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Military forcefully took away suspected oil bunkerers from police custody – IGP tells court

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Military forcefully took away suspected oil bunkerers from police custody – IGP tells court

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The Inspector-General of Police, IGP, has told a Federal High Court in Abuja that the military forcefully took away some suspects allegedly involved in oil bunkering from police custody.

Counsel to the IGP, Idris Mohammed, revealed this to Justice James Omotosho when the matter was called for the alleged oil bunkerers to take their plea in a five-count criminal charge filed against them.

The IGP had, in an earlier charge marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/60/2024, listed 19 alleged oil bunkerers for prosecution.

They include MT Harbor Spirit, Muhammad Malik Sidique, Joju Oil and Gas Ltd, Shittu Joseph, Enudi Kenneth Amechi, Jeremiah Oberhiri Nyohe, Abiodun Kolapo Joseph, Razaq Mahmud, Onwe Jonas Egana, Jeremiah Fezighe Gilbert as 1st to 10th defendants.

Also joined in the criminal charge dated and filed February.15 are Idon Simeon Amon, Adedeji Nathaniel Thomson, Effiong Ekpo Otu, Preye Moses Egbuson, Opoufoni Owei, Abiodun Razaq, Youngstar Amon, Collins Ebuka Eluche and Taiye Rashid Balogun as 11th to 19th defendants respectively.

However, the police, in an amended charge dated and filed February 28, brought criminal charges against only MT Harbor Spirit, a Vessel, Muhammad Malik Sidique and Joju Oil and Gas Ltd as 1st to 3rd defendants, respectively.

In the amended charge, count one read that MT Harbor Spirit, Muhammad Malik Sidique, Joju Oil and Gas Ltd and the 4th to 19th defendants in the earlier charge (now at large) “on February 4, 2024, in the Deep Sea in Ogbogoro Oil Field, Brass Area of Bayelsa State, conspired” to tamper with oil pipeline for the transportation of crude oil.

The offence, according to the prosecution, is punishable under Section 1(7) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act, Cap M17, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.

In count two, the defendants and others now at large were alleged to have on February. 4 in the Deep Sea in Ogbogoro Oil Field, Brass Area of Bayelsa State, wilfully tampered with OML 59, Ogbogoro 001 Oil Field, operated by ELF for the transportation of crude oil.

In count three, the defendants were alleged to be dealing in about 80, 000 litres of crude oil without lawful authority or appropriate license.

Count five accused the defendants of storing about 80, 000 litres of crude oil in MT Harbour Spirit Cargo Tanks in the Deep Sea in Ogbogoro Oil Field without appropriate licence contrary to Section 4 of the Petroleum Act, Cap P10, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

However, at the point of taking their plea, the IGP’s lawyer, Mohammed, informed the court that Muhammad Malik Sidique was the only defendant in court.

He said though a five-count charge dated and filed on February 15 was preferred against 19 defendants and that the 4th to 19th defendants were forcefully taken away by the armed forces during one of their visits to their custody.

The lawyer prayed the court to issue warrant of arrest against the 4th to 19th defendants who he alleged were at large.

But Justice Omotosho faulted Mohammed for claiming that the 4th to 19th defendants were at large when he had earlier told the court that the armed forces forcefully took them away.

The judge frowned at the abuse of the word “at large” adding that such words are used for suspects or defendants whose whereabouts are unknown.

“With what you have said that the armed forces took them to their custody, are they at large? At large is when somebody cannot be traced,” the judge said.

The IGP’s lawyer, thereafter, sought the leave of court to amend the amended charges in open court.

But the judge observed more anomalies with the charge sheet and then ordered the prosecution to go and put his house in order.

“Go and serve them there (at the military custody) and bring them or you remove their names from the charge. We are here for justice. I don’t know them,” he directed.

The IGP’s lawyer, then, told the judge that the police did not hand over the defendants to the military, rather, they forcefully took them away from their custody.

Counsel for the defendants, Michael Mbanefo, did not oppose to the further amendment of the charge.

However, Mbanefo urged the court to direct the prosecution to agree with him and grant Sidique administrative bail because he had been in custody since his arrest.

But Justice Omotosho declined, saying “the court does not grant administrative bail”.

Justice Omotosho thereafter adjourned the arraignment of the alleged oil bunkerers til March 6.

(Daily Post)