had never made any report against them to any security agency.

Esom said that her client was arrested on two occasions in Lagos and kept in the custody of the DSS at Shangisha, Lagos, before being transferred to Abuja.

Esom, therefore, urged the court to grant the applicant’s reliefs and order the DSS to release him unconditionally.

She also sought an order of court to, in the alternative, admit the applicant to bail pending the conclusion of the case.