Justice Muhammed Idris of the Federal High Court, Lagos, has ordered the State Security Service, SSS, to produce the detained Managing Director of Capital Oil and Gas Limited, Ifeanyi Ubah, on Friday, May 12 to show why he should not be released unconditionally.
Mr. Idris gave the ruling in favour of an ex-parte application filed by Mr. Ubah’s counsel, Ifeoma Esom, asking the court to order the businessman’s release from the custody of SSS where he had been since Saturday.
Following the court ruling, Mr. Ubah’s company issued a statement reiterating his innocence in the matter over which he is being detained.
The secret police had arrested Mr. Ubah over allegations of “economic sabotage” and diversion of petroleum products to the tune of N11 billion.
The petroleum products were stored by NNPC Retail in Capital Oil’s tank farm in Lagos under a throughput agreement but went missing under controversial circumstances.
PREMIUM TIMES had exclusively reported the diversion which eventually led to the sack of the head of NNPC Retail, Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue, and some other officials of the corporation.
On Tuesday, an affidavit deposed to by one George Oranuba on behalf of Mr. Ubah claimed that the SSS acted in disregard for “the constitutional doctrine of separation of power and sanctity of the judicial process”.
According to Mr. Oranuba, the throughput agreement allows “conversion and diversion of IT products by “operators” so long as the operator is prepared to re-deliver the products within seven days of demand by the products owner or to pay a penalty for non-re-delivery.”
He went further to explain that “failure to re-deliver is a mere breach of contract, remediable by the payment of penalty to the owner, and there can be no issue of crime in conversion or diversion of product, and does not call for the intervention of any law enforcement agency.”
“The throughput agreement expressly states that any penalty due for non-re-delivery is to be treated as a debt and I verily believe that law enforcement agencies are not allowed to operate as debt collectors,” said Mr. Oranuba.
Mr. Oranuba also said the “NNPC is indebted to Capital Oil and Gas Limited in sum in excess of N13 Billion, yet the company did not call law enforcement agencies to collect the debt, despite the length of time NNPC has held on to the money.”
The court document claimed that Mr. Ubah’s arrest was in respect of the allegations made by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), which are already encumbered by a lawsuit.
In the document, it was revealed that “Notwithstanding the pendency of this suit and the service of the originating process as aforesaid the 3rd (EFCC) and 4th (DG, SSS) respondents again invited the 1st applicant to report to their offices in respect of the same allegations made by the 7th (NNPC) to 9th (AMCON) respondents which is the subject matter of the instant suit”
Mrs. Esom argued that “unless the court orders the applicant to be produced in court within 48 hours, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and SSS will continue to keep him in their custody where they may coerce him into acceding to whatever conditions they impose on him in exchange for his freedom”
The court document meanwhile, stated that “Mr. Ubah was detained from March 24 to April 14, 2017.”
But Mr. Ubah had denied reports of his arrest at that time.
In the statement by the company later on Tuesday, a copy of which was obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, the management of Capital Oil dismissed the accusations by the SSS against Mr. Ubah as “completely false”, saying it was an attempt to criminalise a commercial dispute with the NNPC.
The company, which accused NNPC of owing it about N16 billion from various business transactions since 2013, said his continued detention was a breach of his fundamental right.
Capital Oil said Mr. Ubah was coerced during his detention into signing various documents committing the company to certain payments and pledging some asset to NNPC Retail Limited as well as the Asset Management Company of Nigeria, AMCON.
Details of the N16 billion Capital Oil said the NNPC was owing included $5.54 million (about N2.2 billion) for unpaid berthing fees since 2015 for the corporation’s vessels called at its jetty and $2.95 million (about N1 billion) in respect of invoice for chartered vessels to convey petrol to NNPC storage.
Others were N1.17 billion, being debt for throughput services from March to October 2016 and N3.14 billion, paid to NNPC for 26.82 million litres of petrol.
The company said another N2 billion was paid to NNPC in April to facilitate the release of Mr. Ubah following his earlier arrest on March 24, and reconcile accounts with NNPC and N6.27 billion, being throughput charges on over seven billion litres of petrol dispensed to NNPC.
“It is unimaginable that a company which has stood by NNPC, and by extension the country at very crucial petroleum supply crises, could now be accused of engaging in activities to undermine the effective distribution of petroleum products across the country,” the statement said.
But in his reaction to the company’s statement, NNPC spokesperson, Ndu Ughamadu, said as far as NNPC was concerned business was not about sentiments.
“In business, you carry our reconciliation of the books on a regular basis to balance accounts. At the moment, such reconciliations are carried out with Capital Oil whenever the need arises. The same goes to all the companies we have business dealings with,” he said.
“However, the issue remains that there is civil and criminal matter. What NNPC is saying is: Capital Oil has a tank farm under a throughput arrangement for it to store some petroleum products for the corporation on demand-release basis.
“But Capital Oil sold the products without NNPC’s knowledge. This is clearly a criminal matter. That’s why the DSS is involved. It’s not about Capital Oil owing NNPC and NNPC owing Capital Oil.
The scandal involved alleged illegal sale without authorization of about 100 million litres of petrol imported by the NNPC downstream and stored in the two company’s depots.
The SSS said so far, investigations had established that the stolen products amounted to over N11 billion.