By Charles C. Opara
Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, has told 14 foreigners, arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for illegal oil bunkering, that they have a case to answer and should be ready to face trial.
According to Justice Buba, the court dismissed an application filed before it by the foreigners, seeking to quash a 4-count charge preferred against them and for the court to strike out the matter entirely, on the basis that the prosecution did not secure and obtain a written consent of the Attorney- General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, in line with the provisions of the Exclusive Economic Zone Act of Nigeria.
In his ruling, Justice Buba said that, “this court does not find any merit on this application, it is hereby dismissed”.
Earlier, the EFCC, through its counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, had opposed the application on point of law, arguing that, the EFCC was statutorily empowered to prosecute the alleged offenders. He reminded the court that the EFCC can enforce the provisions of the Miscellaneous Offences Act which was the Act the accused persons allegedly contravened.
Meanwhile, trial commenced in the matter immediately the court threw out the application of the accused persons. Oyedepo presented the first prosecution witness, Captian Chiedozie Donald Okedi before the court. Okedi, commanding officer of the Nigeria Sailing Ship, Centenary, Victoria Island, Nigeria, narrated to the court how the foreigners were arrested.
According to him, on March 8, 2015, while conducting routine patrol within Lagos territorial waters, his team observed a vessel loitering, with the radar of the vessel off. He said the captain of the ship claimed not to be aware that the radar was off. And when asked what the vessel was doing within Lagos waters, the captain allegedly claimed to be conducting ship -to -ship transfer but could not achieve it because of a problem.
Okedi said that some checks on documents of the vessel showed that, it was carrying about 3000 metric tons of LPFO (low pour fuel oil) and about 1,500 metric tons of Automotive Gas Oil( AGO). The vessel was not registered with the Nigerian Mariti me Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA. It was on the basis of all these that the vessel was arrested.