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"Chief of Naval Staff Knows About Missing Ship"

Posted by By Ben Agande on 2004/11/25 | Views: 2558 |

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"Chief of Naval Staff Knows About Missing Ship"


Former Commanding Officer of the NNS Beecroft, Navy Captain Peter Duke, yesterday told the House of Representatives Committee on Navy which is investigating the circumstances surrounding the missing vessel, MT African Pride, that the Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Samuel Afolayan, knew "something" about the missing vessel.

Former Commanding Officer of the NNS Beecroft, Navy Captain Peter Duke, yesterday told the House of Representatives Committee on Navy which is investigating the circumstances surrounding the missing vessel, MT African Pride, that the Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Samuel Afolayan, knew "something" about the missing vessel.

Captain Duke who is currently in protective custody of the Navy but allowed to appear before that committee yesterday also claimed that contrary to the earlier submission of the Chief of Naval Staff that the vessel was handed over to the police according to presidential directives, "he was aware that the ship was in the custody of the Navy."

At some point during his testimony, the Captain broke down in tears and the chairman of the committee, Mr Anthgony Aziegbemi, had to call for a five-minute break for him to get over his emotions. According to Captain Duke, the Chief of the Naval Staff was in "contact with the chatterers of the MT African Pride and even directed the former Flag Officer Commanding, Western Naval Command, Admiral Antonio Bob-Manuel, to "do something about MT African Pride." The FOC called me and told me that the Chief of Naval Staff told him to do something about the M.T.African Pride, " Captain Duke said, adding: "He also said the former Minister of State for Defence (Navy), Dr. Olu Agunloye, would be coming to see the FOC. It was at that time that Admiral Bob-Manuel showed me a text from one Shola offering him $100,000 to release the MT African Pride. "I told the FOC that since there was no written signal to that effect, when Dr. Olu Aguloye comes, he should tell him that he would contact the Chief of Naval Staff for further directive. Dr. Agunloye came and the former FOC told him that." Dr. Agunloye, however, denied any knowledge of the deal in a statement in Abuja yesterday.

Captain Duke also accused the Chief of Naval Staff of attempting to interfere with his job as commanding officer on several occasions. "Any time we arrested and he had interest, he would call me and insult me and bang the phone on me. We had arrested several ships and senior Naval officers would call to say that they should be released. The Chief of Naval Staff had called the Flag Officer Commanding, Western Naval Command that we should release a ship we arrested named M.T. Molab Trader chartered by one chief who is a friend of the CNS. "The wife of the Chief of Naval Staff called me in May and said that I should be calling the Chief of Naval Staff from time to time. I felt it was not necessary because from time to time, the CNS calls me on his own and would be asking me of junior officers under me whom he did not know. I found that curious. The wife of the CNS called me again in late May and told me that I should be very careful and prayerful. I thanked her for her concern," he said.

The captain said he was arrested for allegedly falsifying the result of tests conducted on the arrested ships and arraigned before a Board of Inquiry. "The judge advocate said there was no case against me but the president and convener of the court insisted that since the Navy had arraigned me I should be foundguilty. The board has submitted its report but I am still being held in protective custody."

He asked the House of Representatives to ensure that on his return to Lagos, where he is under protective custody, nothing happened to him. "I have come here with the hope of clearing my family name and the desire to give my children a fair share of life in Nigeria. I am not a criminal. I had never been arrested or indicted whatsoever in my 25 years service to the nation," he said amidst tears.

Chairman of the Committee on Navy, Mr. Anthony Aziegbemi, said the committee and the House of Representatives would take special interest in what happens to Captain Duke. "Nigerians are now better in formed of the goings on about the missing ship. The committee will be interested in what happens to you. I will get in touch with the speaker and anybody dealing with you from now on is dealing with the House of Representatives," he said. Earlier in his testimony, the Commanding Officer of NNS Beecroft who arrested the ship, Captain Joe Aikhomu, said the original name of M.T. African Pride was M.T. Jadde.

Agunloye denies

But in a statement in yesterday, Dr Agunloye denied any knowledge of the incident. He said "between May 2002 and November 2002, I was the minister of State for Defence (Navy). I was aware that some time in late November 2003, Mr. Niyi Fafowora of Fabisco and Allied Products Limited requested that I should intervene in the matter of what he called "wrongful impoundment of the African Pride by the Navy.

"Mr. Fafowora told me that his company, Fabisco and Allied Products Limited, had chartered the ship, African Pride, but the Navy wrongfully arrested its captain and crew on the high seas while they were effecting repairs to the ship and then detained the ship itself. Mr. Niyi Fafowora pleaded with me to help secure the release of the ship, African Pride, because "it was wrongfully impounded" by the Nigerian Navy.

He told me that his company would sue the Navy if the ship was not released. "As the Minister of State for Defence (in charge of the Navy) between May 2002 to November 2002, I personally supervised rapid refurbishment of gun-boats that were later deployed to arrest several illegal bunkering operations. Operations and savings to the nation were regularly reported to the President of the Federal Republic who expressed satisfaction at different meetings and approved more facilities to enable the Navy carry out its operations with greater effectiveness.

"On taking the story of Fafowora on its face value, I thought it would be undesirable and unnecessary for the Navy to be sued for unlawful seizure of vessels, so I decided to intervene."

Sometime in November 2003, I made two telephone calls to the FOC West, Rear Admiral Bob Manuel to ask about why the African Pride ship was being detained. I also related the Fafowora story to him. Rear Admiral Bob Manuel made it emphatically clear to me that he could not release the ship and would not release it. Rear Admiral also explained to me that the version of the ship story narrated by Fafowora was incorrect and he also said the Navy was only in the process of carrying out chemical analysis of the ship cargo. Rear Admiral Bob Manuel told me that I could ask the Chief of Naval Staff in Abuja since he (the Naval Chief) knew about the case and wondered why Fafowora "was running to" me when he knew that it was the Western Command that was handling the case.

"I enjoined Rear Admiral Bob Manuel to give Mr. Fafowora a fair chance to explain himself to avoid unnecessary litigations. Following my conversation with Rear Admiral Bob Manuel, I asked the Chief of Naval Staff who also corroborated the story by the Rear Admiral, saying that the ship was not wrongfully detained and so it would not be released. I carefully explained my findings from discussions with the Flag Officer Commanding, West and the Chief of Naval Staff to Mr. Fafowora and told him in very straight terms that I could not secure the release of the ships given the explanations by Rear Admiral Bob Manuel or the Chief of Naval Staff above.

"Fafowora told me he was hell-bent on taking the Navy and the Chief of Naval Staff to court to seek justice. He had told me early in year 2004 that his company had taken the Chief of Naval Staff and the Nigerian Navy to the Lagos High Court on the 20 January 2004 for unlawful detention of the African Pride and to claim damages. I was aware that soon after, the Navy also handed the crew to the Police which then commenced a criminal case of illegal bunkering against the crew while the offending vessel, African Pride, remained detained.

"After the two parties-- Fafowora and the Navy-- headed to seek justice at the courts, I never heard of the case until the public hearing by the House Committee in September 2004 after the mysterious disappearance of the ship in August 2004 was reported in the newspapers," the former minister said.

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