Posted by From John-Abba Ogbodo (Abuja) and Emmanuel Badejo (Lagos) on
Reps probe three banks
MORE disturbing revelations emerging at the on-going probe of the missing MT African Pride by the House of Representatives.
Besides security agencies, local and foreign banks have been fingered in the nefarious activities of bunkering ships.
Armed with correspondence between some Nigerian and Swiss banks, the Lower House, yesterday declared that financial institutions in both countries were funding illegal oil bunkering in Nigeria.
The Nigerian banks now under investigation by the House Committee on Navy, reportedly funded the illegal activities of MT African Pride to the tune of N1.8 billion. Each of the banks allegedly invested $5 million in the illegal deal.
On the legal terrain, a Federal High Court, Lagos, has rejected moves by Rear Admiral Samuel Kolawole, one of the Naval chiefs facing court marshal over the missing ship, for an order of substituted service (to advertise summons) on the tribunal.
The chairman of the House Committee on Navy, Mr. Anthony Aziegbemi, at its sitting yesterday at the National Assembly, said that already three Nigerian banks were being investigated for funding the operations of MT African Pride with about N1.8 billion.
He said that the committee was in procession of some telex messages between some banks in Nigeria and Switzerland on the issue of funding of illegal bunkering in Nigeria.
Aziegbemi said: "We need to look at the funding of bunkering. From the analyses of the documents before us, we can say clearly that some Nigerian banks are involved. We have some telex messages between some Nigerian banks and foreign` banks. It is unfortunate that some Nigerian banks are fingered in this economic sabotage.
The panel chairman further said that at least three Nigerian banks had been fingered in crude oil theft through the issuance of letters of credit.
"The funding of illegal crude bunkering as contained in MT African Pride was that each of the three banks committed $5 million each."
Meanwhile, one of the witnesses in the investigation, Lt.-Commander Musa Abubakar, who was attached to NNS Beecroft, disclosed yesterday that some naval officers were into oil bunkering, a development that has planted bad blood in the Navy.
Abubakar said that some of the arrested ships had returned to the illegal activities because they were released through unauthorised means.
He told the committee that it was because of his insistence that the proper thing should be done that he stepped on powerful toes.
Abubakar said: "Over time, our colleagues have been involved in bunkering and that breeds hatred. There are some ships arrested that are still conveying crude oil," he said.
The officer, who tendered a bottle of crude oil as evidence, said that when the bunkerers saw that the fight against them was getting tougher they resorted to using the Lagos channel and labelled the stolen crude as industrial oil.
The commander, who is being tried by the Navy, said he had been threatened severally because he refused to do the bidding of some senior officers by releasing arrested ships.
Abubakar also claimed that he was refused access to his family to bury his three-day old baby because of his anti-bunkering posture.
The Naval officer alleged that he had been detained for 254 days against the armed forces law.
Abubakar said some persons even planned to poison him in detention, which forced him to stop eating food not prepared by his family.
Another officer, Lt.-Commander B.I Yusuf, who was the Base Intelligence Officer (BIO), recalled that there was a time he had a report that MT Africa Pride left its anchorage for bunkering somewhere before it returned.
He said there was a time one Naval rating was left on board the ship with two rifles contrary to naval tradition.
Yusuf said Captain Peter Duke, the former Commanding Officer, NNS Beecroft once told them that there was no point keeping many officers in the ship after the evacuation of the crude oil.
Commodore Musa Ajadi, who is the second-in-command at the Western Naval Command, denied any knowledge of the circumstances leading to the disappearance of the ship.
One Ahmadu Dako mentioned earlier by one of the witnesses said he could assist the committee to retrieve the ship but pleaded to speak in camera.
Kolawole, who was the former Flag Officer Commanding (FOC), Western Naval Command, Lagos had sought an ex-parte motion of substituted services on some of the defendants.
Cited as defendants are the Nigeria Navy, the Chief of Naval Staff, the Attorney-General of the Federation and the President of the Court Martial, Rear Admiral Joseph Ajayi.
The other defendants include Rear Admiral A.G. Adedeji, Rear Admiral C. S. Ehanmo; Maj-Gen. Patrick Akpa and Air Vice Marshall S. A. Odesola.
In his ruling, Justice Mustapha Abdullahi examined the prayers of the applicant as well as his counsel's submission.
He said: "It is provided in Order 2 Rules 3 of the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules that the motions on summons must be served on all persons directly affected. This to my mind does not give room for any service of substituted means."
"There is no question of lacuna that will allow any resort to the provision of the Federal High Court Rules."
Abdullahi added that in any event, an examination of the Fundamental Human Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules showed that the rules do not make provision for reference to any other one for the purpose of filling any lacuna in it.
He then submitted: "It is my view that it is the Fundamental Human Rights Enforcement Procedure that will make provision for reference to any other rule of filling any lacuna in it and not in the Federal High Court Rules, which the learned counsel placed reliance on."
Dismissing the application, the judge said: "This court having ordered that each of the respondents must be served directly, they must be so served directly. Application that the fourth to eight respondents be served by substituted service is refused. The motion is hereby dismissed."
Further hearing was adjourned to December 7, 2004.
Soon after Kolawole was arraigned before the military tribunal, he sought the court's nod to enforce his fundamental rights against the Navy.
Abdullahi had in his ruling ordered Kolawole to put the Navy on notice while refusing to order the stay of proceedings at the court martial as demanded by Kolawole.
But on Monday, November 22, when the matter came up in court, the counsel to Kolawole, Mr. Babatunde Fashanu (SAN) told the court that the Navy and other respondents were yet to be served with the court processes.
He further told the court that the Navy had refused to accept the service.
Fashanu said that his client had filed another ex-parte motion for substituted service.
The judge told Fashanu to move the application.
Arguing further, Fashanu said the aim of the application was to seek an order for a substituted service of the court order of November 8 and to effect all subsequent processes in the case through an advertisement.
He, therefore, argued that Order 13 Rules 5(b)(c)(e) of the Federal High Court allowed the court to order substituted service through advertisement in national newspapers.
The lawyer also told the court that the affidavit had demonstrated the efforts made to serve the other parties without success, saying that he had to announce the names, which the panel members refused to take.
He, therefore, urged the court to grant his client's application.