The trial of nine suspected oil thieves alongside a vessel, before Justice A. Faji of the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos, commenced today, Thursday, 25 March, 2021 with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, presenting its first prosecution witness, PW1, Remedy Sylvanus Yange, an investigator with the Commission.
The defendants: Adeniji Nathaniel, Jagun Michael, Omiyenye Roman, Stephen Imasua, Adeosun Emmanuel Dimeji, Francis Williams, Saturday Atube, Uduak Monday Umoh and Egbayelo Tunde, were arraigned alongside a vessel, MV African Support 3, on July 22, 2020, on a three-count charge bordering on conspiracy and illegal dealing in petroleum product.
One of the count reads: “That you: MV African Support, Adeniji Nathaniel, Jagun Michael, Omiyenye Roman, Stephen Imasua, Adeosun Emmanuel Dimeji, Francis Williams, Saturday Atube, Uduak Monday Umoh and Egbayelo Tunde on the 13th of February, 2020 within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, without appropriate license dealt with 245.40 Metric Tonnes of petroleum product and you thereby committed an offence contrary to and punishable under Section 1 (17) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act, Cap M17, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.”
The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charge.
At the commencement of trial today, Yange narrated to the court how the defendants conspired and illegally dealt in 245.40 Metric Tonnes of petroleum product.
Led in evidence by the prosecution counsel, S.I. Suleiman, Yange told the court that on February 24, 2021, his team, Extractive Industry Fraud Section Team B, received a letter from the Nigeria Navy Beecroft informing them of the arrest of 11 crew members onboard a ship, MV Africa Support 3.
He also told the court that he and some of his team members visited the Navy Base alongside a staff of the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, to interview the defendants and also take samples of the substances found on the ship for testing.
“Investigations commenced and letters of investigation were written to the DPR to know if the ship had the permit to operate on Nigerian Waters.
“Also, investigation letters were sent to Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, to inquire if the ship was registered, after which we received responses to our letter.
”Yange further told the court that on June 3, 2020, the Nigeria Navy handed over nine crew members to the EFCC for prosecution, and his team took their statements under caution and presented them with bail conditions to enable their release.
When the prosecution counsel, Suleiman sought to tender the investigation letters and defendants’ statements before the Court, counsel to the defendants, M. C. Ike, objected to the admissibility of some of the documents.
Ike objected to the tendering of three letters from the EFCC dated February 24, 2020, two of which were addressed to the DPR and one to NIMASA on the grounds that the documents are not original or certified true copies.
He further said that only certified true copies could be tendered before the court. Ike also objected to the admissibility of the statements of three of the defendants, as he argued that the statements were not made by the defendants, but by another investigating officer, I.O., who wrote it on their behalf.
He argued that the I.O. should be the one tendering the document and not the witness who did not record the statement taking.
He, therefore, urged the court to reject the documents and hold that the witness does not have the capacity to tender same.
The prosecution counsel, Suleiman, withdrew the documents that were objected to.
However, the documents that were upheld were admitted by the court and marked as Exhibits A-J respectively.
Yange further told the court that the investigation showed that the ship did not have coastal license to deal in petroleum products.
He added that the defendants did not also have appropriate documents to enable them convey 245.40 Metric Tonnes of substance suspected to be Automotive Gas Oil, AGO. Justice Faji discharged PW1 and further adjourned the matter to April 30, 2021 for continuation of trial.