EXCLUSIVE: How NIMASA sponsored Nigerian judge handling its cases on juicy foreign trips

nimasa

The embattled high court judge, Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, who is facing a 30-count charge of bribery and money laundering, was treated to lavish foreign trips by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, while presiding over cases where the agency was either a party or had interest, PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively reveal.

Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia held so much sway over NIMASA under the leadership of Patrick Akpobolokemi that the agency flouted its own employment policy simply to grant the judge’s daughter, who is an employee of the agency, a curious extended study leave.

Mr Akpolobokemi, alongside other officials of NIMASA, is currently being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for laundering N1.2 billion.

ofili-ajumogobia
Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia

In four of the charges against Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia, the EFCC alleged that she received a bribe of N5 million from senior lawyer, Godwin Obla, around May 21, 2015 with the aim of “perverting the course of justice in respect of suit number FHC/L/C/482C/10.

“That you, Hon. Justice Rita Ngozi Ofili-Ajumogobia, between the 10th and 30th day of May 2013, in Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, being a judge of the Federal High Court, enriched yourself with a total sum of $130,000 through your account (0032091183) domiciled in Diamond Bank Plc, so as to have a significant increase in your assets that you cannot reasonably explain in relation to you your lawful income,” one of the charges against the duo read.

In the suit FHC/L/C/482C/10, a former director-general of NIMASA, Raymond Omatseye, was charged for N1.5 billion fraud involving bid rigging and contract splitting. The case was handed over to Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia in November 2012 after the original judge in charge, Binta Nyako, was transferred to Makurdi, Benue State.

On May 21, 2016, Mrs Ofili-Ajumogobia, sentenced Mr. Omatseye to five years in jail after finding him guilty of 24 of the 27 counts. She specifically ruled that Mr Omatseye awarded contracts above stipulated threshold.

Mr. Omatseye insisted he was innocent and has since approached the Appeal Court for a review of the judgment.

Mr. Obla, who is now facing corruption charges alongside Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia, was counsel for the EFCC, which prosecuted Mr. Omatseye.

The EFCC has now claimed that Mr. Obla offered Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia a bribe of N5 million to declare Mr. Omatseye guilty.

The anti-graft agency claimed that the senior lawyer transferred the alleged bribe from the account of his company, Obla and Company Limited with United Bank for Africa, to Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia through the bank account of Nigel and Colive Limited in Diamond Bank.

The EFCC said the judge and Mr. Obla acted contrary to sections 64 (1) and 97 (1) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, No. 11, 2011.

Mr. Omatseye, who was placed on suspension while he was facing trial, alleged that forces within NIMISA did not want him back to his post and were ready to do anything to, including securing a bogus conviction, to keep him permanently away from the agency.

Patrick Akpobolokemim former NIMASA Boss
Patrick Akpobolokemim former NIMASA Boss

NIMASA LARGESSE FOR OFILI-AJUMOGOBIA

PREMIUM TIMES investigations have revealed a clear conflict of interest on the part of Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia while presiding over the controversial case.

Apart from the case involving Mr. Omatseye, further investigations show that the controversial judge got other largesse from NIMASA while presiding over cases involving the maritime agency.

Documents, including official internal memos of NIMASA and travel documents, seen by this reporter revealed that the judge, who is also on the blacklist of the National Judicial Council for professional misconduct, accepted curious lavish favours from NIMASA while presiding over a $400 million suit between the maritime agency and the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Limited (NLNG).

NIMASA had sued the management of the NLNG, claiming the gas company ought to pay two per cent cabotage and three per cent freight levies worth $400 million for shipping by Bonny Gas Limited, a subsidiary of NLNG.

At the time, Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia was adjudicating the suit between the two agencies, her daughter secured a job at NIMASA.

The judge also stood as her daughter’s guarantor so that she could be granted an undeserved study leave to pursue a medical degree in South America, in clear violation of the agency’s recruitment policy.

NIMASA also included the judge in its delegation that attended two workshops, which are of no relevance to judicial officials, in the United States in 2013 and 2014.

PLUMP JOB AND DUBIOUS STUDY LEAVE

On February 7, 2013, just before the judge began entertaining arguments from the prosecution and the accused – having adjourned hearing a couple of times from November 2012 when she was handed the case – Aribim, her daughter, secured a job as Medical Services Officer II at NIMASA.

According to NIMASA’s employment policy, a confirmed member of staff may only apply and be granted study leave with pay after he or she has spent at least two years of continuous service at the agency and maximum period of the leave should not be more than two years.

Similarly, an employee may be granted up to four years of study leave without pay if he or she has put in at least two years of continuous service at the agency.

Worried about the large number of employees applying for study leave, the management of the agency decided to place additional hurdles before applicants.

In an internal memo, NIMASA/APD/I.1, dated August 11, 2014, and signed by M.O Thomas on behalf of the director of administration and personnel services, the agency resolved to only grant study leave with pay to only confirmed employees that have put in five years of continuous service at the agency. Staff with less number of years of study could from then only apply for study leave without pay.

But in a shocking twist just over a month later, on September 24, 2014, the management of the agency, for yet unclear reason at the time, sent out another memo that not only overruled the requirement for embarking on study leave, stipulated in the August 11, 2014 memo, but further loosened the agency’s original requirements for employees going on study leaves.

“Further to our memo Reference NIMASA/APD/I.1 dated August 11th 2014 on the above subject matter, I have been directed to inform you that unconfirmed staff with Third (3rd) Class and ordinary Pass degrees willing to embark on Masters degree programmes are free to do so without recourse to the minimum requirement of five years of continuous service in the agency as earlier stipulated in the memo under reference.”

But two letters written by the judge’s daughter and addressed to NIMASA’s department of administration and personnel services seen by this reporter soon revealed why the management of the agency had strangely overruled itself just a month after tightening its requirements for study leave.

On August 15, 2014, less than two years after she resumed work at NIMASA, Aribim wrote to the management of NIMASA informing it that she has secured admission into the Direct MD programme (MBBS) at Texila American University, Georgetown, Guyana, a tiny South American country that shares borders with Brazil and Venezuela.

godwin-obla
Godwin Obla

She further requested to be allowed to embark of a study leave.

It is not clear if she was aware of the directive sent out just four days earlier, which effectively precluded staff members with less than five years of service from going on study leave; but it is believed that she was aware of the agency’s original rule allowing only confirmed staff who have put in up to years of service to take study leaves.

“Examine in line with current policy, please,” read a handwritten note on her letter signed on August 20, 2014, by the deputy director of the human resources department.

Apparently, Aribim’s request was rejected. But soon after the memo of September 24, 2014 was published, she submitted another application for study leave. In her letter, which was wrongly dated 21st July, 2014, she revealed that she graduated with a Third Class Bachelor of Science degree.

But this time, she did not only request study leave with pay for 48 months, she also requested that the agency pay her tuition fees.

“With reference to the memo from the AD (Training), Reference NIMASA/I.1 dated September 24th 2014 on “REVIEW OF THE CRITERIA FOR STUDY LEAVE WITH PAY AND STUDY LEAVE WITHOUT PAY”, I would like to apply for study leave with pay to enable me improve on my current qualification of Bachelor of Science with honours, Third (3rd) class degree,” she wrote.

“I recently secured admission to study the Direct MD Masters Programme (MBBS) at Texila American University, Georgetown, Guyana.

Sent along with the said letter was a statement of fee, with the first year tuition fee being Nine Thousand Eight Hundred USD ($9,800) and accommodation fee being Seven Thousand Two Hundred USD ($7,200).

“I would be grateful if you would kindly approve my study leave with pay for the attendant period at Texila American University (a). If (a) above is approved, also consider favourably, approval of disbursing my tuition and accommodation fees to the institution,” she added.

Contrary to Aribim’s description of the course of study as a Masters degree programme, PREMIUM TIMES investigations show that it is actually a Bachelors Doctor of Medicine degree.

On its website, Texila American University described the course as follows: “Doctor of Medicine degree programme is a four-year course that provides students the opportunity to learn medicine in a state-of-the-art MD school in the Caribbean.”

On November 21, 2014 Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia, who was her daughter’s guarantor, signed a bond promising that her daughter will attend the course for which she was granted the leave of study and return to the employment of NIMASA after the completion of her studies in September, 2018.

Lami Tumaka, head, corporate communications of NIMASA, said she was not aware of the study leave granted Ms. Ofili-Ajumogobia but added that if her case was true, the agency would investigate it.

“I am not aware of the case you mentioned about Aribim Ajumogobia. However, I can say with all sense of responsibility that all staff of NIMASA are guided by the Agency’s Conditions of Service and the Public Service Rules (PSR) which have specified length of time staff must have been in the employ of the Agency before long term study leave will be granted. If the case of Abirim Ajumogobia is different, then it is an exception and not the rule. This will be investigated.”

Lavish Foreign Trips

Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia did not only draw lavish favours for her daughter from NIMASA, she enjoyed some herself.

In 2013, the Federal Ministry of Transport approved some officials of NIMASA, three of its own officials and a Godfrey Bivbere, journalist with the Vanguard, to attend the Offshore Technology Conference, OTC, in Houston, Texas, United States.

However, Mr. Akpolobokemi, without clearance from the ministry, gave a verbal directive for the inclusion of five people, including Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia, to be included as part of the NIMASA delegation with lavish travel arrangements and estacode.

“Recall your verbal directives for the inclusion of other stakeholders for the participation in the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) 2013 holding from May 6-9, 2013 in Houston, Texas, USA,” read a letter from the deputy director public relation department to Mr. Akpolobokemi as the director-general of the agency.

The additional list of stakeholders include: 1. R. Ajumogobia (Mrs.), 2. Mohammed Shittu Abubakar, 3. Binta F.M Nyako (Mrs), 4. Chief Mrs. R. Chris-Garuba, 5. Mrs. Mary Madu Hamman

Interestingly, the first three names on the list are federal judges with Mrs. Nyako being the judge who initially handled Mr. Omatseye’s case.

Of the others, Rita Chris-Garuba is wife of the former military governor of Bauchi State, Chris Garuba. She and her husband were implicated in the notorious Halliburton bribery scandal. Mary Hamman is the chief shipping development officer at NIMASA.

An estacode of at least $6,369.00 was approved for each of the additional persons. Travel documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES revealed that Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia flew to the conference on a British Airway business class flight.

Again in 2014, the judge was included in a contingent that included NIMASA officials, federal lawmakers, journalists and two other federal judges, Elizabeth Osoka and Shittu Abubakar to attend the Advance Programme on Implementation and Protection of Maritime infrastructure workshop in Washington DC, US.

It was an all-expense paid trip. Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia also she received $5,400 estacode for attending.

While no reason was given for the inclusion of the judges to attend the 2013 conference in Houston, an internal memo written on April 16, 2014 gave reason for inclusion of the judges as part of the contingent to the 2014 workshop.

“Given the importance of this workshop and the high powered nature of the participants, it is the recommendation of the undersigned that some eminent jurists also be included on the trip to provide them insight into the workings of the Agency and the subject of international ship and port facility security (ISPS) code.”

The NIMASA spokesperson defended the sponsorship of judges for conferences by the commission despite the inherent conflict of interest contained therein. Mrs. Tumaka said it is not unusual for the agency to sponsor judges, journalists and lawmakers to seminars and workshops overseas to assist them “come to full grasp with the workings of the sector.”

She, however, did not say whether it was ethical for the agency to include Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia at the time she was presiding over two cases the agency had interest in.

She said while it is sometimes normal to Verbally communicate instructions, approvals such as the inclusion of Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia on the trip to Houston Texas are usually done in writing.

ALLEGATION OF VICTIMISATION

During his trial for the N1.5 billion contract scam, Mr. Omatseye said in court that he was being persecuted by a former Attorney-General of the Federation, Bello Adoke, for declining Mr. Adoke’s request to discontinue the NIMASA suit filed against the NLNG.

Mr. Omatseye said, “In December of 2010, I was approached by a gentleman, who at that time was the Executive Director of the Cabotage Service of NIMASA, in the name of Ibrahim Zailani.

“Zailani told me that he had been in a meeting with the AGF and that the AGF had directed him to tell me to withdraw a case between NIMASA and NLNG.

“I told him I could not do so because that was the decision of the board.

“Exactly on November 14, 2010, between noon and 1.00 p.m., in my office, I received a call from a gentleman called Tunde Ayeni.

“He said hello, hold on for your caller and then handed the phone over to a man who said he was Adoke.

“The man said, ‘I sent Zailani to you to withdraw the NLNG case and you have refused-

“He said, ‘Mr. President has called me twice on this matter to instruct you to withdraw this case.

“I responded to him, ‘My AGF sir’, either you please send me a memo to that effect or please send a message through my minister to direct me accordingly.

“I am not in a position to unilaterally withdraw the case.

“He said ‘I am the chief law officer of the Federal Republic’ and I replied, Sir, please help me to do as I have requested.

“He asked if I was aware that there was a directive from his office that no government institution can sue another government institution without his permission.

“I told him that the NLNG is majority-owned by foreigners and, therefore, cannot be considered as a government parastatal or agency.

“At that point, he said to me, ‘I have given an instruction and you have refused to obey.’

“This will be your waterloo.”

Mr. Omatseye added that 10 days after his tense telephone chat with the former minister, three officers of the EFCC arrested him for interrogation, flew him to Abuja and confronted him with a petition against him from the minister of transportation.

Mr. Omatseye claimed the contract approval threshold for NIMASA was N2.5m for supply and N5m for goods and services. He added that these thresholds were not stipulated as at the time he approved the contracts.

He argued that the contracts he was convicted for awarding were approved between December 2009 and February 2010, but the threshold for NIMASA was only put in place by the Bureau of Public Procurement in November 2011.


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  • olaoluwa

    Nawa oooo

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  • Spoken word

    naija and its various maze of corruption.

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  • Rommel

    I doubt if there exists any country that approves corruption more than Nigerians, these endless stories are stomach churning,we thought we had seen the worst of corruption when OBJ was dishing out Ghana must go bags but under president Jonathan it reached unprecedented heights,the level that cannot be described

    • Onike24

      Is your stomach still churning? Mine has become used to these sort of stories

  • mybros

    Thank God for PMB who had the courage to burst these gangster judiciary that we have.
    Who said the sting operation by the DSS did not yield fruit?
    We shall overcome all these enemies within one by one by Gods grace!

    • Retired Admin/Personel Manager

      @disqus_9xFX7SbEuf:disqus

      Can you hear me well? When this kind of thing happens in a private company the standard rule is SURCHARGE. That means the following five illegal journeymen and journey-women must refund the estacode and refund any other allowance and the flight ticket money to the Consolidated Account of the Federation, as if they paid from their own pockets to attend that Conference in America.

      The illegal aliens on this U.S Conference are:

      1) R. Ajumogobia (Mrs.),
      2) Mohammed Shittu Abubakar,
      3) Binta F.M Nyako (Mrs),
      4) Chief Mrs. R. Chris-Garuba,
      5) Mrs. Mary Madu Hamman

      Any other matter can be decided by lawyers and the Judge in the court. I am not a lawyer and therefore I don’t know if these illegal aliens are also guilty of any criminal offence inside the laws of the federal republic of Nigeria for this AWOL journey they did with taxpayers’ money, to become qualified to go to prison. What I know is surcharge. They must repay the whole amount.

      6) R. Ajumogobia (Mrs.),
      7) Mohammed Shittu Abubakar,
      8) Binta F.M Nyako (Mrs),
      9) Chief Mrs. R. Chris-Garuba,
      10) Mrs. Mary Madu Hamman

      Also the whole cost of Judge Rita Ajumogobia’s child going to school in Texila American University, Georgetown, Guyana, a tiny South American country that shares borders with Brazil and Venezuela, must be surcharged from the salary or emolument of Judge Rita Ajumogobia. She will continue to repay that even if she is sent to jail but because she would not be entitled to retirement benefits if she is sent to prison, the EFCC must sell two or three of Judge Rita Ajumogobia’s houses and use the sale money as the repayment for Judge Rita Ajumogobia’s child going to school in Texila American University, Georgetown, Guyana, a tiny South American country that shares borders with Brazil and Venezuela, with Nigeria’s taxpayers’ money.

  • addy esquire

    EDITOR SIR,

    Citizen pleads for mercy in the case of Justice Rita-Ofili Ajumogobia

    I just want to beg the judiciary. I want the judiciary to help Justice Rita-Ofili Ajumogobia in this case. She was forced into all these things by the economic recession President Buhari brought to Nigeria. The suffering in Nigeria is too much. No light
    for one week. No water to drink too. No jobs anywhere, even Alhaji Aliko Dangote has started retrenching.

    I think this is what pushed Justice Rita Ajumogobia into all this monkey business of back for ground on top of law books and money for hand. The judiciary can secretly change the law in the night for Justice Ajumogobia. Let us say the law is 10 years in prison as punishment for judicial back for ground, then, the judiciary can change the word PRISON to SHERATON.
    There is no way the journalists in Premium Times can know how PRISON turned to SHERATON since the two words
    somehow sound very much alike.

    • Tunji Olarewaju

      Lolzzzz!!!

  • Retired Admin/Personel Manager

    The whole cost of Judge Rita Ajumogobia’s child going to school in Texila American University, Georgetown, Guyana, a tiny South American country that shares borders with Brazil and Venezuela, must be surcharged from the salary or emolument of Judge Rita Ajumogobia. She will continue to repay that even if she is sent to jail but because she would not be entitled to retirement benefits if she is sent to prison, the EFCC must sell two or three of Judge Rita Ajumogobia’s houses and use the sale money as the repayment for Judge Rita Ajumogobia’s child going to school with Nigeria’s taxpayers’ money in Texila American University, Georgetown, Guyana, a tiny South American country that shares borders with Brazil and Venezuela.

  • share Idea

    The MUMUs in Nigeria will keep entertaining themselves with all these distraction from this administration while the country is bing run secretly by the Northern mafia that pretends to be Messiah sent to salvage Nigeria.

    Has this administration transparently done done anything that will objectively change the cause of the nation. Everyday, the gullible is being feed media propaganda without concrete plans on what the administration is doing to move the nation forward.

    Where are the plans of this administration. Nearly 2 years in power without any tangible project or plan that the government can point for its existence. If people like stories and dramas, they can buy Nollywood movies or foreign movies to keep them entertained.

    Inflation is on the increase so is the price all everything that ordinary Nigerians use for their daily living, yet, this administration is not ashamed to be dishing out pathetic stories without any plan to see through their self projected integrity.

    • Yemi

      People lik u wld remains in ur ignorance bcs the vail in ur face called tribalism will never allowed u to see anything good coming out this country as long as ur tribe is not ruling. Big zombie

    • Gibson Bosah

      Always take ur drugs b4 u login,if hv done so then I advice u to change ur doctor bcos those drugs r nt effective

  • ??????????

    @disqus_MSz5KF4VNF:disqus

    How many of these rogue S.A.N lawyers will go to prison,
    before the Nigeria Bar Association will cancel the nonsense S.A.N title as a lie told in the afternoon with a straight face? The S.A.N title does not mean anything because those who apply to be called S.A.N are usually dullards and dunces who cannot even speak English without stammering. A lot of brilliant lawyers with good command of English, law and logic, will not apply
    to be called S.A.N, because they will not like to be put in the same category as criminals, dullards, mediocre and dunces.

    • Justicia

      Fugitive Adoke Muhammed (S.A.N) has a far worse case than Godwin Obla (S.A.N).
      Fugitive Adoke Muhammed (S.A.N) must be arrested in Holland where he’s hiding and shipped back.
      Fugitive Adoke Muhammed (S.A.N) has a $1.2 billion case to answer over Malabu Oil OPL 245 fraud.
      Fugitive Adoke Muhammed (S.A.N) must not be allowed to escape. Interpol must arrest ADOKE quickly.

  • Angry Niaja

    I’m not surprised Rita Garuba is fingered in this saga, the woman is incorrigible, not only does she live above her means, she’s a serial liar, owes her workers salaries, never bothers to pay them, whilst she flaunts her ill gotten wealth. Madam Rita Garuba has caused so much heartbreak to her employees for years, please madam payup or face the wrath of God, a worker deserves their wages

  • saheedl

    Nigeria is indeed a cesspool of unprecedented corruption.

    • say baddie

      @saheedl:disqus : Nigeria does not look like a country again.
      To me, Nigeria is like under-bridge where only criminals can survive there with violence.
      When Supreme Court and High Court Judges become so bad and so so addicted to bribery,
      There is no longer any country again. All we can say now is that: THERE WAS A COUNTRY.

      • Noble

        NO! Let us salvage it togather

  • Dazmillion

    The wrath of God has come on this woman

    • Impulse400

      No it hasn’t. Only the wrath of men similar to her is currently afflicting her. When she ends up exactly where she put Omatseye, then I would agree that Karma has taken its course and one circle is closed. How many others has she use her authority to torment…? I wish her the strength to see her other errors to their logical conclusion, in the little time she has left.

  • Emeka Nwaogwu

    There should be death penalty for corruption in Nigeria. This is not only a betrayal of judicial oath but just unfair even at the level of animal kingdom, I think!

  • …….AND SENATE WOULD NOT CONFIRM IBRAHIM MAGU. HMMM YEE DE SMELL

  • Gary

    A clear-cut case of abuse of office and rampant impunity that was the hallmark of those close to GEJ and helped bring down his government.

    Those involved must be forced to make restitution to the state coffers. Fancy granting a judge’s daughter, no indigent, a backdoor scholarship to attend a backwater school in the Caribbean.

  • sammyctu ode

    Ofili you are a total disgrace to humanity. Do you really think you will get away with all these crimes? Every Sunday you wil go and receive Holy Communion but what you didn’t know was that God was recording all your criminal activities and at His time He decided to finally expose you telling you that your cup has runners over. Please don’t forget to take your bleaching creams to prison when you are convicted cos you will be there for many years so that you can preserve your fake skin. Shame on you for also teaching your daughter criminal ways. I bet you didn’t have parents to raise you while you were growing up which made you a delinquent human being all your life. A disgrace to womanhood.

  • Teewhy

    When Magu was accused of corruption, this media outfit started publishing stories about n Magu’s defence. They cited so many reports that only Magu could have. Apparently, he reached out to Premium Times or vice-versa. Now, in publishing the Ajumogobia and Obla’s story, there’s here suggestive of the fact that Premium Times gave them a fair journalistic platform like the one extended to Magu. They will just publish stories they way EFCC writes it for them. If it were this straightforward and true, then EFCC should have gotten conviction in all the cases. Premium Times carries on as though it is the PRO of EFCC. This is a terrible journalism. Fair is fair.

    • Olu from South Africa

      What does your massive have to do with the fact of the matter. Please, reach out to PT too if you have relevant information on how Nigeria found herself in recession.